Professional Primer: How to survive a toxic work environment

Written on Apr 26, 2018

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

AngryOfficeIf you’re lucky you never have to experience it yourself: backstabbing, gossiping and sneaky coworkers can all be part of a toxic workplace. Unfortunately for many professionals, it’s their environment every day.

“What can contribute to a toxic work environment is a lack of trust with the people who are working there,” said Laura Boone, principal of leadership and organization development at the insurance brokerage and risk management services firm Gallagher. “A lot of times we’re in a position where we don’t like our coworkers or our boss and it comes down to a lack of trust or misalignment in values.”

Every workplace has its ups and downs, especially when you’re working closely with others for 40 hours or more every week. But there is a difference between an off day and a toxic environment. Boone said some red-flag behaviors are withholding knowledge, resentment for other’s success, pitting people against one another and taking credit for someone else’s work.

And as nice as it might feel to walk out the door and never look back, you might not be able, or even want to, immediately leave. Maybe you still have faith in your organization and are looking to resolve the toxicity, or you’re planning to quit but can’t yet.

“If I was in a toxic work environment the first thing I would do is be self-aware, and I would identify what’s important to me and my values,” Boone said. “Ask yourself if there is anything you can do differently to change this. Do you need to address yourself?”

Sometimes a toxic environment is the fault of the organization’s leadership, and other times it lies solely with one individual in a department. Boone said not to be afraid to have difficult conversations with others to address these issues, and that some people might not even recognize the environment they’re creating for everyone else.

“Have a conversation that’s in a neutral place and share how the environment is disengaging for you,” she said. “A lot of times the anxiety around having that conversation is worse than the conversation itself.”

It’s possible, by showing trust and attempting to understand the other person’s motivators, you can work through a toxic environment; you do not have to accept it as the status quo.

But there are times when these issues are bigger than you can resolve yourself, and Boone said this is the time to stay focused on the work you’re doing. Avoid feeling like a victim of your circumstances and resigning yourself to a world of negativity. Instead, learn as much as you can while you’re at your current workplace while creating a plan for a career transition or different type of work. That way, you’re not wasting time and you have a goal you’re working toward.

“If people know they are coming to work and putting their best self forward and working on their plan to move out, sometimes that can sustain them,” she said. “Because then they’re moving forward, and they’re not trapped.”


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  1. Jessica Salerno | Apr 27, 2018

    Hi Vincent, 

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment! That is another important part of surviving in a toxic work environment, knowing when to disengage from the negativity around you and focus on your work. Hopefully taking that approach helps those who care about their work but aren't quite ready to leave their organization. 


    Thanks for reading!

    Jessica Salerno, OSCPA Content Manager

  2. Vincent Vivo Jr. | Apr 27, 2018

    I agree with this article in the sense that, yes we do often find ourselves in these "Toxic" work environments even though sometimes we may not have a choice. With that being being stated, I believe the hardest thing to do is simply just shut it down when you see or hear anything "Toxic". Many employees lack the leadership qualities needed to recognise this toxicity and act accordingly upon it. However, the solution to this may lie inside one's inner self: Believing in yourself and not worrying about how everyone else around you perceives you. 

    With that being said I enjoyed this article because it raised a lot of good points and was easy to relate to this recurring problem that we tend to see in the everyday day workspace. 

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