All workplaces can be tough, but the most dangerous ones are the toxic workplaces. They don’t all necessarily look the same, and can manifest in various ways, whether that be a toxic boss, toxic colleagues, or just a toxic work environment in general. However they look, the damage that they can do to you can take a long time to disappear. How can work bother someone that much? I know people will be thinking that. But look at it this way: the average person works an eight-hour day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year. That means that you spend 162,000 hours a year working in that space. So yeah, it sure as shit is a big deal if it’s hurting you.
Working somewhere, or for someone, that’s toxic can’t be a long-term set-up. That’s because, when it truly is toxic (and not just, “ugh, I hateee my booossssss”), every day, little by little, you can feel a piece of you chip away and eventually you can end up feeling like you’ve completely lost the person that you were when you first started there – and not in a good way. When you finally get to step out of that work environment, whether that be because you’ve moved onto a new job with a new company, you’ve decided to go at it alone and work from home, or maybe just because you’re so run-down and fed up of everything, that you need some time away from work altogether for the wounds to heal. A really common thing that I’ve found both from personal experience and from others talking to me about their work environments is that they find, even once they’ve flipped off the boss and resigned from their hellhole job, that creative spark and overall confidence is completely shot and is absolutely nowhere to be seen. With that, here’s some ways that you can get back your mojo, because how dare the toxicity steal your shine?
1. Take some time to reflect.
You can do this in any format, whether that be sitting and thinking about it, writing it down, or even talking to a loved one like a friend, partner or parent who knows what’s going on. You could even go to therapy if your financial situation permits it. Think about the kind of person that you were before you entered that toxic environment. Think about how things made you feel as time went on around those people. Did someone do or say something that has made a negative impact on your way of thinking? Make a note of what you feel was taken from you. Was it your time, your energy, your confidence, even your overtime? How was your mental health affected as a result of working this way? What kind of person do you want to be now you’re in a calmer, healthier environment? What do you need in order to feel like you’ve truly got back on track? It may seem silly, but really thinking about all of these different things will help you process the various emotions that you oftentimes feel too scared to tap into after being in an environment that hurts or stunts you.
2. Look to the future with regards to your career.
I’m not talking about making goals to earn this amount of money by that age, or any other kind of professional goal. I’m talking about what you want from a future employer. Think about the environment that you just escaped. Think about what you hated, what got you down, and whether there were any red flags that you probably should’ve paid more attention to along the way? The last thing you want is to build yourself back up, only to have another toxic workplace knock it all back down again in a couple of years’ time. If you have to, make a list of all the things you don’t want in a future job, because they’re just as important as listing all the things that you do want. If you’ve got a job interview coming up, think about that list you’ve made, and use that to ask the right questions and the find out what you want about them – the interview isn’t just for them to grill you. If something feels a little off, or they tick too many of those toxic boxes, it’s not the right fit.
3. Establish your boundaries.
Setting boundaries is something that doesn’t just benefit you in work, but it sets you up for life because you’ll know what you will or won’t tolerate. In similar keeping to thinking about the things you don’t want in a future employer, look back at the times that you were pushed to your limits and you’d had enough. Was where you set that boundary the same place where you’d have set the boundary if you knew how it would affect you? It’s easy for people to put up with more than they want – or need – to, because they worry of repercussions in addition to being seen as weak or incompetent. There’s no use in taking yourself all the way to breaking point, because at that stage, the only person who gets hurt in that is you. However, it takes strength to put boundaries in place and to act on them, rather than weakness, and if you’re in the right workplace with the right people, they’ll appreciate you for it.
4. Use self care for self-reparations.
Everyone knows that self care is a vital part of our lives, because we deserve to take that time out to do something that looks after our mental wellbeing and allows us to unwind. Use the time that you put aside for self care to dig deep to rediscover what you love, what brings you joy, and what you’re good at. Try old things, try new things – you might surprise yourself with some new loves and hidden skills that you’ve been harbouring all this time. After being in a workplace that uses you to their maximum advantage, leaving you with no ‘me time’, yet still makes you feel that you’re incapable of doing anything properly and you’re bad at your job, it’s important to remind yourself that you are good at things, and you are worthy of taking time to yourself. You’ll be amazed how some self discovery, or rediscovery even, can help you build yourself back up again.
5. Be open with your new work family.
Whilst it’s important to remain somewhat professional amongst colleagues, there’s no denying that some of the most special friendships come from within the working environment. Find your ‘people’ within the office and work together to support each other emotionally as well as professionally. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’re feeling a bit burnt out by xyz, or if you need a little bit of help hitting a deadline if they’re free to help you. If you’re the right fit for each other, you’ll feel that the previous burden of getting everything done with everyone against you is completely gone, and you’ll have that bit more confidence knowing that someone’s got your back.
6. Start a passion project.
It’s incredible what a passion project can do and what feelings it can evoke. I’m a writer by trade, and was always hired as one, yet found myself in many situations whereby I was removed from writing completely within my job, and when I was promised writing opportunities, I’d have to work on them out of work hours (which were basically all hours) and most would conveniently be scrapped. Despite knowing that I was capable of writing – and writing well at that – it was enough to convince me that really, I was a terrible writer, had no talent, and that there was no point in pursuing it further. Despite that, writing has always been an outlet and form of therapy for me, so when I had to leave due to my health, I took to my laptop and began writing a little blog – something that eventually became The Unedit, no less. Within a matter of months, my confidence in myself as a writer had returned, and all thanks to something that I did just because I loved it.
Sometimes, we can’t always have a job that we absolutely adore, or a boss that’s nothing but kind to us, but it’s important to be able to differentiate a job that’s well, kinda shitty, versus a job that’s toxic and is causing us harm. Jobs aren’t the easiest to come by, and bills still have to be paid, so if you find yourself stuck in a situation where work is hurting you and you can’t get out just yet, remember that it’s not permanent. Remember that you are your priority. Remember that you deserve respect, regardless of where you sit in the professional ecosystem. And remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said – ‘Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.’