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How to cope with a toxic workplace

Clinical psychologist Anna Eliatamby identifies the definition and steps to make it better


Claim power: Remember how brave you can be. Credit: Getty Images

Claim power: Remember how brave you can be. Credit: Getty Images

Getty Images

Claim power: Remember how brave you can be. Credit: Getty Images

Unfortunately, most of us, at some point, will work in an organisation with toxicity. These atmospheres impact us. Adding to our stress levels, doubting our capabilities and talents, perhaps affecting physical health and mental health.

Sometimes we can choose to leave the organisation or perhaps do something about the toxicity. Occasionally, we have no other option but to stay.

How can we cope?

1.Remember who you are

The first and most important issue is to realise is that the toxicity and its effects are nothing to do with who you are and your skills and talents. Regardless of what some may say. Often people blame innocents for such atmospheres.

Keep reminders around you, such as a picture on your phone, of your sterling qualities. Maybe also a song that you can listen to quietly.

2.Maintain healthy living habits

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The stress that often arises can lead to us forgetting how to look after ourselves and, sometimes, adopting or using our less helpful habits, such as over-eating or not sleeping. Stop and think about how well you are looking after yourself. What former healthy patterns do you need to reintroduce? Do you need to see a counsellor, clinical psychologist or doctor?

For example, look at your current sleep patterns. How different are they to times when you slept properly? How can you go back to the healthier options? If you are falling asleep much later than usual, plan to encourage yourself (gradually) to return to the old time. If you are worried and unable to sleep, keep a notebook by your bed. Write your worries and say you will deal with them in the morning.

Work out your triggers for using negative habits and replace them with healthy ones. Make sure that you do not choose yet another harmful one. Suoha selected songs that helped her relax to use at the beginning and end of each day. She felt she had made wise choices. But her friend pointed out that they were all songs about hurting other people.

Make sure that you have good emotional support, either at home or work. It will help you cope with stress and worry.

Introduce practices to ensure that you are breathing properly and deeply. We should take 12-18 breaths per minute. If we do not, we can remain in a state of stress, find it difficult to cope, think clearly, and make good decisions.

3.Understand the power and courage that you have

Working in a destructive environment, especially if there is bullying or harassment, can make you forget you can be brave and claim power. So that you can act and do something constructive about the toxicity. Take a few moments to remember how brave you can be and how much power you have or could claim.

Think about how much power others have and how they use it. If they have an overwhelming amount, then the wisest action may be to be silent or diplomatic so you can survive.

If you feel strong enough and there is an internal justice system, you could use it. Remember, it may take a length of time before they address the toxicity. It is safer to act with others in similar situations so that there is strength in numbers.

At the very least, find like-minded colleagues so that you can support each other. Be mindful that these discussions do not become unconstructive, so that all you do is feed the negative. Work out how you can help each other and be positive. Remember your inner purpose and values.

4.Choosing to leave

If you decide to resign, then make sure that it is on your terms, not anyone else’s. Decide what you want to do next and look for that opportunity wisely and carefully. Hopefully, having found that chance, think about how you can get closure and say your goodbyes. Don’t leave opportunities for retaliation after you have left. Take copies of relevant documentation with you just in case.

Be careful about sending cryptic goodbye messages such as ‘What you do to one, you do to all.’ Simon, when he left, wrote such a message to his team, who had mobbed him. They later accused him of not completing all the documentation. He had to return to clear his name and prove that he had finished his work.

It is unfortunate that we must consider how to cope with toxicity. But that is a fact of life. At all times, please remember your own personal worth, value and potential to contribute to others, communities and the world. These remain, regardless.

Anna Eliatamby is a clinical psychologist, workplace well-being expert and editor of Healthy Leadership and Organisations: Beyond The Shadow Side, £14.99

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