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Do your work in a toxic work environment? Not all of us can have our dream job at least not yet. Sometimes you have to take the bad for a little while to get to the good. Besides, I think everyone should work in a toxic work environment at least once in their lifetime. It only makes you appreciate a good work environment that much more. Now the real question is how to be productive in a toxic work environment? I can only speak from my own experience, but I learned a lot working in the garment industry and how to manage the chaos around me.

Let me tell you what a toxic work environment looks like. When management has mastered pointing the finger at everyone else but themselves. No one takes responsibility for the failures of the company. Everywhere you turn there is an EGO that needs tending too. Lots of hand-holding. Having to do everything for everybody because no one is willing to learn. Low morale, disrespect, and temper tantrums from grown adults. Zero structure and even if there is a structure there is no leadership. Having to work long hours while the work just keeps piling on. When there get more demands than requests. Keep an eye out for a high turnover rate that is a huge red flag people.

How To Be Productive In A Toxic Work Environment

Woman working at a desk. She looks confused and frustrated.

How do I know how to be productive in a toxic work environment? The answer is simple I have worked in this kind of environment for about 7 years now.  I have been a part of the chaos and at times the cause of the chaos. I still work there and I get a front row seat to all kinds of crazy. No one is perfect, but some people really make it hard to even get up and go into the office in the morning. We all have at least one of those people in the office. That whenever they call you or are in a meeting you instantly go on the defensive because you never know what sh*t they are going to throw your way. Where I work, I don’t have one I have many. 

No one knows it’s a toxic work environment until they are already in it. The reason I stay is because of my loyalty to my boss and the freedom that I have. If you are a working mama like me freedom at a job can make you put up with the toxic environment. Being able to leave work early on special days, taking off when my little guy is sick, or just for school events is a big must-have in a job for me.

I am not saying it is a good idea to work in this kind of place for long. However, when there are bills that need to be paid you do what you need to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t be productive while the rest of them run around like chickens without heads. Here are things I have learned on how to be productive in a toxic work environment.

Stay Organized

This is a must especially if you work in an office where you need to be able to find information quickly. Staying organized can help you especially when an impromptu meeting is called. Keep your emails organized in files so you aren’t sorting through hundreds or thousands of emails. I like to go through my emails and make a to-do list of tasks I want to accomplish that day. Doing this keeps me from falling behind.

Stay Calm

When you work in a place that is toxic stuff can get intense very quickly. Know when to speak and when to be quiet. I like to watch people fly off the rails and hear what they have to say. If I have learned anything is 2 or more people freaking out at the same time doesn’t solve anything. Usually, there is a simple solution to the problem you just have to listen. Let them run out of steam and then speak in a calm even tone.

Doing this is going to do one of two things. It is either going to piss off the person who just screamed at you over something stupid or it is going to force them to calm down and realize how stupid they are being. Either way, it’s a win, win for you. You get to walk away with your blood pressure intact and the other person will look like a fool. I am not saying I don’t lose my cool because I do. More times than I care to admit, but I am a work in progress.

Create a positive work space

Creating a positive workspace can be very helpful when it comes to a toxic environment. If you have a desk, office or your own space make it your own. Hang pictures of your kids, family, or friends so you can remember why you are putting up the crazy people. Put up your favorite quotes so you can read them. Get a plant to take care of. Make your workspace a positive and comfortable place. We spend so much time at work so you might as well make your space a happy space.

Take breaks

You need to take breaks even if it is just your lunch break. Most companies don’t pay you for your lunch break so might as well. Taking breaks will make you more productive during the time you have to work. It’s a proven fact. You can check out this article I found to explain the benefits of taking breaks. The Science of Taking Breaks at Work to Help Boost Your Productivity.

“Taking breaks refreshes the mind and eases the stress and exhaustion arising from working for long stretches. According to research, the “Aha moments” came more often to those who take regular breaks. Taking walking breaks in between work has proven to improve creativity.”

Besides it’s the law What are you proving by not taking breaks? That you are valuable? News flash If you are burnt out you won’t be valuable for long. How do I know? Been there done that. I might not take a full hour break, but I take many mini-breaks to help me focus more and be creative when solving problems at work. I have come up with most of my solutions when taking a break.

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Coworkers

OMG!!! Having a good relationship with coworkers can be a lifesaver. Especially when you are looking to vent. See how I said VENT, not GOSSIP. Keeping your frustrations bottled up is unhealthy so when you have a co-worker who you can vent to it really does make it easier on your mental health. Co-workers can be a great sounding board because they could have an outside perspective to whatever kind of crazy you have going on. I have this one co-worker who is an amazing friend and is great at giving me a different way of looking at situations.

You literally spend 8 hours or more a day with these people 5 days a week. So don’t be afraid to make friends with them. Having friends in any industry always works out in the long run. I have many co-workers and have made lifelong friends because we work together. Your family has no idea what you are talking about when you come home venting about work. When I vent to my husband, he looks at me like I am crazy. When you talk to a co-worker they understand because they work in the same environment you do.

Create boundaries

When you create boundaries, it helps you be productive at work. So, setting boundaries with toxic co-workers is a must. Trust me there is always one. Know your limits and stick to them. Here is a great example. I have this one co-worker who is always calling me and freaking out and demanding things. All because they are unorganized and can’t do anything for themselves. It’s actually sad, but regardless of every time, there was a crisis or at least what they made out to be super urgent it turned out it was because of their carelessness.

What I did to counteract this toxic behavior was talk to my supervisor about it so I was clear about what was a priority. Then when they called, emailed, or came to me I explained that I would get to it after I was done with whatever project I had going on at the time. This person would get upset because I wouldn’t drop everything, I was doing to cater to them. If they would just look at the chart that I sent they would get all the answers they wanted in probably a half-hour. Nothing you can do about lazy people so they will just have to wait their turn.

Toxic work environment

All because its urgent to them, doesn’t mean its urgent to you!

You have to realize you are the one in control of the situation. When setting up boundaries remember you don’t have to answer the phone, email, text, or even request until you are ready to. Always speak calmly because I promise you those people are not calm and are really good at pointing the finger. It is not about not helping them it’s about prioritizing tasks that need to get done. Don’t make it personal, believe me I know that is hard to do. If you keep it professional, they have nothing to use against you. When you work with a toxic person trust me you are going to want to keep your cool.

Final thoughts on being productive in a toxic work environment

Not everything can be butterflies and rainbows all the time at work. You have a choice to make, however. Do you stay or do you go? That is up to you. No matter what you decide you will never escape those people where the sky is constantly falling. Every company has them it’s how you deal with them that is going to make a difference. Your actions and mindset can change the environment that you work in it’s all up to you.

If you have suggestions or questions on how to be productive in a toxic work environment please leave me a comment on how to be productive in a toxic work environment. I am always looking for new ways to be productive at work.

If you are looking for new more check out all my content on careers.

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