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How to Survive a Toxic Workplace: 8 Tips To Stay Sane (With Checklist)

woman slumped over her desk while trying to survive a toxic workplace environment


While all workplaces have challenges, a toxic work environment feels like a never-ending Monday morning. It’s mentally and emotionally draining and keeps you from feeling happy with your work. There are often unnecessary disputes, a lack of respect and sensitivity, and retaliation for practicing your rights. Even prestigious places, such as the scandalous Ellen DeGeneres show, can be toxic to work in. Understandably, quitting is not always an option. Finding out how to survive a toxic workplace is the best way to ensure that you stay sane until your employment period is complete.

What Is a Toxic Work Environment? — A Checklist for Toxic Workplace Behaviors

If you’re wondering if your workplace is harmful, it helps to understand toxic work environment characteristics. This checklist can help you determine if your workplace is unhealthy for you.

1. Experiencing Burnout

Toxic work environments often overload you with work and thoughts, leaving little room for relaxation. You may find yourself working long hours in the hope of a reward, but your efforts quickly get brushed off. Sometimes, you may experience burnout because your job is unchallenging and has no opportunities for growth, or you’re tired after working for a long time without breaks. If your stress is causing you a burn-out, find a stress management solution that best work for you.

2.  Poor Work-Life Balance

A balance between your personal life and work is essential to help you stay productive. Toxic jobs often burden you with so much work that taking a break often feels like a luxury. You may find yourself working later than usual most of the time and responding to emails at dinner. Your relationships outside work may start to suffer. When it’s time to take a vacation, you may find that your boss is passive-aggressive about it.

3.  Poor Communication

It’s a fact that effective communication is essential for the success of any organization. Toxic workplaces, on the other hand, have insufficient and scanty communication.

How to survive a toxic workplace checklist

You may find yourself being left out of critical information by bosses and colleagues, who may claim to have forgotten. Sometimes, your boss may give little to no feedback, and when they do, they may find ways to insult you or criticize your performance with little constructive information. Other characteristics include poor listening by the leaders, an absence of clarity around situations, and many employees receiving different messages. Due to poor communication, fights can emerge, forcing you into silence when you ask questions.

4.  Cliques

A toxic job may feel like high school all over again. There may be employees who exclude, bully, and gossip others. They have inside jokes, share meals and take breaks together, and alienate everyone else. However, when they need something from you, they’re surprisingly friendly until your project is done, and they move on. Unfortunately, dealing with cliques cannot be avoided if you want to survive a toxic workplace.

5.  Poor Leadership

Having a toxic boss is a significant characteristic of a toxic workplace. A toxic boss may shout at you and insult you or be passive-aggressive for no reason. They may also expect you to work long hours without extra pay, offload their personal lives on you, and contact you outside office hours. Some bosses may send emails at midnight and expect immediate responses, while others may call you and expect that you pick up immediately.

Other bosses are micromanagers who happily look for mistakes in your work and won’t let you focus on work. You may also have a boss that blames you for all their mistakes whenever a senior points them out and pretends not to acknowledge your existence, while often forgetting or misspelling your name.

6.  Toxic Coworkers

Negative people at work are nothing but derailing and impossible to work with. They come in several forms. Some are always watching you, probing you for opinions and sharing them with your bosses, or starting rumors about you in an office. Others take over your space by using your items without asking and flagging your requests as petty behavior.

Some coworkers are always playing politics in the office, hoping to grab all the promotions, while others would not think twice about stealing a job offer from you. Other coworkers are impossible to work with because they lack motivation and are lazy. They often give you the majority of the work, but take credit when the bosses come calling. Knowing how to handle these types of coworkers will help you survive a toxic workplace.

7.  Stifled Growth

While not all businesses have opportunities for immense growth, toxic jobs often present zero chances for advancement. Sometimes, your bosses and coworkers may take away promotions you’re greatly qualified for. Other bosses refuse to let you work independently, often insisting on unnecessary supervision, while some refuse to enroll workers in development programs essential to the job. Any attempts to self-develop by assuming more responsibilities, asking for raises, or taking evening classes are met with hostility.

8.  High Employee Turnover

Quitting a job is a difficult choice, and if many people at your workplace are doing it, it’s likely toxic. Employees may be willing to work at an office long enough to gain critical skills, climb up the corporate ladder, or grow with a company. However, if people resign a few months into a job, something is wrong in the workplace.

9.  Discrimination

Being discriminated against based on race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age, disability, or general appearance is wrenching. Unfortunately, you may find yourself being alienated, blamed, micromanaged, disrespected, and denied opportunities by people that are prejudiced against you.

How to Survive a Toxic Workplace

When attempting to survive a toxic workplace, it’s essential to remember that there are things outside your control. It’s best to handle what you can and accept that there are matters beyond you. With that, let’s see how you can handle toxic work culture.

1.  Never Take Work Home

If taking work home has been a habit, it’s time to start saying no to work files on your dinner table. There is no reason to bring the toxicity home when you could relax and enjoy time alone or with your family or friends. Learn to say no to extra assignments when the day ends, and leave any files and pending emails at the office.

Leave all the negative energy at the office, and learn to say no when the boss suggests that you “stay a little longer tonight.” Never check any of your emails after work, and ignore calls from bosses that refuse to give you personal space.

2.  Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Find healthy ways to take your mind off work and cope with stress and anxiety. If your friend, partner, or spouse is comfortable, ask them to listen to you while you vent about work. Talking to someone can help you release pent-up frustration to avoid emotional bursts at work. If you have no one to talk to, try writing a journal or recording private voice notes where you vent about your work.

Besides talk therapy, you could also try exercising by jogging, visiting the park, swimming, or walking a dog. If time allows it, go grocery shopping, cook, take a snack at a local café, or sit by a beach. Ensure you leave the office on time and find a relaxing and enjoyable activity to help you cope.

black woman de-stressing after surviving a toxic workplace in the park while having a coffee
3.  Avoid the Drama
If you have negative coworkers and tyrannical bosses, try as hard as possible to avoid the drama. Keep the distance from cliques that alienate others, and gossip. Only share opinions on work, and avoid drinks after work with toxic coworkers. However, this doesn’t mean that you should not stand up for yourself, especially when someone is rude. Speak up and express yourself calmly but assertively. Ensure the rude person understands that they crossed a line and can address matters without rudeness.

4.  Establish Boundaries

Toxic workplaces find numerous ways to drain you, which is why you need solid boundaries. When it’s time for a break, take every minute of it, and enjoy it in silence. Take vacations when necessary, and refuse to answer calls to take work home. If a colleague uses your items without your permission, confront them directly, and ask them to leave your stuff alone. Establishing firm boundaries will go a long way in helping you survive a toxic workplace.

5.  Practice Mindfulness

Whenever you have the opportunity, whether at home or the office, remind yourself of who you are and what your goals are. Surviving a toxic workplace is easier when you have a set goal and timeline in mind. Keep telling yourself why you’re in the job, and if you have an escape plan, use it to power through your work. Most importantly, remind yourself that your job isn’t you and that you exist beyond your work.

6.  Bring Positivity to Your Workspace

Your mind needs constant reminders that everything is okay. Surround yourself with bright and beautiful memories that make you happy. Use the picture you took on graduation, your family and friends’ photos, or colorful notes that make you smile. You can also keep these memories with you when a boss chooses to ignore your boundaries and becomes disrespectful. Escape to your happy place in your mind and remain positive.

7.  Clear Up Any Misunderstandings

If a coworker or boss is hostile towards you, clear the air and ask why they feel that way. Do not leave room for speculation, especially when your image is under attack. Walk up to the responsible party and talk to them to make sure you either stop the behavior or find a way to brush it away.


Surviving a toxic work environment is challenging, but possible if quitting isn’t an option. Practice positivity, establish boundaries, and remember why you work there. More importantly, create routines and habits that help you cope with the stress and anxiety in your job. Ultimately, you’ll want to leave the toxic work environment and find a new job. When that time arrives, you can trust Lensa to deliver the right tips and suggestions to help you find a better workplace.

A State-by-State Analysis of Job Retention

This chart gives a geographical breakdown of the average time employees stay within their respective roles across the United States. By analyzing this data, we can draw connections between the duration of employment and the potential toxicity of workplaces that varies in various regions. The longer the average years, the more it may suggest a healthier work environment that retains employees longer. While it is not a definitive measure of toxicity, it is a compelling overview of state-wise employment longevity. The chart is interactive, so feel free to play and narrow it down based on your industry, job title, or specialization.
Disclaimer: Updated until April 2023

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Team Lensa
Team Lensa
Team Lensa is a group of HR specialists, career counselors, and tech enthusiasts dedicated to helping job seekers navigate the employment landscape through actionable tips and insights.

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