Toxic workplace cultures are the number one factor causing workers to leave their jobs during the Great Resignation. In fact, toxic workplaces are 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover. So if you’re struggling with toxicity at work, know that you’re far from alone.
A Harvard Business School study found that 80 percent of employees have lost work time worrying about a toxic coworker, 78 percent say their commitment to their job has declined because of toxic behavior, and 66 percent say their performance has declined.
If you’re feeling the effects and are considering leaving a toxic workplace, here are signs to look out for, tips on how to leave, and ways to take care of your mental health after you get out.
What does a toxic workplace look like?
A toxic workplace can look like many things, but overall, it’s an environment that negatively affects your wellbeing, leading to stress, anxiety, and burnout. If your office (whether remote or in-person) is rife with gossip, manipulation, disrespect, or other unethical behavior, you’re probably operating in a toxic workplace.
Here are a few more telltale signs of a toxic workplace:
There’s a boys’ club. Do you only see men in top leadership positions? Are qualified women and BIPOC employees passed over for promotions and raises? Are women the only ones fetching coffee and other forms of unpaid work? Do women frequently feel left out of or excluded from casual “water cooler” conversations?
Discrimination and verbal abuse occur regularly. Verbal abuse can be discriminatory language based on gender, sexual orientation, or ability, sexually harassing comments about someone’s physical appearance, shouting, throwing someone under the bus, challenging everything voiced by a targeted coworker, constant interruption, and more.
There’s no work-life balance and hustle culture is encouraged. Even when you take vacation time or take a mental health day, your boss still pressures you to be “on” and available. There’s no promotion of maintaining a work-life balance, and employees compete to see who can work the longest hours without prioritizing rest.
You have a toxic, narcissistic boss. Toxicity breeds toxicity. Toxic bosses exhibit overbearing, critical, or tuned-out behavior. They might pick on people, publicly point out shortcomings, micromanage team members, play favorites, or uphold sexist, racist, or homophobic beliefs in the workplace.
There’s poor communication. Are there changes around the office that no one talks about? Are employees let go without notice? Are assignments vague? Does your manager withhold feedback until a bad performance review? Are emails and communications constantly being lost?
Gossip is the norm. Some gossip is inevitable, but if it’s to the point where everyone is talking about everyone else during work hours, then it’s a sign of toxicity.
There’s a high turnover rate. If people regularly leave after a year or so, whether they’re getting fired or moving on to new positions, you might want to consider the impetus of why that could be happening.
There’s no promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion. There’s no prioritization of creating an inclusive workplace and hiring managers still look out for “culture fit,” reinforcing a homogenous workplace culture.
12 tips for leaving a toxic workplace
If you’ve finally had enough of the toxicity and bad behavior, and you’ve already tried to improve the situation to no avail, it’s time to take care of your mental and professional health and leave. Keep these tips in mind when you’re leaving your toxic workplace.
1. Take time for self-reflection
If you’ve noticed a few signs of a toxic workplace but aren’t sure if you’re ready to leave yet, ask yourself these reflective questions:
Have you stopped growing professionally?
Do you feel supported by your manager and peers?
Does your job align with your values?
Do you feel like you’re operating on autopilot?
If you feel stuck and dread going to work everyday, it might benefit you to get out completely.
2. Find an ally
It can be hard to find coworkers that you trust in a toxic workplace—especially when gossip flies around easily. However, it’s likely that you aren’t alone in feeling stressed by your environment, so try to find a coworker who will sympathize with you, allow you to vent, and stand up and advocate for you in tense situations.
3. Document everything
If you’re experiencing abuse or discrimination, make sure you have written documentation of any and all names, dates, places, and context of what was said during a harmful interaction. If it becomes illegal and you need to file a formal complaint, you’ll have the evidence to back up your claim.
4. Secure positive references
If there’s anyone who can vouch for you at the company, a positive reference will go a long way when looking for your next opportunity. Career and leadership coach Kathy Caprino says, “Do your best to obtain some letters of recommendation from mentors and others at the organization who can speak highly of you. Secure some LinkedIn recommendations as well, from respected individuals who are happy to endorse you and your work publicly.”
5. Make financial preparations
If you’re trying to escape a toxic workplace ASAP, you might be quitting without another job lined up. If this is the case, you’ll need to consider how your lost income, benefits, 401K contributions, and stock options will impact your finances and create a budget plan.
6. Create an exit strategy and give your two-weeks notice
Giving the standard two-weeks notice is a professional way to quit your job. When possible, always try to have the conversation in person or over a video call if you’re remote. You can print out your two-weeks notice or resignation letter and hand it to human resources and your manager when you have the conversation.
7. Create a list of what you’re looking for in a next job
Write down what your non-negotiables are in a new job. What are you looking for in terms of a good salary? Inclusive benefits? Learning opportunities? Company culture? Corporate social responsibility?
8. Update your resume
If you’re going to start your job hunt after you leave, make sure you update your resume to reflect the correct start and end dates for all positions, tweak your personal summary (if you have one), and ensure your job responsibility descriptions are all accurate.
9. Network, network, network
Searching for a side-hustle or new job can be daunting, but networking can ease the stress. Reach out to old connections and friends on LinkedIn, invite a mentor to lunch, or join an online women’s networking group.
If you hate networking, consider this advice from Andreea Vanacker, CEO of mental wellbeing tech company SPARKX5: “Turn your ‘fear’ of meeting others into ‘curiosity’ about them by asking questions to allow you to truly get to know each person in a unique way,” says Vanacker. “Inquire what is their biggest achievement in the recent months, or why they chose a specific career/academic path. Also, aim to connect on a regular basis with people you wish to build a strong relationship with and focus on ‘giving’ versus ‘asking’ for something. Deliver valuable insights/articles or simply stay in touch and mention to them ‘that they can contact you if they need anything.’
10. Prioritize self-care
Self-care should be top-of-mind when you leave a toxic workplace. To prevent burnout while you deal with the emotions from your previous job while also looking for new opportunities, make sure you have some healthy coping mechanisms. This can be anything from doing breathing exercises to taking a 30 minute bike ride to creating positive affirmations for yourself.
11. Prepare for interviews
Chances are, you’ll probably be taking on some interviews in the nearby future. Start practicing your answers to common and tough interview questions and really get to the root of what will motivate you in your next job.
12. Think positive
You took a big step by leaving a toxic workplace, so you should be proud of yourself. Now begins a new chapter of your career journey, and with the lessons you’ve learned from your previous job, it can only get better.
How to take care of yourself after you leave a toxic workplace
We know that toxic environments are associated with stress and burnout at work, but toxic environments can also affect your life outside of work, leaving you emotionally drained. And when you don’t take the time to process all of your emotions from your previous job, it can be hard to move on with all of the emotional baggage that comes with leaving a toxic workplace.
After you leave, you might feel scared, unappreciated, silenced, overworked, taken advantage of, or disrespected. One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to grieve and try to learn from the experience. It can be helpful to identify your values and goals for the future to help you find a positive, enriching work environment.
Psychologist Liz Liepold says, “Sometimes, negative experiences can lead us to see new experiences through ‘trauma goggles.’ Everything gets colored by the past. We want to disrupt the pattern as much as possible, so we can grieve the negative experiences that got us to where we are today.”
In order to disrupt your brain’s natural response to view your new job through trauma goggles, you have to recover. Acknowledge the toxicity you experienced and talk about it with someone you trust and can be vulnerable with, whether a friend or a therapist. Vocalizing your story unpacks the trauma and can help you identify triggers for future situations.
At the end of the day, you have to know your worth and hold firm that you are worthy of respect and acceptance from others. Don’t settle for anything less.