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What to Do if You Are in a Toxic Work Environment

Dec 27, 2021

Do you live for the weekends? All jobs have some level of stress or people you prefer not to work with. But if your workplace leaves you drained, depressed, sick, or overwhelmingly stressed, you may be dealing with a toxic work environment. This shouldn't be ignored. 

Following are tips to first figure out if your workplace is toxic and then determine what to do about it. 

Related: Physician Burnout: Everything You Need to Know 

The Signs of a Toxic Workplace & What to Do About it

A toxic workplace is one where employees and leadership have to deal with a disproportionate amount of conflict, manipulation, and other unethical behavior. It interferes with productivity and ruins company morale. This kind of environment locks people in a fight or flight mindset, keeping them on the defensive, unable to focus on their work in a meaningful way, and can cause health issues. 

Here are some signs that you are working in a toxic environment:

There May be Poor Leadership

Poor leadership in any organization has a trickle-down effect. Your boss may be a poor leader because their boss is one, and so on. Poor leadership is revealed as any or all of the following:

  • Micromanagement - constant overseeing, criticizing, correcting, or undermining. 
  • Blamer - passing on the responsibility for mistakes.
  • Disrespectful of employees. 
  • Poor communicators.
  • Lack of integrity.
  • Dictators who use intimidation instead of influence. 

A poor leader will create an environment where employees are unhappy, unproductive, and feel undervalued. Often, their lousy behavior facilitates abuse from other employees as well. 

What to Do About it: 

Unfortunately, poor leadership isn't something you can change - unless you're the leader. When the leader is the problem, the best thing you can do is leave that job and find a position in a better organization. Of course, great jobs don't grow on trees, so you may have to wait it out for a bit. Create a plan for your exit and position yourself to be ready when the opportunity arises. 

Stifled Growth

Most toxic work environments don't provide consistent upward mobility, mentorship, or learning opportunities. This workplace doesn't invest in all (if any) of their employees' future careers. 

Unmotivated Employees


One thing you will see in any toxic workplace is unmotivated employees. People quickly recognize an environment that isn't conducive to growth or even happiness. And they become unmotivated and unproductive. Even if you don't feel the toxicity yourself, the low morale of your co-workers will drain you and cause burnout. 

Cliques, Exclusions, and Gossip

It's not unusual for people in a workplace to form subgroups, but cliques, gossip, and excluding people are harmful occurrences. For the people on the outside, the workplace becomes cold and unfriendly. While making bonds is normal, when it becomes exclusionary, it contributes significantly to toxicity.  

What to Do About it:

Don't participate in office gossip or stoop to your co-workers' same level of unethical behavior. It won't improve the circumstances. Give neutral responses and try to change the subject. 

Also, try to find positive co-workers. It may feel like everyone in your office is toxic, but chances are, there are people who are easier to work with. You can support one another.   

Related: How to be Happy Again: A Simple Guide Physicians

Are you stuck, frustrated, and exhausted with your medical career? I would love to help bring joy back to medicine so you can enjoy all aspects of your life. Visit Deanna Larson, MD, to learn more.

No Work-Life Balance


To be a healthy and whole person, you must have a work-life balance. But some workplaces war against this. They insinuate themselves into all facets of your life by not respecting time boundaries and requiring far more from you than is permissible. You can't be on the clock all the time, and your boss should know that. 

What to Do About it: 

Even if your boss or co-workers don't respect boundaries, you can establish and reinforce your own. Determine to leave your stress at the office and not take it home to your family. Be mindful of how often you talk about work at home and manage any residual anger.  

Rapid Employee Turnover

If your job has rapid employee turnover, you can almost guarantee it's a toxic work environment. People join an organization and can see pretty soon that things will not go well for them there. They sense the low morale, pick up on microaggressions, and poor leadership. 

Alternatively, if people are always getting fired or laid off in your organization, something's wrong. 

Rapid turnover, because people leave or get fired often, is a sign of more significant troubles in the organization. 


Did you know that there are different kinds of burnout? Of course, they have some characteristics in common, but their reasons differ. 

  • Worn-Out Burnout: This is the one we're most acquainted with that occurs when you have consistently worked hard with few rewards. You are stressed over a long period, leaving you feeling disillusioned, wary, and uninspired. 
  • Under-Challenged Burnout: This type of burnout happens when you're bored or under-challenged. Over time, working without any sense of fulfillment will cause sadness and low energy.
  • Frenetic Burnout: This burnout occurs when you have put a lot of effort into work that you expect to yield a great reward - but it doesn't. And this repeatedly happens, leaving you feeling like a failure. 

What to Do About it:

Find a knowledgeable and informed professional to help you through it. A Physician Burnout Coach, like Deanne Larson MD, can walk you through the process of being happy and fulfilled again. 

Related: What Should I do With My Life: How to Find Purpose?

Final Thoughts on Toxic Workplaces

Knowing the signs of a toxic workplace is vital to keeping yourself out of one. If you find yourself in a toxic environment, the best thing you can do is to change your department or change your workplace completely. Whether or not you're able to leave, you should consider talking to a professional life coach and creating some healthy habits to help you on the road to recovery. 

Does your medical career need to be recharged? Through coaching techniques, I can help you enjoy your practice and take your life and practice to new levels. Check out Deanna Larson MD for more information. 

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