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5 Very Rare Instances It’s Worth Staying In A Toxic Workplace

A bad work culture is usually a sign to leave. However, in certain circumstances, it might be worth hanging on for just a little longer.

5 Very Rare Instances It’s Worth Staying In A Toxic Workplace
[Photo: tiero/iStock]

You already know a toxic workplace can make you miserable and impact your health and well-being.

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But when you enjoy the work that you do, there are rare instances where it might be worth staying–though they are few and far between. Here are five circumstances where workplace experts say that it might be worth toughing it out.


Related: 5 Signs That Your Workplace May Be Toxic


1. You’re In A Position Of Influence

We’ve seen many companies’ reputations take a hit when its bad office culture becomes apparent. One fitting example of that company is Uber, whose public perception deteriorated significantly after a former employee’s blistering blog post about rampant sexual harassment that went on at the company. A series of other troubling headlines followed, as did a leadership shuffle at the top. However, this did not deter Bob Cowherd, a product strategy leader at Uber, from being committed to the company. In a Medium post, Cowherd gave a number of reasons for staying. Cowherd told Fast Company in an email, I decided that staying and helping to steer Uber in the right direction could substantially impact the future of how we live in our cities. I might never be in a position to have that much impact again in my career, and advocating for the change I wanted to see could make a tremendous difference.”


Related: What Trader Joe’s Figured Out About Work Culture That My Past Employers Haven’t 


Patricia Thompson, a corporate psychologist and president of Atlanta-based consulting firm Silver Lining Psychology, told Fast Company that the influence you have in the company is a crucial factor to consider when you’re deciding whether to stay or leave a toxic workplace. In Cowherd’s case, even though he was not a C-suite leader, he appears to be in a senior enough position where he has the power to change (or at least influence) Uber’s company culture, Thompson said. Marketing and psychology professor and Fast Company contributor Art Markman echoed Thompson’s sentiment in a 2015 article. When deciding whether or not to leave a company with a problematic culture, people should ask themselves, “Is there room for advancement within the company that might allow you to influence the culture (or perhaps take you out of the environment you are in right now)?”

2. You’re Doing Work That Accelerates Your Career (And You Have A Time Limit)

Sometimes, it’s worth staying in a toxic culture when you can see tangible opportunities that can fast-track your career (or benefit it in the long term). For example, there might be an opportunity to be mentored by someone that can open doors for you later on in your career, or you need to stay just a little bit longer to hone a resume-building skill. Thompson told Fast Company, “Those might be good reasons to stay, but you’ll want to make the most of the time you’re there and have a time limit.”

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Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work And in Life told Fast Company that having an expiration date is extremely crucial. “I think so many times, that gets away from us,” she said. Without a clear deadline in mind, it’s easy to lose motivation. You don’t want to let 10 years pass by before realizing that you should have left a long time ago, Eurich said.


Related: This Is What Caused Uber’s Broken Company Culture 


3. You Can Switch Teams Where The Culture Is Better

After reading Susan Fowler’s blog post, Cowherd wrote that he “rushed over” to two female product managers in his team and asked if they experienced anything like what Fowler had described. Their answer was no, and Cowherd wrote that what Fowler described wasn’t the company they knew.

“Even in organizations where you’d say the culture is terrible, there are pockets where things are fine,” Thompson pointed out. If you truly are passionate about the work that the organization is doing, it might be worth seeing whether you can work with another team if you find working in your own team toxic.

4. The Organization Shows Some Signs Of Improvement

Cowherd also wrote that he stayed at Uber because he deeply believed that Uber was committed to change. When Dara Khosroshawhi issued a new cultural value, “We do the right thing. Period,” Cowherd was skeptical. However, in the next few months, he witnessed moments and activities that reassured him.

Of course, when you’re not privy to C-suite discussions, you can’t know for sure whether a company is serious, but  you can often spot some signs that signal whether or not this is the case. “One good sign is if they’re bringing an outside facilitator,” Thompson said. “I’d also think that you’d want to look at the top leaders’ behavior. Sometimes, I’ve seen instances where they’re bringing in facilitators to bring in culture change, and the top brass aren’t bought into it . . . A culture [may be] toxic, but a lot of the times there are people bringing this toxicity. Are those people being held accountable? If they’re not, then they’re perhaps valuing that person’s financial contribution as opposed to their ability to contribute to the culture.”

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5. You’re In A Healthy Place Mentally, Emotionally, And Physically

Working in a toxic culture can be extremely taxing–so Thompson urged that if you are thinking about staying, the first thing you want to think about is your state of health. “When you work in a toxic culture, it can have all sorts of impact. You need to be in a healthy place already,” Thompson asserts.

Finding fulfilling work might be hard to come by, but in order to do your best, it’s important that you have psychological safety and be in an environment where you can be vulnerable, authentic, and honest. You don’t tend to have these things in a toxic culture, Thompson said. “Bottom line, if your health is suffering, you probably want to cut your losses sooner. It’s not like [change] is going to happen immediately, so you’ll really need to be in it for the long haul.”

Eurich told Fast Company that she does worry about people who have a martyr complex when they choose to stay at toxic workplaces. “There has to be a selfish reason, no amount of work you love can make up for being mistreated in the long run.”

For those who do choose to tough it out, Eurich stressed the importance of reframing their situation. When you’re in a toxic workplace, it’s easy to feel like you’re powerless and not in control, she observed. “You need to tell yourself: I’m choosing to be here for this reason, they cannot control me. I’m in the driver’s seat.”

Cowherd agrees, and said that no one should ever accept a poor work culture. “Either work to change it,” he said, “or leave.”

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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