Are you worried that your workplace is toxic? Do you find yourself awake on Sunday nights fretting about the week to come? Are you emotionally spent by three o’clock on Tuesday? Do you dread each time you have to interact with your boss or your teammates? That’s no way to live.
In case you find yourself in this situation or if you have a friend or loved one turning to you for advice in a situation like this, let’s talk about options.
Options When You’re in a Toxic Work Environment
The good news is that you might have more options than you think.
Option A: Should I Quit My Job?
One option is to quit your job. And by ‘quit your job,’ I mean quit your organization. Resign. Vamoose. Later, alligator.
When It Makes Sense
Quitting your organization makes sense if either:
- It’s your organization that’s toxic. The poison isn’t just in your cup, it’s in the well. This might be because the policies make you physically or psychologically unsafe. It might be because the organization is discriminatory. You might be expected to do work you’re not compensated for. Essentially, the rules of the game are unfair. OR
- Your part of the organization is toxic, and you can’t get out. In this case, you might work in a perfectly reasonable organization, but your department is corrupted, and you have no other options. If you’re a tax accountant and the CFO to whom you report is sinister, you likely don’t have an option to switch to another department.
If neither of those is true, quitting your organization might not be the only (or best) option for you. Take a look at options B, C, and D before handing in your notice.
Considerations Before Quitting
If you’ve concluded that your situation is so toxic that you must get out, the temptation is to leave immediately. It’s worth considering whether staying just a little longer might make things easier in the long run.
Things to think about:
- Could you wait and save a small nest egg to give you some cushion before leaving?
- Are you able to find another job before resigning to avoid a resume gap?
- What could you do to leave on good terms so there’s no animosity? (Remember, the best way to leave town in on the high road.)
Option B: Should I Quit My Team?
As I mentioned above, sometimes you work in a good organization, but you pull a lemon of a team. In that case, you don’t necessarily have to quit your organization, you might be able to quit your team. Apply for other positions in the organization. Swing your partner. Do-si-do!
Quitting your team makes sense if:
- It’s your boss that’s toxic. Toxic bosses come in many forms, but top toxic boss characteristics would include abusive, insecure, childish, egomaniac, or incompetent. If your boss is a whack job but your organization is a keeper, you might just want to quit your boss. [Note: Don’t change jobs in the same organization if the whole place is polluted…well, unless you just need to change the scenery and it would be a relief to see the dysfunction through a different window for a while.]
- Your boss is okay but won’t deal with toxic coworkers. Sometimes you like your boss but can’t abide their willingness to put up with terrible employees. If working in your current team means putting up with incompetent, nasty, exclusionary pieces of work as teammates, you might need to quit your team to escape the toxicity.
If neither of those is true, you’re likely to have a better path with Options C or D.
How to Quit Your Team
- Monitor the internal job postings and apply to new positions
- Express your interest in broadening your skills or working in different divisions as part of development planning conversations
- Nurture relationships with other leaders through participation in cross-functional projects
Option C: Should I Quit My Role?
Another, less drastic, option if you’re unhappy, stressed, or under-motivated is to look for a new role within your team. “Hey coach, can I play shortstop instead of first base this inning?”
If your organization is fine and your boss and teammates are swell (or at least tolerable), then it might just be your job that’s wearing you down. Roles can be toxic for several reasons. Maybe you’ve done the job too long and the monotony is rotting your brain. Or maybe your job is too difficult for you, and you’re exhausted by feeling like you’re running to stand still. Or maybe it’s the customers or other stakeholders you have to deal with that are burning you out.
How to Quit Your Role
- Speak with your manager about your desire to try something new
- Find a co-worker who might be interested in a swap and go to your manager together
- Look for secondment opportunities to projects that might give temporary relief
Option D: Should I Stay and Fight
When I say, “stay and fight,” I mean stay in your organization, in your team, in your role, and change the way you behave in hopes of changing your experience of work. Let’s be real, there are situations where you don’t really have the luxury of quitting. You can’t afford to be out of work. Your company is the only game in town. You haven’t found any opportunities that look better.
How to Fight for a Healthy Environment
If you decide to stay, don’t just put up with a toxic situation. You probably have more ability to change things for the better than you think.
To be fair, I wrote a whole book about this. You First, subtitled “Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done,” provides a taxonomy of Toxic Teams and a roadmap for the things you can do differently to upend the unhealthy dynamic. If your team is the issue, it’s worth a read.
If it’s your boss that’s the issue, I’ve got some ideas for you too. I’ve classified crappy bosses into these categories and provided some suggestions on how to cope. Just follow the descriptor link that best captures your manager’s failings. (This list reads like the Seven Dwarfs from hell.)
And if it’s your colleagues who are doing the damage, here are a few thoughts depending on what you need to do.
Did I miss any toxic bosses or toxic coworkers? Let me know and I’ll give you my best advice on those too.
No one deserves to work in a toxic environment. But if you find yourself in one, quitting isn’t necessarily the only or the best option. Spend some time reflecting on what’s at the heart of the issue and you might find that you’ve got more options than you thought.
I created this handy-dandy infographic decision tree to walk you through your options. (Click to download it.)
Still worried about being in a toxic workplace?
Worry no more! I’ve put together the ultimate guide to navigating a toxic workplace. In it, I cover everything you need to know about the kinds of work environments that are harmful to your wellbeing. Topics covered include:
- What Makes a Workplace Toxic?
- The Relationship Between Psychological Safety and Toxicity
- Should I Quit my Toxic Workplace?
- How to Survive a Toxic Work Environment
- Catalog of Toxic Bosses
- How to Avoid Joining Another Toxic Company
I also made a video on the ideas discussed in this blog post, if that’s more your thing: