Working in a Toxic Environment - and How to Deal

We all have days when we’d rather call in sick to work, but if you find you dread going to the office, you could be working in a toxic environment. In situations like these, you might notice harmful gossip, poor leadership, low morale, high turnover, and overall negativity. But leaving the job without another one lined up isn’t ideal, especially in today’s economic climate. Here’s how you can identify if you’re working in a toxic environment, and how to handle it if you are.


A few signs you’re working in a toxic environment:

  • Poor leadership trickles down to the rest of the organization and can cause an unhealthy office culture and unhappy employees. Look out for micromanagers, negative and disrespectful leaders, and disconnected and un-empathetic bosses.
  • Poor communication is often a sign of a toxic work environment. Things to look out for? Passive-aggressive communication, a failure to listen, inconsistency in messaging, lack of clarity, and an expectation to be connected constantly, even off-hours.
  • An organization worth working for invests in its employees. Notice if there are no growth opportunities, whether it’s a mentorship program or upward job mobility.
  • If you thought you left cliques behind in high school, think again. Many toxic workplaces center on exclusion and gossip. Watch out for groups that do everything—lunch, coffee, happy hour—together or are often assigned projects even if they don’t have the experience or skills. People like this will spend most of their day gossiping in person or over chat and will only show interest if there’s drama involved.
  • If your coworkers are unmotivated, chances are they’re unhappy—and you will be, too. Having to take on their work, in addition to your own, will burn you out quickly.
  • Burnout happens when you give your all without any positive outcome, feel under-challenged, or are uninspired due to constant stress on the job
  • If there’s high employee turnover, there’s likely a problem

Unfortunately, a toxic work environment can have a negative impact on your life outside of the office. It can cause stress, insomnia, low self-esteem, and even physical problems. Finding a new job is not always an option or immediately available. So how do you cope?


When you’re in the office:

  • Stay positive and associate with positive people
  • Avoid gossip and make it clear that you’re not open to chatting, whether it’s looking busy or putting up a sign to signal when you don’t want to be disturbed
  • Tune out the noise by using noise-canceling headphones or listening to music
  • Take breaks throughout the day, whether to sit in your car for a few minutes or go for a walk
  • Practice meditation or visualization when things get stressful
  • Create a positive workspace with family photos, inspirational quotes, and friendly reminders
  • Don’t take things personally and learn to laugh at the drama
  • Make a daily to-do list to help you stay focused on what you need to accomplish


Once you’re done for the day:

  • Make sure you have a group of friends or family you can talk to when you need to vent
  • Find an outlet for your frustration like going to the gym or learning to play the guitar
  • Develop a regular gratitude practice to remind you that there is plenty of good in your life
  • Focus on self-development


A toxic work environment isn’t a place you should stay long, but there are ways to make it bearable until you’re able to improve your situation.



Article authored by and containing the opinions of Starr Wright USA. This article is offered solely for informational purposes. Starr Wright USA is a marketing name for Starr Wright Insurance Agency, Inc. and its affiliate(s). Starr Wright USA is an insurance agency specializing in insurance solutions for federal employees and federal contractors. For more information, visit Starr Wright USA is a division of Starr Insurance Companies, which is a marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.