4 Tips for Surviving a Toxic Workplace Culture

There are consequences to a toxic workplace culture. It’s a leading cause of employee burnout. It can also impede managers’ ability to hire and retain workers, especially during a period of ultra-low unemployment in the tech industry.

Some people accidentally join a company with a toxic culture, not realizing its true nature until it’s too late. Others stay in their roles as the culture turns increasingly poisonous around them. Whatever the circumstances, it can take time to leave those kinds of workplaces—and until you take your final steps out the door, you have to put up with poor leadership, rampant backstabbing, and other negativities.

With all that in mind, here’s how to survive a toxic workplace with your career (and sanity) intact:

Build a Support Network

Even in a toxic workplace, you’ve hopefully bonded with a few colleagues whom you trust. These folks are your support network: Use them to keep your spirits up, and to keep appraised of office politics. If they’re also looking for new jobs, they can alert you to opportunities at other companies.

Don’t Succumb to Toxic Behavior

If you’re in a management or team-leader role, or just trying to survive as part of a team, it might prove a real struggle to maintain your professionalism in the face of bullying and backstabbing. Nonetheless, it’s important to stay positive, and to treat everyone as courteously as possible at all times.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, the tech industry is smaller than you think; chances are good you’ll encounter people again, later in your career. Second, by not succumbing to the broader culture, you position yourself as a fair arbiter, leader, and exemplary employee.

Document Everything

Many symptoms of the toxic workplace are solved with transparency and communication. For example, a simple conversation with a co-worker can often eliminate many of the issues between you; and for problems that prove more intractable, getting your manager or team involved is often a solid course to a solution.

But whether you try to actively fix the culture, or just want to keep your head down until you can land your next job, it’s important to record everything that happens, as it happens. Save emails, take contemporaneous notes of meetings, and generally ensure that you document as much as possible. By doing so, you not only protect yourself; you also create the evidence needed to push change.

Boost Your Skills

Just because you’re (temporarily) trapped in a toxic environment doesn’t mean you can’t learn something useful. Volunteer for projects, and take any opportunity to learn a new skill that you can put on your résumé. That will only help when it comes time to apply to a brand-new position (hopefully at a workplace with better culture).

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One Response to “4 Tips for Surviving a Toxic Workplace Culture”

  1. James Igoe

    In retrospect, when I’ve decided to leave an organization, I haven’t documented everything, but I can see from others how that might matter. For myself, I’ve focused on the following, very much the same as the article:

    – Refining and developing skills
    – Being one’s best, aiming to shine while searching for an exit
    – Connecting with everyone with which you have a positive relationship