How to Be Successful in a Toxic Culture

If you’re working in a toxic organizational culture, you already know what a struggle it can be to succeed—or even survive. You’re far from alone—many people find themselves doing a job they love in a workplace they hate.

You may not be able to single-handedly change the culture around you, but there are things you can do to advance your own success in a toxic environment. Here are some of the most important:

Maintain your boundaries. Learn to separate yourself from what others are doing and focus on what you stand for. Check yourself often to make sure the things you’re doing fit with your values and aren’t just going with the flow. Keep your distance from activities you don’t respect unless you feel your voice can make a difference, and don’t participate in gossip and backstabbing. Refuse to let the toxicity invade your sense of yourself and what you stand for.

Cultivate a positive mindset. One of the worst things you can do is to succumb to the negativity around you. Even if you’re opposing toxic behavior, it’s easy to be sucked into negative thinking that leaves you feeling demoralized. Cultivate a positive mindset by immersing yourself in your work to make the culture more bearable and keep your productivity high.

Form alliances. Anything is more difficult when you go through it alone. Look for others who view the world the same way you do so you can all be there for each other. Not only will you have someone it’s safe to vent with, but together you can mastermind ways to cope with upsetting situations.

Don’t compromise your values. Never let any situation undermine or weaken who you are and what you stand for. Don’t engage in unethical behavior, even to save your job. Nothing will erode your self-worth more than dishonoring who you are as a human being. If you lose your job because you stand by your values, you lose it for a good cause.

Focus on solutions, not the problem. Even when it’s entirely justified, complaining and grumbling contribute to the spread of toxicity. Whether it’s aimed at other employees, company leadership or specific policies, complaining feeds a mentality of defeat. When others are focused on the problems, devote your own energy to focusing on solutions. It will change up the conversation, and eventually it may even make a change in the culture.

Put it in writing. Especially if you’re working in a toxic culture, it’s a good idea to document the things that happen every day. Keep written or printed copies of your reviews, emails, correspondence, and meeting notes. Start a journal to record your noteworthy accomplishments as well as specifics of the dysfunction and the toxicity happening around you. Being able to speak to the work you do and what you have been able to achieve will help you manage what is happening around you. And if you’re ever called upon to recount workplace events in court or to senior management, you’ll be better prepared (and more credible) with notes and documentation.

Formulate an exit strategy. If you’re staying because you love your job but the culture is toxic, it’s never too soon to begin looking for better environments where you can do your best work in peace and truly thrive. When you do leave, whatever the circumstances, look back on it as a learning experience.

Lead from within: If you want to be successful in a toxic culture you have to be determined in your mindset, committed to your character and purposeful about your work. And if you’re still unhappy or unsuccessful, you need to leave.



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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. J Blair Brown

    24. Jul, 2019

    Very informative article! It’s so important that each individual takes/accepts responsibility for a thriving workplace. Thanks for the reminders.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Helen

    03. Jul, 2022

    Thank you so much. Youve formulated my thinking so clearly. A blessing in time of dire need.

    Reply to this comment

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