A bullying management, sexual harassment, poor financial rewards, or an office that spews pollutants from cheap furnishings or air conditioning units …  in these challenging economic times, it’s all too easy to end up working for a toxic company or in a toxic office.

Of course the two can be separate but, often, they’re combined. Companies who care about employees provide a healthy, enjoyable, motivating environment. See my story at https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/05/01/green-offices-boost-productivity

The problem arises when we accept poor conditions of work, for fear of financial loss or of loss of status when, in the long-term, we are jeopardising something even more important – our good mental and physical health.

Muscular pain, disturbed sleep and excess use of alcohol or painkillers are all early warning signs of burnout. There is always a tipping point at which no one can reasonably be expected to function.  Going against your values or beliefs, in both your work and how you should be compensated for it, ultimately causes unsustainable stress.  

Simply put, the crushing outcome of a range of detrimental workplace factors, from poor air quality or building design, to a management culture determined to grow profits at employee expense, can be physical and emotional breakdown.

In Toxic People: Decontaminating Difficult People At Work Without Using Weapons Or Duct Tape, Marsha Petrie Sue suggests the negative health consequences of absorbing toxic people’s venom range from eczema and increased anxiety to insomnia and high blood pressure. https://www.amazon.com/Toxic-People-Decontaminate-Difficult-Without-ebook/dp/B000XU8DQA

The physical impact of 60 or 80 hour weeks, substandard office equipment or poor air quality, are more difficult to quantify but can range from mild annoyances – rashes, allergies, and frequent colds – to more serious health conditions including autoimmune diseases aggravated by stress.

So, if you work in an office toxic office, what should you do?

Unfortunately it’s unlikely you can bring about changes to your employer’s policies or practices, unless you are prepared to tackle illegalities or mistreatment through legal channels. If not, you’re better to change yourself – and leave the company.

Preparation is key but not continuing to absorb more toxic treatment is just as vital.

– Research employment opportunities in your field, and if they are increasingly limited, think about retraining. It is estimated that, in 20 years, almost 50% of the jobs that exist now will be taken over by robots or computers. https://www.fastcompany.com/3067279/you-didnt-see-this-coming-10-jobs-that-will-be-replaced-by-robots

– Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you are looking to move on and use social media platforms to grow contacts and opportunities. 

– Have an F*** Off fund. Save at least three months salary to survive on. Consider backdating any claim you have against your employer. Or see if you are able to access some of your superannuation to make a fresh start.

– Limit your expenses and overheads as well as prepare a projection of your financial commitments for the next six months, or year, while you transition. 

– Trade up or scale down. Perhaps there’s a job higher up the employee rank for you at another company and the only prerequisite is a commitment to upskilling while onboard. Or maybe your skills would be better suited to a freelance business where only you are the employee. If you’re having trouble finding the job that will provide your next best career move, consider a “bridge job”  that will get you out of that toxic environment while also affording you the time to search for a new job with more commitment.

– Make a leap of faith. You could wait until circumstances are perfect to leave a toxic company but that time is before the emotional, psychological and physical toll is too extreme to reverse. 

Need more reasons to call it quits? See https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/2016-01-25/5-reasons-to-leave-your-toxic-job-right-now

Helen Hawkes

Helen Hawkes is a journalist who writes compelling print and digital content across business and finance, health and lifestyle, real estate and interiors. Her content clients have ranged from American Express and the University of NSW to Maserati and 9Honey. She is fluent in cross-platform storytelling, brand tone of voice, content strategy and stakeholder management.