5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Work Environment and How To Handle It

Updated August 31, 2023

No matter your profession, it's important to surround yourself with uplifting individuals and a healthy environment that promotes your professional growth. Even if you find yourself in a toxic work environment, there are several things you can do to make the most of the situation.

In this article, we list the signs of a toxic work environment and provide you with 18 tips to help you deal with this workplace negativity.

a dejected-looking person rests their chin in their hands while looking at a screen

5 signs of a toxic work environment

A toxic work environment presents itself in different ways. Knowing what to look out for can help you identify the negativity in your workplace, allowing you to handle it more efficiently and successfully. Here are some of the common signs of a toxic work environment:

1. Fatigue and illness

Toxic workplaces often make you feel burned out, tired and ill due to the level of stress you're enduring. If you find yourself calling in sick often or if you're constantly feeling drained and exhausted, it may indicate that your work environment is affecting your health.

Related: Signs of Job Burnout and How To Cope

2. Little to no enthusiasm

When you're at work, look around your office or work area to determine whether anyone is truly happy and smiling. If you don't see positive conversations or employees socializing, it can equal toxicity. This lack of motivation and morale can spread to everyone in the workspace, creating an exponentially bigger problem.

3. High turnover

If you begin to notice a high turnover rate at your company or within your team, it may indicate that others have picked up on the toxicity in your workplace. Poor morale, sickness and an overall lack of enthusiasm can lead to employees looking for employment opportunities elsewhere.

4. Cliques, exclusion and gossip

If you notice a tight group of people at work that alienates others in the workplace, it may indicate a toxic workplace. While it's normal to have work friends and acquaintances, any behavior that shows these groups acting like a clique and spreading negativity or gossip breeds toxicity.

Related: How To Manage Work Cliques: Definition and Tips

5. Stifled growth

If your company doesn't offer learning opportunities or mentorship, it may not be invested in your growth. While it's not your job's responsibility to motivate you to continue learning, the lack of support can indicate a toxic workplace. This may encourage you to seek other opportunities.

Related: 15 Signs It Is Time To Quit Your Job

17 ways to deal with a toxic work environment

When you find yourself in a toxic work environment, it's important to do what you can to stay positive and productive. Use these tips below to help you handle a toxic work environment, keeping in mind that methods that work for others may not work the same for you.

1. Find a support group

Whether or not you're in a toxic work environment, it's important to find a group of people who'll support you no matter the situation. Find a support group outside of work that you can turn to when tensions run high at work. While you may not feel comfortable venting to your colleagues, having a support group outside of work gives you an outlet to express your emotions and frustrations.

2. Find a way to unwind

After a long and stressful workday, it's important to find ways to relax. Instead of dwelling on the events of the day, look for things to do that can get your mind off of work, such as going to the gym or doing a few home improvement projects. Focusing on your after-work tasks prevents your mind from wandering back to an unpleasant workday.

Here are a few ways you can unwind after work:

  • Journal your thoughts

  • Read a book

  • Exercise

  • Listen and dance to your favorite music

  • Take a bath or shower

  • Schedule a fun outing

Read more: How To Relax After Work (Plus Why It's Important)

3. Stay positive

When you spend time around people with a pessimistic mindset, it can negatively affect your mood. Even if you don't find yourself around uplifting personalities, it's important to stay positive to keep you from never-ending negativity. Remind yourself of what you do enjoy about your job and look for the good in as much as you can. Focusing on what you're grateful for ensures the negativity won't get you down.

It's worth noting that while it's important to remain joyful, don't overdo it and act like nothing is wrong. Instead, focus on your duties and be both respectful and polite to everyone you speak to.

Related: 9 Tips for Being Positive at Work

4. Meditate

Take a few minutes to meditate during your work break. Use this mind-body practice to promote relaxation and calmness. Make sure to breathe deeply in a rhythmic pattern and focus on each breath you take. Relieving any built-up tension and stress makes it easier for you to make it through the rest of your workday despite the less-than-favorable environment you're in.

Related: 11 Healthy Morning Routines To Start Your Workday

5. Tune everything out

When you're surrounded by negativity, it's important to not let it distract you. Keep yourself focused by bringing headphones to work. Listen to music as you work throughout the day. This can help you stay calm and improve your overall productivity. Also, it's a great way to tune out any distractions regardless of whether they're negative.

Related: 10 Focus Exercises for Improving Concentration Skills

6. Leave work issues at work

Aim to leave your work issues behind once you get home from your shift. While venting can help you feel better, try to limit discussing anything work-related once you've entered your home. When you take your mind off work and the various issues that arose during the workday, it can put you in a better mood and prevent you from making the problem even worse.

Related: How To Heal After Leaving a Toxic Job

7. Avoid office gossip

While it's normal to want to interact with your colleagues, avoid gossip of any kind. If you constantly engage in this activity, it can promote toxicity in your workplace. Establish boundaries with those around you so they know they can’t expect anything more than a neutral response when they attempt a negative conversation. Avoiding office gossip can keep you away from the negativity and helps you focus on your job.

8. Look for the humor in every situation

When you're surrounded by a toxic work environment, it's important to look at everything from a positive point of view as much as you can. Instead of constantly complaining about your job, learn to laugh about certain situations. Finding humor in every situation can help you feel better. You can also trade stories with a friend outside of the office to remind yourself that you're not alone.

9. Take a break

Throughout your workday, set aside time to step away from your duties. Taking a short break can give your brain time to rest. Whether you go for a walk, meditate or eat a healthy snack, leaving your work for a short period can elevate your mood and even improve your productivity when you return to work.

10. Know that you can only control your actions and reactions

Realize that you can't control what people say to you or what they do—you can only control your own actions and reactions. Accepting this can help you let go of their negative behavior while allowing you to focus on yourself. This can help you improve your personal growth, which you can take with you outside of work.

11. Look for inspiration

If you no longer find inspiration at work, look for it elsewhere. Take time to remove yourself from your desk or workspace and change your environment. Consider going for a short walk outside. Doing this can help refresh your mind and give you the time you need to come back focused and ready to handle anything the workday brings you.

12. Remind yourself that it's not a reflection of who you are

Oftentimes in a toxic work environment, you can find gossip, negativity and passive-aggressive leadership. Even though you're surrounded by this daily, it's important to remember your self-worth. Learn to separate the negativity and the reality of who you are. Remind yourself that you don't reflect your surroundings.

13. Create lists

To help you stay productive and keep your mind off work, make a list of everything you need to get done in a day. Having a list to go off of makes it easier for you to complete your tasks without having time to think about anything that previously stressed you out or your negative work environment in general. Creating a list can help you stay motivated and positive and gives you a reason to keep going through the day.

Read more: How To Create a Productive To-Do List (With Tips)

14. Regain your identity

If you've worked in a toxic work environment for a while, you may have lost some self-esteem along the way. Take time to find your identity outside of work. Consider enrolling in classes to help you advance in your career or picking up a passion project you once found enjoyment in. Finding your identity can help you cope with a negative work environment much more easily.

15. Keep positive messages and notes on your desk

Decorate your desk with an inspirational or positive quote or a photo of your loved ones. Both of these can help you feel better no matter your work environment. They can also help you feel better and improve your mood—especially when you're feeling down or frustrated.

Related: 7 Tips for Thinking Positively at Work

16. Surround yourself with positive coworkers

Workplaces house a variety of personalities. Try your best to associate yourself with positive people at work. Having someone to lean on and confide in can help you both survive a negative work environment. Aim to spend as much time as you can with them, both supporting them and socializing with them throughout the day.

Related: 12 Tips to Help You Deal With Negative Coworkers

17. Leave your job

If your work environment becomes unbearable, it’s OK to admit that the toxicity has become too much for you to handle. Before you leave, make sure you have other opportunities lined up and that you've fully thought through your decision. When you start your job search, look for positions that inspire you and promote your personal and professional development.

Read more: How To Quit a Job You Hate


Explore more articles

  • How To Write an Effective RFP Response (With Example)
  • Variance Analysis: Definition, Types, Formulas and Examples
  • 15 Tips for New Real Estate Agents To Succeed
  • 18 Office Birthday Ideas for Employee Celebrations
  • 12 Product Management Certifications To Advance Your Career
  • Cost Revenue Ratio: Definition and How To Calculate
  • What Are the 4 Basic Functions of Management?
  • 11 Basic Components of Computer Hardware: Tips for Technicians
  • How To Calculate Uncertainty in 7 Steps (Plus Examples)
  • What Is Gross Annual Income and How Do I Calculate It?
  • How To Calculate Moving Average in Excel (With Example)
  • What Is a Relieving Letter? (With Template and Example)