Is it time to leave your toxic workplace? (video transcript)

Are you worried that your work environment might have become toxic, dangerous to your physical or your mental health? Here are some options for how you can get out of that toxic environment and get to the team that you deserve.

When we consider what your options are in a toxic work environment, the most important thing is to first think about what exactly is going wrong because depending on where the issue lies that’s where you’re gonna find your different options.

When to quit an organization

Policies, procedures and physical environment

The first category of truly toxic organizations is situations where the policies, the procedures, the physical environment of the workplace are unhealthy. That may be because it the environment is literally physically unsafe, for example if there are toxic chemicals, people using dangerous substances unwisely or even things falling on your head. Being expected to work long shifts can also be dangerous as fatigue can put you at risk.

Discriminatory practices

Whilst the policies and procedures of the organization are toxic are not necessarily physically unsafe, it might be that your organization has discriminatory practices. For example the way they schedule you doesn’t leave you time to address your own personal needs. It could be that the compensation isn’t sufficient to earn a living wage, or at least you’re not paid fairly relative to people doing other jobs.

Although I’d love to tell you to stand up and fight city hall, I know from experience that fighting city hall is incredibly difficult, whether that’s going to a regulator or ombudsperson, raising a white flag around to HR or around discriminatory policies. It’s really hard to be successful in this way. And unfortunately, even if you are successful, it can be really disruptive and hard to build back relationships.

So in many ways, if you find yourself in an organization where the policies, procedures, or the physical work environment are dangerous, it’s likely best to just get out.

Toxic culture

A toxic work culture is not codified in formal rules, but becomes evident when looking at how people actually behave and what the informal rules of the organization are. This could mean a culture where people condone yelling and screaming and nasty behavior. It could be a highly passive-aggressive culture, or even a toxically positive culture where nobody can say anything about risks or what’s not working. Everybody just has to be happy all the time.

In situations like this, it is likely that rather than being down to a few bad apples, it’s actually the whole way the organization thinks and acts, and that its values are harmful to your physical or your mental health. As such, it’s another situation where you’re probably not going to create change, at least not in the timeframe that you can afford to be under these levels of stress, and it’s best to tender your resignation.

Buy some time

Before you do that, I want you to think about trying to buy some time. The first reason is so that you don’t quit your job and be without income while you look for a new job. The best thing to do is to get the peace of mind from the knowledge that you are going to quit, and use the time to quietly apply for other jobs.

Good relationships

The other thing to do in that cooling off period is to ensure you leave as many of the relationships as possible in a good position. You never know when somebody else is gonna come back into your life, and you are really gonna be glad that you did things to leave that relationship in a healthy place.

So if the organization’s physical environment, policies, procedures, or culture are toxic, I completely agree with you, the best thing to do is get out of town. But if you’re getting out of town it’s always best to take the high road.

When to quit your team

In many cases it’s not your organization that’s systematically a write off. It’s actually a more localized issue. And in that case, you have other options.

Toxic boss

If your boss is toxic, you might just want to quit your team. So what do I mean when I say a toxic boss? Check out this link to find a catalog of 11 different toxic bosses and my specific advice for how to handle each one. If you’ve realized that this toxic boss is taking a toll on your health, it can be a good decision to get out from under them.

Toxic colleagues

Similarly you might have toxic colleagues. They’re passive aggressive, they’re nasty. They’re constantly jumping in front of you to grab the spotlight and the recognition for your work. If you have either a toxic boss or toxic colleagues you don’t have to quit your organization. You can quit your team.

How to quit your team

Start looking for paths in your organization to get out from underneath the group that’s really been harmful to you. Start to build as many bridges as you can.

Are there friends you have in other departments? Can you have a coffee with them? Try reconnecting with former managers maybe who are now managing other teams. Can you volunteer for cross-functional projects so that other people get exposed to your work and your contributions?

All of these things are ways that you can raise your profile and find new opportunities to apply for jobs in other parts of the organization. Keep an eye open for internal job postings, and if there’s somebody in HR you feel comfortable talking to, speak to them about it. However, be sure to frame it by saying you want development in a new area, rather than complaining about your boss as that’s not going to help you find a position elsewhere.

So it might be finding a cross-functional team to participate in. It might just be joining the softball team. But whatever it is, if you have a toxic boss or toxic colleagues, you should quit that team and find a path out to another team in your organization.

When to quit your role

One final scenario is that your organization is great, your team is awesome, but your customers are toxic. Unfortunately this happens far too often these days. However if that’s the case, you might not have to quit your team at all.

You might be able to quit your role, which means getting a break from those customers who are really wearing you down.

Imagine you are the business partner for IT for the Western region. And that Western region lead is a piece of work. Well, you can talk with your manager about it and ask if there’s a chance that you could support a different business unit for a while.

If you’ve been working in the front of the house where customers are really abusive, can you move to a back office job? If you are dealing with a client as a lawyer or a consultant or an accountant, can you be shifted to another file just to get a break from a customer where maybe it just constantly feels like friction for you?

All of these things are possible.

If it’s nothing in your organization that’s the issue, it’s simply the client or the customer that’s the problem.

Final Thoughts

I hope I’ve given you a little bit of hope and perspective that you might not need to quit your organization, even if you’re facing a toxic environment at the moment. If that’s what’s right, then it is a good thing to do. Just buy yourself a little time to do it in a controlled way, but if it’s only your team that’s the issue, quit that team. And if it’s the customers, maybe you can just quit your role. So there is hope, but remember if you’re in a toxic situation, do not ignore it. It is too harmful to your physical and your mental wellbeing to live with that kind of stress over the long term.

More on this

Your Ultimate Guide to Navigating a Toxic Workplace

How to handle a toxic boss

Toxic Team Dynamics