What Can You Do to Fix a Toxic Work Environment?

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Tool belt | Source: iStock

Your co-workers spend most of their day grumbling under their breath, management doesn’t seem to value your work, and the tasks themselves suck the soul out of you just as quickly as the Dementors in Harry Potter. If this is describes the atmosphere in your office, it’s likely you’re in a toxic job. No one likes feeling unappreciated or that their work isn’t accomplishing any good, and you might be tempted to look for an escape route into a better job. But before you call it quits, there might be some tactics you can try so you don’t have to go through the job search process all over again.

Some of these methods might include taking frequent breaks or avoiding Debbie the downer, simply to survive your workday. But if you’re looking to be more proactive, there are other strategies that could not only help you survive a toxic workplace, but actually make a difference in improving it.

As performance strategist Laura Garnett points out on Inc., some companies now have a “chief people officer,” whose main job is to improve the company culture. But if you’re one of the many employees without that resource, you make have to take some initiative on your own to do their job. Take a look at the steps Garnett suggests taking to actively improve your workplace, without being dragged down by the pessimism.

1. Have a people-centered point of view

If you’re able to focus on the people around you instead of just the tasks on your to-do list, your office might start to feel a little less like a cubicle farm. “This strategy is based on the premise that if employees are happy and engaged, the customer will benefit as a result,” Garnett writes.

When you focus on creating a welcoming environment for the people you work with, it’s your first step in making sure that you’re not the toxic co-worker everyone is avoiding. Udemy writer Tom Farr shares tips for leaders to focus on people first, but they can apply to you as well, no matter your job title. Practically speaking, spend time explaining to your colleagues why your latest project is important, and how they can help you if you need their assistance. Pay attention to the work your peers are doing, and encourage them when they’ve done a good job. In addition, recognize the role you play in the team and fulfill it — but allow other people to step up where they’re needed, too.

“People-centered leaders are more often able to create the momentum needed to get things accomplished with their team than those with an agenda,” Farr concludes.

2. Conduct your own performance reviews

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Career signpost | Source: iStock

Once or twice a year, you probably sit down with HR to go over your performance for the past several months. While this can be helpful in evaluating whether you deserve a raise or promotion, the time frame is too long to effect real changes in your daily work, Garnett says. If you’re constantly evaluating your own work and checking on the progress you’ve made, you’ll be more motivated to stay on track and be less likely to get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery.

“By analyzing your current individual performance and then proactively using that data to think strategically about your impact and future approach to work, your potential will skyrocket,” Garnett writes. In a separate article, Garnett suggests setting 10 minutes aside every week (like on a Friday afternoon) to ask yourself what work tasks challenged you, what made you bored, and whether or not you made an impact on your team.

Using self-evaluations will allow you to look forward at ways you’d like to improve, but it will also serve as benchmarks you can use to track your progress. As you collect this data, you’ll be able to communicate your goals more easily to your supervisors. “This data will provide you with the necessary information to speak powerfully and clearly to your manager about your current performance status and what you want for the future,” Garnett says.

3. Align your personal mission with the company mission

Let’s face it: Some weeks, your main mission at work is to keep your head low, collect your paycheck, and peace out. Ideally, however, you have larger goals in mind for your work and for your future career. Connecting those big-picture plans with the current goals your company has will be more fulfilling in the long run, Garnett says.

In addition, Gallup research shows that when employees connect with the company mission, they are more likely to be engaged, have higher productivity, and ultimately stay with the employer. You might not want to stay with your current company forever, but you’ll undoubtedly be better off if you’re more productive and engaged while you’re there — if only for the selfish reason of boosting your resume and experience.

Practically, Garnett suggests jotting down your personal mission and goals, along with the mission of your company. (You’ll most likely find this in your handbook or on the company’s website.) Next, brainstorm ways that your mission and your company’s mission are similar, along with ways you can work toward accomplishing that mission in your day-to-day workflow. Not sure what your own personal mission is or should be? Quint Careers offers some advice about how to formulate one.

4. Find your “zone of genius”

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Working on a laptop | Source: iStock

Garnett defines your “zone of genius” as the work that challenges and fulfills you. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we have certain tasks that make us look forward to coming to work, along with others that are the equivalent of getting a root canal. Though you’re obligated to complete everything under your purview, position yourself to take on more tasks that fall into that genius zone.

When you’re able to identify what those tasks are, “you will not only experience more moments of peak performance but also be a great role model to others wanting to be more productive and happy at work,” Garnett writes. Finding this zone is also a way to excel in your strengths and focus on what could lead to your greatest successes, instead of plodding through projects where you’ll be adequate at best. “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything,” Tom Rath writes in his book, Strengths Based Leadership.

Chiseling away at your weaknesses is a good idea, Udemy’s Tom Farr writes. But don’t focus on those issues at the expense of excelling in what you’re actually good at. “After all, if you’re good at something, that’s the thing that you should do,” Farr writes. (Hint: tracking your successes in those personal evaluations could be a good way to convince your manager to give you projects you excel in.

5. Encourage others to find their “zone,” too

If you’ve discovered your niche at the office and are excelling with your projects, people are likely to notice. Instead of hogging the spotlight, avoid alienating your co-workers (perpetuating any remaining toxicity). Help them to discover and focus on the areas they’re best at, as well.

Part of this could be figuring out what type of team player they are, and how they approach solutions to problems. It could also mean noticing what they need to be motivated, Garnett writes. “Note the kind of thinking or problems that they gravitate towards, especially during the moments when they seem to be the most engaged. Talk to them about these moments and do everything in your power to create more opportunities for people to do the work they love,” she explains.

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