Have you ever worked in an environment so toxic, you just knew you had to get out? But you couldn’t…because you needed the job. You said, “I can’t afford to lose this job.” So you stayed. And you were miserable. I’ve been there. Most people have. But there is something you can do about it.

Toxic Workplace
I can’t afford to lose this job” usually means, “I have no backup plan.” (Tweet That)

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I received an email earlier this year from someone asking for advice about a job “situation.” I was one of many people included on the email and the conversation back and forth was great. There was some amazing advice given to this person by a group of awesome people.

But at some point, I had to chime in with this:

I don’t think anyone else has addressed the elephant in the room though…

It sounds very toxic to me there.

For reasons that I won’t go into, the environment in this company was extremely toxic. It was a discouraging and overwhelming place to work. And this person likely had no future growth in store there. Eventually, I hate to say, it would break this person.

What to do in a toxic environment

If the environment is truly toxic, you need to start looking elsewhere. I’m not a “pick up my toys and leave” type, but you need an extremely warm network immediately.

I worry when someone says “I can’t afford to lose this job.” That usually means, “I have no backup plan.” It means you’re network is ice cold, that your name is not out in the community at all, and that no one has recently reached out to you about a job prospect. (That is the ultimate sign of a warm network and good visibility…when others are constantly reaching out to you about working for them or others)

So if your environment is toxic, it’s time to go into network-warming overdrive. If you’re environment is great, then it’s time to warm up your network anyway.

How to warm up your network fast

Essentially this is an accelerated version of my networking plans that I shared previously.

  1. The right mentality. You need to realize that working in a toxic environment is dangerous. You do not “need this job.” There are thousands of other opportunities out there. You have to go them.
  2. Ten hours a week. Normally I suggest spending a minimum of two hours per week working on your next job. In the case of overdrive mode, if you haven’t been spending that much time and might need a warm network soon, I would spend a minimum of ten hours a week. Ten! That’s a lot.
  3. Reach out today. I don’t care if you have 5 or 500 people in your network, reach out to all of them now. If it’s truly a big list, OK, you can divide it up and do 100 each day, but start right now. Email them, call them, send them a hand-written note, find out when their birthdays are and send them a card. Wish them a Happy New Year if the time is right, invite them to a party, ask them to lunch. Just reach out.
  4. Tell your close friends. Tell your closest friends that you are looking. This is probably less than ten people. Tell your close friends and relatives that you are looking for opportunities and see if they can help.

And one last note…

Ramp it up a notch at work. Yes, I am telling you to go the extra mile. The last thing you want is to be fired and get a poor recommendation down the road.

Give it your best every single day and you will be rewarded.

What advice do you have for someone working in a toxic environment?

22 thoughts on “What to do in a Toxic Environment | How to Warm up Your Network Fast

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Really great advice. I would agree, if you need to accelerate… 10 hours a week while you still have your job… that will also give you a feeling of positive forward momentum. With that said, best to be actively contributing to a network long before you are the one in need.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Exactly…long, long before. As in years, in my opinion.

  2. Travis Scott says:

    Matt…awesome post. I agree to tell your close friends about looking for a new job, but I have read a lot recently that you need to reach out to our weak ties and acquaintances too. They say this b/c our strong ties typically run in the same circles as us and know a lot of the same people. However, our weaker ties typically have different circles and that can really expand our reach!

    So I agree w/ point 4…make sure you reach everyone. It’s simply the law of numbers!

  3. David Mike says:

    I sometimes have to remember to suck it up and leave my feelings at the door. Walk in and just do the job I am paid to do! I need to focus on the positive changes I can make my self and hope that it will spread to others. I am not in a toxic enviroment however, there are some pretty bad days when it comes to lack of communication and some serious disconnection from teammates. Thanks Matt! More encouragement for today. “Be an encourager, not a discourager” and others will follow.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Spot on David.

      This advice applies to anyone even if it’s just that they want to try something new.

    2. Katherine Leicester says:

      As much as I’d like to believe it, Mike, I found that doing a good job and being an encourager leave you open for attack from both your peers and your supervisors. It is often unsafe to do anything but the bare minimum, stay quiet at your cube. Judgment dictates whether or not to do as you suggest, but realize there are many places where it’s not safe to do good.

      But don’t use this as an excuse to stay. If this is the case, leave. Right away.

  4. LadyMcKermit says:

    Great post! I think my favourite line was “You do not ‘need’ this job. There are thousands of other opportunities out there” I think that in a toxic environment that is easy to forget!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      So true! When things suck, the depression takes hold.

      Love the use of the “u” in “favourite” too.

  5. Paige Gordon II says:

    “The last thing you want is to be fired and get a poor recommendation down the road.” So true man! When you’re in a sucky job it’s so easy to forget that no matter how much you don’t like it, the worst thing you could possibly do is to do a bad job at it. That only ensures you will make yourself more miserable while you’re there and you’ll most likely not get a good recommendation down the road.

  6. Zech Newman says:

    My advice would be to stop sitting in your dirty diaper. Yes it is warm(you get money) but it smells and you need to remove it. To often I fall into the trap of passivity when I know something needs to change. Like you said start working on the next job while you work with excellence in a bad situation.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Beautiful…OK descriptive analogy 🙂

  7. Katherine Leicester says:

    LEAVE. Immediately. Every moment you stay your spirit dies a little bit. Every moment you stay you take on toxicity that has to be scrubbed and scraped off when you leave–there is a huge cost to staying.

    I just left a toxic waste dump job. I’ll be recovering from it for years because I told myself it was somehow responsible to stay.

    Yes, like Matt talks about, we need to be responsible, and we don’t want to be Quitters like Jon Acuff warns us about. Just understand the situation is toxic, and tragic, and dangerous.

    LEAVE before it destroys you.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Good for you for leaving. Congratulations are in order!

  8. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Yep, I recall that conversation and I recall how you called out the elephant in the room. Our friend was going through a very difficult time in a horribly toxic environment. It was a pretty desperate situation and personally I felt compelled to help and at the same time there was nothing I could do but listen and encourage.

    My advice for people in this situation is that there is no job for which you should sacrifice your health, your integrity or your family.

    I am glad that the story had a happy ending and our friend has propelled to bigger and better things and is away from that horrible situation.

    If anyone reading is living this, please don’t wait. People willing to help are closer than you think.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love this quote “there is no job for which you should sacrifice your health, your integrity or your family.”

  9. CabinetDoork says:

    Great advice, Matt. People are often stuck out of fear… Positive action sends fear packing. As someone to whom people open up, I hear this frustration more than just about any other. Yet few are moving in any direction other than toward Stuckville. (That sounded hipper in my head.) I always ask people to tell me about their actions in regards to finding different work. Cue crickets: Chirp Chirp Chirp

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Stuckville…I like it.

      Spend 5% of whatever you spend working on your next job. (Not on company time, but if you spend 45 hours a week work, spend at least another 2 hours networking etc.)

  10. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    As someone who has been in such an environment (maybe I sent that email, I don’t recall!), my advice is twofold. First, realize you’re next job is much closer than you feel like it is and second, be intentional about adding value and looking for opportunities. You won’t get a new job by hoping someone calls and complaining about your current job.

    But you can’t stay. You’re right Matt, there are times whe you just HAVE to leave. For your sake, your family’s sake and, quite frankly, the good of that company!

    Great post. Thanks buddy.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yes sir! Sometimes you HAVE to leave, but it sure helps to have a backup plan.

  11. Kirbie Earley says:

    Great post. By your definition, I do work in a somewhat toxic environment (is that like being kind of pregnant?). I am working to get out of it and I do find that telling people what you are trying to accomplish definitely helps keep the wheels turning. In my case, I’m starting out on my own, so doing both at the same time can be a challenge.

    I have helped others, though, just as you say. I will get resumes or messages on FaceBook – “hey I am quietly looking for something else…”. I am always happy to forward on their resume! We not only need to be willing to ask, but willing to help.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      “we not only need to be willing to ask, we need to be willing to help” love it!!

      1. Matt McWilliams says:


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