Staying Sane Amidst Workplace Chaos

Staying Sane In A Toxic Workplace

Even in relatively healthy workplaces we can occasionally encounter toxic colleagues, a terrible boss, or unanticipated chaos. These situations may create some turbulence for a spell but are usually easily recovered from. Then there are the really toxic environments that create personal and professional havoc. These environments feed off of pandemonium and confusion. Knowing how to maintain your sanity in a toxic workplace may feel like a full-time job in and of itself when we need to live within them five days a week, at least eight hours a day but there are some ways to cope with the crazy and create a bubble of sanity and order for yourself while encouraging positive vibes.

Whether it’s because your boss doesn’t hasn’t the slightest idea as to how to lead, motivate, or inspire their people or you’re dealing with zero-charisma coworkers who just don’t care about their job or their colleagues anymore, working under these type of conditions are never fun. According to PsychCentral, working in a negative environment can have tragic consequences on your personal life. It can damage your self-esteem, your health, and may even contribute to depression. While feeling ho-hum about your job on occasion might be considered normal, feeling uninspired or sad about your current work situation should only go so far.

Nine Ideas On How To Stay Sane In A Toxic Workplace

MAINTAIN A POSITIVE MINDSET AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO PUBLICIZE IT: Let your colleagues and your boss(es) know that you want to do your job and find peace in your role and create a positive environment. When and if you must interact with a negative or jerky coworker let it be known what your expectations are. Be of genuine and authentic service to your colleagues until they show you they are unwilling to work nicely with you and their negative attitude extinguishes your positive feelings and sense of accomplishment. The brilliant Dr. Travis Bradberry states, “Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking—you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything.

DO NOT ENGAGE IN OFFICE GOSSIP: Most workplaces that I have been immersed in have no shortage of yentas. And while interacting can be great to do with your colleagues, if you’re constantly engaging in or being an audience for this negative act, you might want to stop and create some boundaries. Gossip fuels workplace conflict, disruption, under-performance, and negatively impacts employee retention. Respectfully communicating to your peers that you don’t have time or interest in workplace gossip and that you are choosing to create a happy environment for yourself and those you work with will allow the office gossips to take their blather elsewhere.

TUNE OUT THE NONSENSE, LITERALLY: If I am working out of an office for two or more weeks, I bring a small sanity kit into my workspace. For example, I bring a bluetooth speaker and have three-ten hour productivity playlists on my iPhone. I also bring a small diffuser and lemon oil which lifts the mood. I also have created a system to communicate when I am working under a deadline or on an important project so my colleagues know that I am currently busy with work and to catch up with me in a little bit. According to a  New York Daily News article, “Gossip Makes Up 80% Of Our Conversations“. That means in a 30 minute conversation only six minutes of dialogue contains any substance. That is potentially 24 minutes we could lose to a non-productive or counter-productive dialog. Also, having positive quotes or pictures of family and friends around in your workspace may make you feel better when you’re work environment is becoming negative. Images or sayings that inspire and calm you are visual reminders of what matters to you most, and that this moment will pass. Positive sayings, and the visual of positive people in your life, can have a profoundly positive impact on your mood.

FOCUS ON SELF-DEVELOPMENT: Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity – EVER! Personal development is about taking the time and, making the commitment, to invest in your greatest resources – you and your mind. The most important resource that controls your life, is not only the one you take most for granted but is also the one you rely on the most. We, all of us, understand how important it is to take care of our bodies, but you rarely hear people telling you to take care of your mind. Most people don’t think of their mind as a “resource”, but it absolutely is. You rely on it for just about everything you do. Where would you be without your intelligence, innovation, and creativity? The world is busy, loud, toxic, and chaotic – at times. We are surrounded by noise, pollution and we are – most of the time – “drowning in information but starving for knowledge“.  Taking control of your learning means you own your career journey and it will minimize the time you have available to focus on your negative workplace culture.

FIND HUMOR IN THE SITUATION(S): Sometimes the frustration of a circumstance is thinking that this is happening only to you and no one else would understand. Having people who are in your industry but outside of your organization are great to have a friends. Once a month I invite nine of my favorite retail leaders over – some I have worked with and others I have met over the years and we have established great friendships – and we have a cocktail and appetizer party and we spend three or four hours talking [and maybe a little kvetching] about business in a safe, understanding, friendly, and warm environment. These typically turn into hilarious story sharing. It is a great way to put challenges into perspective and understand that we all have moments of uncertainty and displeasure with our work but they are momentary and they can make great stories if we find the humor in them.

FIND INSPIRATION ELSEWHERE: In truly toxic environments you can not rely on your organization, your leadership, or your colleagues to provide inspiration so you need to find things and do things that make you happy and will focus your energy on positive results. A toxic work environment can really sap a lot of your spirit. If your workplace isn’t inspiring you anymore, you might want to look elsewhere. Removing yourself either physically or mentally and changing your environment for a brief time can have the effect of a reset button on your day.

When there are unhealthy people within your organization, you’re not just fighting the market and your competitors, you’re now fighting internal battles between departments and individuals just to get something done – Paul White

LEARN NOT TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY: Honestly, people who have no business being in a leadership role are terrible to everyone…not just you. Not that this makes it any better but…It’s not healthy to always take the responsibility of other employees’ actions. According to psychologist Paul White , “One of the things humans are really bad at is misattributing the reasons for others’ behaviors.” The best way to deal with toxic coworkers is to hold them responsible for their own actions. Avoid justifying their behavior and stop taking personal responsibility for their actions and moods. Instead of focusing on what others are doing, just continue to work on yourself and take ownership of your results.

EMBRACE GRATITUDE: “Studies show that gratitude is strongly linked to happiness,” says psychologist Kim Chronister, PsyD. People who express gratitude are more extroverted, agreeable, open, conscientious, and less neurotic. Used as a moral motive, gratitude encourages pro-social behavior. Gratitude helps employees to see beyond one disaster and recognize their gains. Ideally, it gives them a tool ‘to transform an obstacle into an opportunity’. It is a powerful and compelling proposal when your colleagues can see you express gratitude and find inspiration in an environment that doesn’t hold that value in high regard. Gratitude is contagious and the more you can share and recognize the good in your environment and colleagues, the more others will be able to see the positive.

DO YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST EVERY DAY: Extracting any ammunition that anyone may have to counsel you or make you feel inadequate today or in the future is a great way to direct focus off of you in a toxic workplace and let you continue to do deliver your best work. Even if this method is simply allowing you to buy time so you can look for a better workplace, make every day a success in your role and you will walk out of the building happier and with a professional and personal sense of accomplishment.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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