Six areas of focus before you quit that toxic job in 2019

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 9 – You have a right to have work that enriches and enlivens you rather than diminishes you. Your work environment should motivate you to perform to your full potential and enrich your well being and sense of self. Work place should be a healthy one. This is however not always the case and there are many toxic situations that can fester at work. Toxic work environments are bad for your mental health and productivity. Anxiety produced by the toxic work place can feel paralyzing and many times it may even affect your motivation to look for a new job.

I am writing this article on my ‘anniversary’. Earlier in my career, I tendered my resignation to move out of a toxic work environment that had affected my health and performance tremendously; I had lost energy, I was perpetually exhausted, I had lost self-confidence and capacity to perform, for several months every Sunday evening I suffered anxiety by the thought of going to the same office for another week.

The feeling of anxiety and lack of motivation are very real if you are working in a toxic environment, fortunately, there are some practical steps you can take to get yourself out of the toxic environment. Here I share with you reflections from my past experience and what I have learnt overtime in my own journey and along my work as a career strategist for Millennials. My greatest desire is that you will be better empowered to make decisions that will accelerate and not hurt your career progression.

First, how do you know you are in a toxic work environment?

Leaving your job should be properly timed and strategic, and so it is important to analyze why you feel demotivated and that the environment you are working in is not best suit for you before to tender that resignation letter. That way, you also make better decisions of where you want to see yourself in your next move.

Your lack of fulfillment could be due to mismatch between your purpose and your job.  If your boss or work environment is abusive, plan for an exit! If they aren’t abusive, and you’ve been there only for few months, hold off on to giving a notice. Sometimes people make decisions too quickly; it takes about 6 months for anyone to settle for a job. If you’ve been there for more than 6 months try to figure out what’s wrong, to start with check your attitude. For us millennials we are too quick to move, sometime, we end up in worse situation, because we never gave a keen thought to the decision we were making, in saying this I don’t mean you should be stuck in a job where you are not fulfilled, my emphasis is on the need to be strategic on your move.

There are countless signs you are in a toxic workplace that you should not ignore; high staff turnover, lack of internal support from managers, low morale, and lack of equality as it pertains to treatment and ethical issues. Additionally, if you are in a workplace where; your skills are being under-utilized and the management doesn’t acknowledge you have more to offer than what you’ve been contributing,You are not following your passion, your job/ employer does not align with your values and interests, you are not fairly compensated, the company might even be performing well but that is not reflected in your salary or rewards. The evaluations you get are not consistent with your true work performance, you don’t get acknowledgement for great work or you are being edged out of projects or the entire position seems to be at risk for political or other reasons. If you experience bullying and such things as sexual harassment keep your eye on other positions (while such situations might also call for legal redress).

If your job is making you sick – instead of jumping out of bed the first thing enthusiastic to go to work, you feel immobile, stressed and you lack enthusiasm that can drain your every energy and hurt your performance. When work starts affecting your health, physical mental orboth consider taking time off. While you conduct job search, find ways to reduce stress levels,one way is to work with a coach or a mentor to help you navigate, and put necessary plans in place.  If you see these red flags, get yourself ready for exit; put your energy into growing.

Other reason you may want to look elsewhere is if you feel you have more to contribute elsewhere – you are in a personal growth mode while your position is stagnant. You’ve been thinking in directions that seem miles apart from the work you are currently doing.  Also if there is no HR Manual stating policies and procedures and clear JDs and reporting lines within the organizational set up.

If you feel you have more to offer to the world, don’t second guess yourself, get ready for change. You should not expect magic bullets in your career transition journey, so begin to lay the groundwork.

Your decisions must be very deliberate. Success comes from grit, hard work, strategy and action… everything needs deliberate planning, consistent plan and action (Celestine Chua).

Important steps to take in preparation for exit

  1. Think your ‘big picture’

The Big picture is simply what you want in your ideal career -Your dream job/ career come from knowing what you want first. Get a vision on your ideal career first, as it will give you the direction to work towards.

I have seen people leave and hop on to another job only to feel unhappy again after a short while. The cycle continues, only to have 5, 10 years pass them by without being closer to what they want. Invest in getting clear of what you really want even if where you are at now looks far away from what you want, knowing where you want to go will put you one step ahead. Your ideal career can be anything from salaried job to starting a business.

If you have difficulty identifying what you want, identify what you don’t want first, including things you don’t want in your current or previous job, things you already know you don’t want to do, then use your answers to get a clue of what you want. An example, if you don’t like routine work, perhaps it’s because you like work that’s dynamic and constantly exposing you to something new.  Chua points out that, finding your ideal career is both inward reflection and outward experience.

Your big picture will inform what you will be looking for in a position you interview for.

  1. Take personal inventory

This process should include evaluating your current job against your ideal career. Is the current job enabling you to be the best version of yourself? Does it leverage on your strength and help you perform at your peak? How well does it align with your values and interests? When a job aligns with your values and interests, you are more likely to find meaning and purpose in your work.

How about your employer’s values as revealed by managerial behavior and decision making practices? Do they support authenticity, autonomy and your commitment to making a positive impact in the society?

Why did you accept the job initially? Look back and see if that is being realized.  Did you want to connect with more people in the industry? Did you want to earn more, if so; does your pay match your skills?  Was it to seat in corporate meetings and learn how corporate world operates?  Whatever your desire was, look back and see if they have been realized. If not then it is an indicator you are in a toxic environment.Do you dread work? Another sign of a toxic job is neve feeling positive about going to work in the morning.

In addition to looking at the environment you are in, take an inventory of your skills set as well. How much do you fit into the area you want to go into? What are your long term goals? Which environment and work style best fits your personality?Your lack of fulfillment now could be due to misalignment between your purpose and your job and you do not want a repeat of the same in the field or place you are moving into, so do due diligence on this. Try as much as possible to review any job you interview for with a set of criteria of what you need to be most engaged and productive.

Define clearly what you are looking for. Define what a fulfilling job and work environment looks like for you.  Think about the work environment and work style that best suits your personality so that you can move into an area that suits you.

Check prospective employer and try to understand the organizational culture. Check with former and / or currentemployees (LinkedIn can serve this purpose so well, or referrals by your networks), check the website, what do they stand for? Who are in the management team and what do they stand for. Check if any have made a stand on a certain issue relating to the industry, they may have published an article, or participated in a radio or TV interview. Their view will give you a hint of the kind of work environment you are looking to get into, and whether it is a good fit for you.

  1. Make a list of your skills set and achievements

Make a google doc with everything you have accomplishedin that job, compile detailed notes of how you have helped the company grow, this way you are able to easily update your CV, and when in other job interviews you can look back to those notes, you will have actual facts and figure without struggling to remember.  You are also able to look at the skills you have developed in the course of your work, and compare to the skills needed in the position you are eyeing and make an informed decision on how to bridge the skills gap to reach your career goal. The process might prompt you to want to go back to school or take an online course.  Take advantage of the opportunities available in your current job, learn from colleagues and managers, and participate in team work, volunteer, as you create a path to your end goal.

Taking personal inventory facilitates self-belief and clarity of what you want. Your career progress will be motivated by how much you want to see change.

  1. Network

Job searching is downright exhausting; its time consuming and emotionally draining, and that’s when you don’t have a toxic job weighing you down even further.  The process can be made easier if you learn to network with people in your industry who can connect you with opportunities, or help you sharpen your skills. Once you meet people you already have in your network over coffee, ask them if they have other connections they think you can connect with. Odds are that they have people in mind. This way, you will meet new people with valuable insights. Grow out this network as big as you can. Do not ignore colleagues in other departments, former school mates, and even family members. Let them know you are looking for a job and you would appreciate any leads.

However, keep the job search professional, share your intentions with people you can trust. Know how to leave gracefully without burning your bridges; in this instant communication era, you do not want to be exposed to unflattering tweets or poor references.

  1. Get into Actual search

To be successful in this, and avoid draining all your energies or losing hope, generate a checklist of ‘to dos’, and work on each item on the list.

Update your resume detailing your acquired skills and achievements in the previous and current job, create a list of solid references, and update LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. Utilize all the avenues to get the job openings; check the online job listings, industry specific consulting firms and continue sharing the word with your networks.

While you conduct actual search remain professional. Do not suddenly alter work habits, don’t suddenly become invisible, or start arriving later or leave early unless the job has affecting your health.  Remain a good team player and volunteer to help. Stay friendly to those you report to and peers, stay enthusiastic, maintain your professionalism when you leave and beyond.

  1. Get a Coach a coach/ a mentor

You need a coach or a mentor to accompany you as you take the necessary steps in your career transition and progress. They help you know if the steps you are taking are going to bear fruits, and what options you have in the process.  A coach accompanies you as you define your career goal; they act as your brainstorming partner.  As trained professionals, they use appropriate coaching tools and methods to support you realize your most desired outcome. They support you and shorten your learning curve.  With a coach you easily realize your dreams, and save on the resources that would have been wasted in your trial and error.

Job search is such a daunting period; you do not want to do it alone.

Final thoughts

Throughout this article I have emphasized the need to strategize, plan and take action as you seek to transition from a toxic work environment. I acknowledge this should be the ideal position; however, sometimes work environments can be so toxic that you are forced to leave without any other job lined up. If that is the case for you, there are some ways you can get prepared before jumping into unemployment.

Come up with an amount you will need in order to live for the next six months; rent and upkeep, then quit buying those stuff that you do not need, start saving. Without stressing about cash and having moved out of a stressing environment, you can focus your energy on finding a fulfilling job.

One thing that will give you a sense of relief is the belief that it’s going to be better.  I acknowledge it is hard to throw yourself fully into finding something better when your current gig is sucking the life out of you every day.

Another quick thought I wish to share with you is to be careful of the short ‘hops’ on your resume. One short ‘hop’ can be explained but once you have two or more, a hiring manager will begin to suspect your judgement and worse your character and professionalism. Short ‘hops’ means you did not give yourself time to know if the position was a good fit for you, putting to question your judgement, it also means you had not given thought to your decisions when you took up the role. Therefore think through what you are looking for in the next opportunity you are eying so that it is more strategic and will not be forced to leave too soon.

Finally remember quitting a job will create a host of other variables such as loss of financial income and opening an employment gap (at your risk of explaining the gap in the next interview).

It is my sincere hope that you have benefited from the information I have shared. I would highly appreciate your feedback on what was most outstanding for you, and on what your career progression needs are. I would be happy to help.

Best Wishes.


Murugi Njeru

Career Strategist for Millennials


Kang'ethe Njoroge

Kang'ethe Njoroge is the Managing Editor of Money Series Africa. He is a seasoned communication strategist, with over five year experience in New Media and digital marketing. He is also the Co - Founder of Founders Breakfast Kenya and is currently a Business Development Director of TheCure Marketing Agency.

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  1. Nice read for some of us who are starting over again,for sure working in a toxic environment kills creativity,innovativeness and energy to perform your duties and roles diligently,thanks Murugi for this,an interesting article.

  2. Congrats Murugi
    This is a super piece, the steps are very informative, systematic and real as one plans to exit from the toxic environment.
    I must confess that I have learnt something new.
    Without any doubt, the first step is the driving force and Motivating Power that causes acceleration of exiting to attain the ideal career .
    The ‘Big Picture’ is like a compass giving highlights on which direction to take thus avoiding the aspect of one been a ‘Serial Job Exit-er'(SJE). I personally ascribe to the thought that not any opportunity that we come across is to be grabbed. One is to grab what adds value to the ‘Big Picture’.
    Once one has a clear picture of the Ideal career , the other steps then become relevant and productive at the long run. I believe the converging point of these important steps is the ideal career which has aspects of fulfillment and achievements. Otherwise desperation will be evident despite having what others or peers may brand it as ‘successful career’.
    A quick question to end ; What happens when the person is the one who is Toxic and not environment?

    • Wow Beckie
      This is a great comment and I like your question as well
      It’s TRUE there can be times when it’s the person who is toxic and this can be as a result of many issues. One maybe that someone is struggling with some past that they have not delt with, they will at this time need to talk to a professional. I also note such people many times never get to know they need help. It can take a courageous friend or colleague to help them realize the need to seek help.

  3. Insightful article. I like the idea of taking time to really find out what is making you want to quit (lest you find yourself in similar circumstances in the next job).

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