Tools For Surviving A Toxic Work Environment.


While you plan your escape to freedom.

This way to freedom © 2020, Anouska Parr

Maybe the job was nothing like you originally anticipated. Or, perhaps it started well, then they brought in that new CEO, who made all those changes and this has left you flailing around helplessly in a shell of what used to be your dream job.

‘You’re noticing that you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, are constantly defending your work and simply no longer enjoy your job’ — Vicki Salemi

I have worked in so many toxic environments I was beginning to wonder if ordinary, supportive, creative places were even a reality.
Then it happened. I did it; I got my dream job.

A temporary contract with a view to it becoming permanent.

I knew it was a bit of a risk, but I accepted regardless. I found the cheapest studio in the village and committed to the 4-hour commute between it and my actual home, twice a week for the 9-month contract.

I loved that job, my team, everything was perfect. Even though the situation was complicated, with my partner and cat being hundreds of miles away, I did it anyway for the greater good. For my career.

In my 2nd week, they fired two of the most senior people in the company. Even though I had no idea who they were, I knew this was a bad sign.

From that point on the atmosphere began to deteriorate; instead of this wonderful supportive environment, it became a game of self-preservation. Eventually, the redundancies came, and despite all, I was led to believe in the run-up to this, I didn’t survive the cut.

The problem with me was that I was an anomaly. They screwed the paperwork up so badly that I ended up working five months notice instead of three. To add insult to injury, I was the only person in the entire business (a business of hundreds of people) that even had to work their notice. It was all handled so incredibly badly, that it made those five months much more painful than they needed to be.

Sadly, at some point in your professional life, you will almost certainly experience the toxicity of a broken workplace. You might even find yourself working through your notice period alongside all your colleagues that kept their jobs. If you do, what matters more than anything is how you conduct yourself, stay sane, and prepare so you can escape relatively unscathed, and on good terms with your ex-employer.

The good news is that these are quite probably skills that you already have at your disposal, you just need to remember to stay on track and draw from them when you need to.

Know Your Worth

‘You might feel nervous all the time, and worried that everything you do is wrong. It’s common to take it personally and begin to question your own worth. Never let that happen/get to that point’ — Lori Scherwin

Or say, like me, you lose your job. It’s reasonable to panic, freak out, and do all sorts of odd things that you wouldn’t normally do. 
I asked if there were any more junior jobs, offered to take a pay cut, then was going to make a zine about my adventures, of how I ended up there so they could see how amazingly creative I was and offer me back my job.

Don’t do it!

Imagine all that wasted time, a beautiful zine that they didn’t care about, and in the improbable event that they did offer me my job back; I would have continued to be stuck in that miserable, toxic environment.

© 2020, Anouska Parr, powering on through the politics.

Stay Professional

Alpha misery makers, the ones that are outspoken about how terrible everything is; they will b*tch to whoever will listen but have nothing constructive they can offer up to help. Don’t waste your time with them. You have more important things to do. Chances are they have already been labeled troublemakers, is that a critical skill you want to put on your Resume? NO!

Give Yourself A Fun Focus

When you are surrounded by miserable people, in a dreadful situation, and are trying to survive, I found some basic distractions served me well.

I took part in a 30-day outfit challenge; I had to dress according to what the challenge told me to wear. So off I would go in my outfit and attempt to selfie it accordingly, it’s quite telling the stress I was going through when I look back through some of those shots, but at the time, it did what I needed it to do. It gave me a focus and a break from the gloom.

My second was cheesecake for breakfast on a Friday — hooray you made it through another week — let’s start the day on a high.

Some of the 30-day outfit challenge pics © 2020, Anouska Parr

Prepare For Your Escape

‘Prepare your exit. Focus your energy on your next steps and finding something better ‘ — Melody Wilding

This was the only time in my entire career that I got a proper chance to create a resume/CV and Portfolio that I was proud of. I was fortunate that because they didn’t know what to do with me, I was left to my own devices for almost all of the five months.

I promised myself after that; I would keep everything up to date. If you chip away at it gradually over time, then it is much less of a mammoth task, than if you find yourself in that miserable position of redundancy and have to create the entire thing from scratch.

For me, I found that mocking up a rough version of what I wanted my Portfolio to include, then creating a checklist from that was the most efficient way to get it done.

With Tilly, getting ready to smash it © 2020, Anouska Parr


Ok so you are busy trying to survive, take part in your outfit challenge, not kill anyone in the office, and now I am telling you to exercise as well? Yes. I am. This is for your mind more than anything else, exercise releases endorphins, and right now, some extra happy coming your way is not a bad thing.

‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking’ ― Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s also excellent thinking time — you can try walking to work, or going on a stroll at lunchtime, a quick jog around the block, 5 minutes of skipping — whatever you can manage, I guarantee you will feel better afterward. I attribute a large part of keeping my sanity through all of this to the release I got from CrossFit and Roller Derby.

Eat Well

Yes I know I said I was eating cheesecake for breakfast on Fridays, but most of the rest of the time I was eating a pretty healthy vegetarian diet and only drinking alcohol at the weekends. Providing your body and brain with the nourishment it needs will always have a positive outcome on how you feel.

‘let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ — Hippocrates

Another sun setting over the studio © 2020, Anouska Parr

Go Home

As I was living away from my partner, and the main focus was getting my Portfolio done, I had no reason to go home, so I stayed at the office until 10/11 pm almost every night.

This was extremely unhealthy; my output would have been much better if I had allowed myself the rest I needed.

If you are, like me, a perfectionist; leaving something and coming back to it is a skill that can be very difficult to master. Please know that giving your brain a rest and revisiting with fresh eyes is more likely to result in an outcome that you are happy with!

Get Enough Sleep

I am an insomniac. I used to go through extended episodes of not sleeping at all, get it under control only to have something trigger it, starting the cycle all over again. Now I have a much better grip on my sleeping habits, and I attribute that to the following:

  • No coffee after 2 pm (I am very caffeine sensitive)
  • Light evening exercise (some core/yoga/pilates)
  • High carb dinner no later than 7 pm (something with rice or pasta makes me feel sleepy, plus it leaves enough time for digestion before sleep)
  • Mediation (I meditate every night between 15–30 mins at bedtime)
  • Pillow Spray (I like the brand ‘this works’, and I picked one up in Bali, you can make your own, check Pinterest for ideas)
  • Sleepy sounds (I use the ‘calm’ app, and I love any sound with water or rain)
    I have also learned that if I am unable to sleep, I can still feel well-rested after a mediation.

Ask For Help

This can be extremely hard; I am not someone that is wired to ask for help.
I asked HR for help at work. They immediately assigned me one of their team; she was terrific and would check in with me regularly to make sure I was doing ok. I cannot tell you the difference it made, just feeling like I had someone in my corner at the office.

When my little network found out I had lost my job, my Roller Derby fees were canceled and CrossFit membership massively reduced so I could continue to see my friends and do the things that made me feel better. I realize this will not be the same for everyone, but what I have learned from this is that it’s ok to ask. The worst that can happen is someone says no, but more often than not, I have found the response to be:

‘why didn’t you ask before now?’

Yes I made everyone brownies to cheer them up © 2020, Anouska Parr

Conduct Yourself With Dignity And Grace

When I was working the five months notice, I would hide away in the studio. It made everyone feel less awkward and meant I could get on with my Portfolio. Then something rather odd started to happen; I began to get visitors.

People would come to see me and tell me about their troubles. It was quite surreal to have these visitors; some had been promoted — they didn’t want to be; some were sad and didn’t know what to do. I had just lost my job and had been treated appallingly, and they came to me. I will never understand why, but I listened, and I was sympathetic.

It can be hard to respond to people with kindness when you feel like you have been dealt the short straw, but it’s an act of strength and dignity that many people will remember and respect. What I learnt during these five months was that I might have lost my job, but I was lucky that I was leaving behind this legacy of misery and uncertainty.

It was one of the hardest times in my life, but the place I am referring to in this piece continued down the same path of instability for four more years, with hundreds of more job cuts. I, on the other hand, moved to Vietnam, began working as a Futurist in the most creative role I have ever had. I am now, once again surrounded by positive, supportive people who love what I do. If there is one thing I believe in, it’s Karma; you may be dealt the duff hand, but it’s how you conduct yourself in that situation that defines what will happen next.

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