Surviving A Toxic Workplace By Ngozi Enite-Okoro MCILG.ACIPM.

In a perfect world, the workplace should be a pleasant, respectful, and a mission-focused environment. Employees should be free to focus on using their talents to the best of their abilities, in pursuit of a singular common goal. In such an ideal environment, it is expected that the only stress should be directly related to the job.

All workplaces have some challenges and negative characteristics, so it can be difficult to determine if your workplace has a normal amount of challenges, is seriously dysfunctional, or possibly really toxic. A toxic workplace is any work environment where the people, culture, and atmosphere are so negative that it disrupts the organizations efforts and even spills over into employees’ personal lives. Sadly, however, too many people fail to recognize the signs of toxicity.

I worked in a toxic environment and it affected my mental health terribly, I recognised the environment as being toxic due to the dysfunctional and unhealthy communication pattern among other problems; where there were significant problems in communication and often across multiple areas–between employees and their supervisors, from management to supervisors, and across departments. It was so bad that employees actually find out about decisions made after they have been implemented, indirect communication was the order of the day: sending messages through others that is, subordinates to supervisors on delicate/confidential matters, withholding of information and giving misleading information to colleagues was a tradition.

I have a Media and Communication background and I know the importance of communication as the sending and receiving of messages among interrelated individuals within a particular environment or setting to achieve individual and common goals. Organizational communication is highly contextual and culturally dependent. Employees of any organisation are expected to be working towards the common goal of the organization as such, communication is key because without effective communication, working together to accomplish the tasks/ goals of the organization is virtually impossible.

Another sign that helped establish that the organization was toxic was in its ineffective leadership.  The leadership of the organization are narcissists, this means that they are “all about” themselves. They view themselves as categorically brighter and more talented than anyone else around, as a result, they believe they are deserving of special treatment–the rules that apply to everyone else really are beneath them. They create multiple standards that are applied unequally, they reject constructive criticism and only listen to their own counsel, worse still, and they are neglectful and are dismissive toward subordinates.

It’s almost a given that the attitude of ineffective leadership help to foster a toxic work environment. Office cliques are another workplace killer, the organization where I worked, a once formerly cohesive office had now broken down into destructive cliques, lack of trust was the norm, and everyone was at the verge of losing it at one time or the other. This type of environment created inter-office conflict, as well as a culture that thrived on gossip, lies, and resentment. Some of the other attributes to look out for in a toxic work environment are as follows;

  • Intense pressure to get short-term results (Unrealistic targets)
  • Taboos against speaking up to power ( Job loss)
  • Us-versus-them mentality
  • Unnecessary  competition
  • Lots of talk about values but not enough action
  • Lack of clarity around a vision, policies and strategies
  • Disrespect ( Top-Bottom)
  • Lack of appreciation ( Reward and recognition)
  • Pessimism
  • Insubordination  and hurtfulness tolerated or even encouraged
  • Injustice

The above conditions results in fear, cynicism, lack of trust, anger and deep pervasive unhappiness. Being part of such a negative work environment stifles talents, hijacks your success, disrupts your creativity and makes you miserable while affecting your personal life.


To deal with a toxic work environment is not an easy task, but with the consciousness of your mental health, you can find ways to relieve stress by indulging in activities that boost your mental, physical and psychological wellbeing. One of such activities could be exercising or finding a new hobby, doing something you love to get your mind off work at your personal time helps to survive the toxicity. It should come as no surprise that prioritizing Work-Life-Balance helped me overcome many of the challenges at work at the time; it was another effective buffer against the detrimental effects of workplace incivility or toxicity as it were. I organised Knowledge Sharing Sessions (KSS) from time to time to discuss Work Life Balance at the office, Leave Administration and its importance to employee wellbeing, Time Management, Conflict Resolution among other topics that were necessary at that time.

Staying focused on important goals is another way to deal with the situation. You should evaluate your productivity, plan every task or meeting ahead, create a personal work plan, keep your to- do- list organised and set both personal deadline and aim to meet organizational deadlines too. While you may not be able to control or influence very much in your work environment, you usually can decide how to decorate your workspace. I made my workspace so beautiful and colourful, I had cards, posters, wall décor and pictures of people I love on the wall and side table, I put up positive quotes and had a creative vision board. Always remind yourself that your job is not everything and that you have a happy life away from work.

Relaxation has long been associated with fewer health complaints and less exhaustion and is needed for recovery at times like these. Other activities outside of the office that helped me foster recovery includes; meditation, taking walks, going for fellowship, listening to music, going to the movies with friends and spending time with family. I also engaged a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and negotiated with a hotel around to use their gym services for staff after work hours.

Another way to deal in a toxic work environment is to look for colleagues who feel the same way you do it’s usually easy to find others who are affected by the negativity. Sometimes, talking it out can help, and ensure that you don’t feel all alone. Obviously, you can work to try to improve conditions, but a toxic work environment usually doesn’t change easily or quickly. However, while waiting it out, begin your search for a new job. It’s vital that you consider your options this will help you stay positive when things get rough. If you needed to leave yesterday, consider a volunteer job that will keep you active while you find something in line with your career. work on your resume and start looking for other opportunities. Be discrete but start preparing for the next stage of your career. Sometimes having a plan helps you push through the worst days, this signals your brain that the situation is temporal always remember what you are working towards and not what is currently going on.

Knowing the signs of a toxic work environment and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step in accepting a new offer on your terms and in your time — so your next job will be a place you truly enjoy working. . to join our membership

Ngozi Enite-Okoro.


Management Consultant.