Surviving Toxic Workplaces: A guide for Midlife Women - Wildflower Fire Coaching
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At any stage of working life, being in a toxic workplace environment is not only hard and exhausting but it can also take a huge toll on mental health and wellbeing.

Being able to read the signs and use the life and work experience that you have, can not only help you to manage your own individual challenges but also help you to be able to support other people around you to manage more effectively.

However, the stress of toxic cultures, supporting ourselves and others to cope, requires proactive coping strategies that can take time to develop as well as energy to put and hold in place. By caring for ourselves, establishing boundaries, finding support and advocating for change, we can start to mitigate some of the impact of workplace toxicity.

So, how do you know if you are working somewhere that might be toxic and potentially harmful to you and the people around you?

Here are 5 potential signs

1. Lack of communication and transparency. Important information may be withheld or communication may be one-way rather than open. This can create confusion, resentment, and distrust.

2. Unreasonable workloads and unrealistic expectations. Work demands may consistently exceed capacity and resources without additional support. This can lead to burnout.

3. Disrespect and incivility. Rudeness, condescension, and lack of courtesy may be common from management or co-workers. Unprofessional conduct undermines morale.

4. Lack of accountability. Poor performance, unethical behaviour, or misconduct may be overlooked or go unaddressed. This enables toxicity and erodes integrity.

5. Retaliation and bullying. Whistleblowers or employees who speak up about problems may be singled out or face backlash. This silences dissent and concerns.

Other possible signs include high turnover, lack of diversity, poor leadership, and an intolerant or hostile organisational culture.

So, if this is starting to ring any bells, of the alarming variety, here are some things to think about. First and foremost, make self-care a priority. Toxic environments breed burnout, anxiety and exhaustion. Counteract this by exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals, getting adequate sleep and making time for hobbies and fun outside of work. Take mental health days when needed, even if just to recharge. Seek support from your line manager if possible, occupational health, staff support services or your union. Talk to your GP about professional counselling if work stress is affecting your mental health.

Secondly, set firm boundaries with your time and workload. Make sure that you have a clear demarcation at the end of the working day and week. Toxic colleagues and bosses can start taking advantage of any tendency you might have to work long hours. Think about what you can start to say “no” to with respect to anything non-essential that is unrelated to your role. Things like the office housework of arranging Christmas events, birthday cards, meeting notes, things that you may have happily put your hand up for in the past but are starting to realise that a) you are the only person who seems to volunteer these days and b) there is little to no recognition. Refrain from over-explaining in emails and keep communication focused. Leave work on time without guilt. Ignore off-hour emails and limit inbox check-ins during family time. Decline last-minute assignments and weekend work requests that disrupt your personal life. Your well-being needs to come first.

Next, connect with supportive communities both inside and outside of work. Combat toxicity by spending more time with positive people who uplift you. Make friends with colleagues, joining groups like women’s networks to find camaraderie. Seek out senior-level women as mentors while mentoring younger women yourself. Attend conferences or join professional associations to gain perspective and know you’re not alone. Shared experiences help.

Address issues head-on through constructive conversation. If there is a toxic co-worker or manager, have an honest yet compassionate discussion addressing your specific concerns and requesting that changes be made. Present solutions, not just problems. If needed, loop in HR for assistance, providing documentation. For toxic cultures, collect feedback from colleagues and highlight positive examples from other organizations. Offer leadership insights on implementing healthy policies. If all else fails then make sure you keep an audit trail, written record, notes of meetings, copies of emails, and requests that you feel put you under an unreasonable amount of pressure, time or otherwise.  

Finally, develop self-care coping strategies. Surviving in a toxic workplace can put us in survival mode, making it difficult to think clearly. Counter this by taking brief walking or meditating breaks to clear your head. Keep motivating photos, quotes or items nearby your workspace. Maintain perspective by journaling about positive work experiences and life outside the office. Stay connected to passions like volunteering or hobbies. Manage stress in healthy ways.

Learn to detach emotionally from toxic personalities. Their behaviour is a reflection of them, not you. Avoid taking things personally.

Limit time spent discussing workplace problems after hours with family and friends. Boundaries prevent toxicity from consuming your life.

Develop “toxic person survival strategies” like avoiding one-on-one time, keeping interactions brief and not oversharing personal information. Set clear professional boundaries.

Keep perspective during challenges and setbacks. Focus on the “big picture” of your long-term career goals rather than momentary issues. Ask yourself if the things that might be impacting you today will still matter in 6 months or 6 years.

Build transferable skills that will enable you to pivot your career if needed. Toxicity sometimes necessitates a fresh start elsewhere.

– When job searching, carefully screen potential new employers for red flags about corporate culture and leadership. Don’t jump from one bad environment to another.

Exercise regularly to boost serotonin, relieve stress and improve sleep quality. Yoga and walking are great options. Proper sleep and nutrition also help manage stress.

Find little ways to introduce more joy to the workplace like personalizing your home desk space, taking brief walk breaks or listening to uplifting music. Laughter helps too!

Stay visible for promotion opportunities by volunteering for leadership roles on important projects. Network internally and externally to make your hard work known.

Are there any other things you would recommend ? or have done to help you manage in a toxic environment?

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