Can You Thrive In a Toxic Workplace?

In a recent survey, 55% of employees say they work in a moderately to highly toxic workplace and 47% say that there is more toxicity in their workplace than there was pre-pandemic. 


This is bad news for employees and employers.


Toxicity in the workplace can poison your physical, emotional and mental well-being. It can also be a blackhole for your potential.


Sooner or later, most people will jump ship for healthier shores when faced with toxicity. 


But what if leaving isn’t possible or advantageous for you? Is it possible to not only survive a toxic workplace but to thrive in one? 


Possibly. If you want to try, start by creating a toxicity buffer for yourself. 


Create Your Toxicity Buffer


You can’t control how other people act. And, unless you are the CEO or person with deep influence in your company, you probably can’t change toxic policies, at least not alone. So, to survive and thrive in a toxic workplace, your viable choice is to focus on what you have control over–protecting yourself against toxic behavior and policies.


Protecting yourself against harmful toxic chemicals falls into three categories–reduce your exposure, wear protective clothing when you are around toxic chemicals, and use good ventilation to clear the air from toxic elements. 


Let’s apply these same principles to building your own workplace toxicity buffer.


Is career trauma holding you back? Check out this post.


      1. Reduce Your Exposure


Completely avoiding unproductive, non-inclusive meetings or a disgruntled team member who complains all the time is probably unlikely. But, you might be able to reduce your exposure to these people and situations. 


Be intentional about reducing the time and direct contact with the people and situations that poison you. Arrive at meetings just on time so there is no time for pre-meeting chit chat. Only use Slack when it is relevant and critical to your job. Schedule a working lunch with a beloved colleague instead of going to the company birthday celebration.


 Cutting down your exposure to toxic situations by as little as 10% can make a difference in how you feel. As a counteraction to toxic exposure, increase your exposure to people and situations that nourish you.


      2. Protect Yourself


When exposed to workplace toxicity, you’ll need to protect yourself so the “poison” doesn’t impact your well-being. 

Reduce your stress by incorporating 30-60 second mindfulness practices throughout your day. In the Mental Fitness program I teach, we call these PQ Reps.


Use curiosity to find the opportunities that others might not see. For example, instead of focusing on how poorly the meeting is run, become a detective and look for one takeaway from the meeting that is going to help you further your work goals. Or, use the meeting to cultivate a relationship that is important for your network. 


When you divert your attention away from what is poisonous, you will absorb less of it. 


     3. Clear the Air


If you have a room full of toxic fumes you’ll open a window to clear the air. When you are exposed to workplace toxicity you need to clear your emotions. 


In my work, I use a technique called “clearing.” When a client shows up to a coaching session angry or frustrated about something, I give her three to five minutes to clear her emotions by saying whatever needs to be said. It’s like watching a balloon deflate as the emotions run their course. Once the client has had a chance to clear, she is usually ready to move on to working on whatever she wants help with that day. 


Make an agreement with a trusted colleague or friend to give each other three to five minutes to clear your emotions when you’ve been exposed to toxicity. The agreement should be that you have no longer than five minutes and after that five minutes you have to switch to working on a solution to your problem or drop it all together. 



Key Takeaways

If you are in a toxic workplace, whether out of necessity or choice, there are steps you can take to survive and thrive in the environment. 


1. Reduce your exposure to toxic people and situations by limiting your time by at least 10% in toxic environments and counteracting toxic time with nourishing time.


2. Protect yourself by doing mindfulness exercises and using curiosity to distract you from toxic settings. 


3. Clear your emotions through 3-5 minutes of venting and then move on to creative problem solving. 


Your Power Is In Choice


Working in a toxic environment is never easy but it doesn’t have to be without choice. Whether you decide to stay or to leave, do it intentionally, knowing that you ultimately are in control of how you respond to any situation. 





Kirsten Bunch is a Certified Mental Fitness and Mental Health Coach who helps create happier and more fulfilled employees and workplaces. Her work has been featured in O, Oprah Magazine and Forbes. Learn how to Reclaim Your Power at Work with this free workbook.