Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our world was full of shiny happy people who loved their jobs? Imagine a place where everyone goes to work smiling every day, briefcase in one hand, Starbucks in the other. Friendly elevator banter is shared between Billy and Sally during the morning walk to the office and they laugh and high-five over their latest project completion.
I’m sure somewhere this takes place. And perhaps this is you, or was you at one point. You used to enjoy getting up and going to work every day. It excited you. The challenge inspired you. You were surrounded by like-minded individuals who helped motivate you and bounced ideas off you. Together you got stuff done. You left each day with a feeling of making a difference, of feeling accomplished.
Then one day you woke up and realized you didn’t want to go to work. Your motivation tanked after your ideas kept getting shut down, after you became the scapegoat for others’ mistakes. You found yourself trapped in a dog-eat-dog world. The external environment shifted into something darker, different and almost sinister. Yet you return every day because you feel you have no other option, and you want to believe it’ll get better. It has to get better. One day you’ll make a difference again. One day you’ll feel accomplished again . . . right?
Meanwhile, how do you preserve your happiness in the midst of a work environment that’s become toxic? When you feel physically ill from repeated exposure to negativity and criticism? When your workplace went from an environment of ‘how can we make this better for our customers’ to ‘who can I step on to get ahead’?
I spent a few years in a negative work environment. It’s difficult to describe unless you’ve been there, or are there, but if you are, I hope you find these tips helpful. This is how I preserved my joy in the face of daily negativity.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
You must be able to laugh at yourself and at others. It is easy to let others’ emotions affect you, but the key to maintaining your sense of humor is to remember others’ emotions belong to them, not you. When someone else is having a bad day and attempting to bring you down, I challenge you to find something to laugh about. Anything.
When someone is standing in your space trying to make you miserable, picture your favorite funny movie and imagine your favorite scene. I find there’s a “Friends” reference for almost any situation in life. If you can’t find the humor in a situation, then “Pivot” to something else.
Make Your Workspace a Peaceful Space
Fill your space with things that bring you joy. Is it pictures of your family? Toys or figurines? How about some essential oils and aromatherapy lotions. I used to keep relaxing aromatherapy reeds in my office and people would comment on how calm it was in there. Keep some of those foam stress toys handy. (They are also fantastic when you need to throw something.)
Plants are wonderful for keeping your space calm. (I once had a lot of plants in my office.) Bamboo is good if you have an interior desk without any sunlight. If you’re bothered by too much fluorescent light, invest in a small desk lamp with a soft white light bulb.
Decorate your desk or walls with positive affirmations art. Write positive things on post-it notes and place them in a prominent place. Make your workspace your haven. It’s where you’ll spend most of your time, so you might as well enjoy looking at it.
Whistle While You Work
Music is my savior. I prefer classical music because lyrics distract my focus, but listen to whatever kind of music makes you feel good. If you have a position that won’t allow music, then sing! If you possess that wonderful talent of whistling, by all means, please whistle! And, listen to music on your breaks, which brings me to my next point.
Take All Breaks and Lunches and Leave On Time
Always. Always take all of your breaks and lunches! Don’t be a martyr and work extra especially if you are a salaried employee who doesn’t get overtime. Take your breaks and lunches! Away from your desk. I found a fifteen minute walk outside was the most refreshing time of my day, and I would return rejuvenated and energized every time.
Take your lunch away from your desk. You’ll hear those notifications ding and won’t take your break, or someone will see you at your desk and want you to work. Get away. Go eat with friends or read a book. If the weather is nice, sit outside and bask in the fresh air. You need that break to refuel your soul. You need that time. You deserve that time. Gift it to yourself. You’ll be grateful.
Leave on time, and leave work at work. Don’t install your work email on your personal smart phone. Just. Don’t. Do. It. As long as you set the expectation you are unavailable during off hours, they won’t expect you to be available. You set this expectation by not responding to work emails until working hours. Consistently. It’s okay. It can wait. If your boss questions why you didn’t respond, the only response necessary is, “I was unavailable.”
You need this boundary, and you will thank yourself for it. And your family will thank you. If you need dedicated time to answer work emails without distraction, arrive 30 minutes early or stay 30 minutes late, but don’t allow your work to steal all of your personal time. Set a time limit, and stick to it.
You will be surprisingly more productive when you take your breaks and only work during working hours because you’ll have more energy to focus.
Smile As Often As Possible
Science says that smiling makes us feel good. So, do it! Smile at everyone you pass in the hallways. Try it! Smile and nod at everyone you meet and see how you feel. They might even smile back! And if they ask you why you’re smiling, ask them why not. Sure. There’s always something to frown about, but there’s always a whole lot more to smile about. Maybe your workplace sucks right now. Maybe your coworkers are attempting to drain your life force. They may try, but they can only take what you let them.
You still hold power over your own happiness, and that’s worth smiling about.
Fire Your Inner Bully
Kick all negative self-talk to the curb. There’s no room for your inner bully when you’re in a toxic environment. Speaking negatively to yourself is the most surefire way for the external toxicity to creep in and take root. Speak kindly to yourself. Remind yourself with post-it notes on your computer or inked notes on your palm or notebook. A single one word trigger will do. Something to remind you to bring yourself back to a place of kindness. It could be as simple as drawing a smiley face on your hand.
Remember you will make mistakes. There will be moments you will lash out with negativity in moments of anger, but that’s okay. Fire that inner bully and forgive yourself. Extend yourself the same grace you would give to those you love. You deserve it too.
Maintaining your inner strength and confidence is key to surviving a toxic environment.
Lastly, Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
The purest way to preserve happiness in a toxic environment is to let your conscience be your guide. You know that still, small voice in the quiet part of your soul. The one that tells you right from wrong. That voice that guides you, redirects you, affirms you. Listen to that voice. When outside voices are trying to push you down, step on you, or get you to make the wrong choices, breathe deeply and listen to your conscience. You’ll know what to do. And when that voice tells you it’s time to take your leave, don’t be afraid to take the leap. It might be the best thing for you.
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