Experts: Why You Need To Leave a Toxic Workplace

happy businessman with cardboard box with office supplies in hands standing outside office building, quitting job concept.
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Despite the rise of remote work, toxicity still persists in many workplaces. Several negative descriptors — including non-inclusive, disrespectful, unethical, cutthroat and abusive — are just some of the terms often used to describe examples of a toxic work environment.

Yet, not everyone chooses to leave a toxic workplace even as the red flags start to mount up all around them. Why do so many stay when they know they should quit? Let’s explore some of the biggest reasons our judgment is cloudy in a toxic work environment — and what you need to do to prepare for an exit

Why Do Employees Stay in a Toxic Work Environment?

Being in a toxic work environment can negatively affect your physical and mental health. Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT and CEO of The Heights Treatment, said these red flags are indicative of a toxic workplace:

  • Feeling constantly worried about being fired
  • No autonomy or trust to do your job
  • Feeling belittled, ridiculed or humiliated by your boss or coworkers
  • Lack of opportunities to voice your opinion or concerns
  • Dealing with excessive workloads or unrealistic deadlines
  • No credit given for your successes
  • Feeling as though your job is constantly being threatened or downsized

If someone works in an environment where one or more of these red flags are present, why don’t they quit? The answer is often quite complicated.

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Some may stay out of fear or because they don’t feel as though they have any other career options. But one of the most common reasons for staying may have nothing to do with these feelings. Mia Forbes Pirie, mediator and coach, said one of the most confusing aspects of continuing to work in a toxic environment is that you may like all of the people who work there individually.

However, one should not use individual likeability as a reason not to leave if the overall environment is not healthy. “Great people individually don’t necessarily equate to a great team,” said Pirie.

Tips for Preparing To Leave a Toxic Workplace

The sooner you recognize the red flags in your workplace and start making an exit plan, the easier it will be to make a clean break and start fresh somewhere new. Prepare to leave now by following these tips.

Get Everything Ready for Turnover

Some companies, Ogle said, will try to keep you on until they find a replacement. If you’re set to leave, though, there’s no need to wait around for your bosses to feel better about it. Get your resignation letter ready and ensure all loose ends are tied up before you go.

Remain Professional

You may be leaving because of toxic workplace conditions, but now is not the time to get into an argument with your boss or badmouth the company on social media. Ogle recommends being as professional as possible with your departure. If you are asked as to why you are leaving, you may state your resignation is due to personal reasons.

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Remember to thank your employer for the opportunity, too. “Burning bridges is never a good idea, so it’s best to just keep things cordial,” said Ogle.

Keep Trusted Family and Friends in the Loop

Before exiting a toxic work environment, it’s critical to have a support system of trusted family and friends in place who you can talk to and lean on. 

Tell your family and friends about your decision, and ask for their help and support, as needed, as you transition to a new job.

Prepare for the Worst

It is possible that your company could try to retaliate against you for leaving. Ogle said they may give you a bad reference or even try to blackball you from your industry. 

While anyone exiting a workplace, toxic or not, hopes it doesn’t come down to the worst-case scenario, it’s important to prepare just in case. “A good way to protect yourself is to get everything in writing, such as your job description, duties and salary,” said Ogle. “That way, you have documentation to back up your claims if needed.”

Know Your Rights

Preparing for the worst possible behavior from your soon-to-be former employer also means understanding your rights.

Ogle recommends doing some research on the laws in your state to know what you are entitled to. You may have certain rights that can protect you from unfair treatment by your employer and the ability to take legal action if necessary.

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Remember: Look Inward

If you are in a situation where you are trying to determine if your workplace is a toxic one and are examining potential red flags, Pirie also recommends taking a good look at yourself. Ask the following questions to determine if this workplace truly allows for growth — or if it is indeed toxic:

  • Is this a place where you could grow and thrive?
  • Are these people with opinions and views you value?
  • Do their values align with yours?

If the answers are no, it’s time to make a change. But, if some of the answers are yes and you are still unhappy, continue to reflect inward. Are you taking the risk of being you? Or are you trying to appear perfect? Are you avoiding letting people know you’re human? Is that because of them or because of you?

“The reason that it is important to get out of a toxic environment is it can end up seriously affecting our self-esteem and can have long-term consequences on our self-confidence,” said Pirie. “We are influenced by the culture which surrounds us and it’s hard not to take on or normalize the views and attitudes of people we spend a lot of time with. So our reality, both our view of the world and our view of ourselves, becomes distorted.”

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