We're not talking mercury in the ground or asbestos in the ceiling here. The type of toxic workplace we have in mind isn't one that poisons you over decades -- it grinds you down every day. A toxic work environment is filled with rude or insensitive interactions, aggressive relationships, and dehumanizing treatment.
Stay up late all night finishing a project, only to be told the next morning not to disturb the partners with late night emails? Regularly get chewed out by the lawyer with thinning hair and an alcohol problem for things that aren't even your fault? Working on your 3,000 billable hour quota? You have a toxic work environment. If you're still not sure, The New York Times has a nice quiz -- and we've got tips to dealing with the result.
1. Don't Be Afraid of Polite Confrontation
Some of your awful colleagues may actually be good people. They are simply stressed, overworked, unhappy, and lacking in adult coping skills. Politely discussing abrasive behaviors with them can help clue them in on how they're acting, or at least open a dialogue.
2. Brush It off as Best You Can
Avoid an ulcer by not letting the daily stresses of life get to you. Maybe you can shrug off a jerk or two as simply humorous -- responding to mean-spiritedness with a smirk or a chuckle. Perhaps you'll adopt a nihilistic view that nothing matters anyway, so neither do those grating lawyers you work with.
Could Zen be the way? Adopting a mindfulness approach might help you escape the toxicity around you. Whatever method you take, lessening the impact of your immediate environment should be the goal.
3. Limit Contact With Negative People
If the angry lawyer in the office down the hall is a time bomb, stay away. As much as you can, try to keep yourself around colleagues and clients who you enjoy. The more freedom you have over your career, the easier this will be. If you're just starting out and finding yourself in the most uncivil of civil litigation firms, remember: you don't have to stay there forever. Make sure firm culture is a high priority in your next job search, which you should begin soon.