An Employee’s Guide to Driving Change and Thriving in A Difficult Workplace

CoachHub · 7 June 2023 · 7 min read

Workplaces are the ideal places to actualize your dream and commit to something you’re passionate about. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many employees—many workplaces have toxic work cultures that make it difficult for an average employee to look forward to each workday. According to a MIT report, toxic work cultures are making employees who can afford to resign do so without thinking twice. For others, it may require a long-term plan to exit the position they once craved for. Some employees, however, may not be able to afford the luxury and resigning from their position is not how they’ll prefer to deal with the situation.

In this guide, we explore when quitting right away isn’t the best option, how a willing employee can drive change in difficult workplaces and how to thrive when leaving is a long-term option.

Driving change in a difficult environment—How employees can influence the narrative

Attempting to drive change in a difficult environment might be a huge task to commit to, but it’s not impossible. Critically assessing the factors that make your work environment challenging can help you unravel ways to improve the work in no small way.

Different factors may be responsible for the difficult work environment. You may find it challenging because of the kind of people you work with, or it could be a general challenge, due to the overbearing nature of the people you work for. In either situation, there’s a way to drive change and be a source of positive impact before deciding to check out when all options are exhausted.

  • When working with difficult people, maintaining a positive outlook and choosing how you respond can be the deal-breaker. Sometimes, it’s easier to win people over when you show them respect, take their recommendations seriously or work on their feedback.
  • Additionally working with a coach can help you assess the different personalities of the people you work with. This helps you to know how to relate, handle and respond to each person without feeling offended by their mannerism.
  • You may also recommend work get-togethers to your superiors to foster team bonding between employees. Sometimes, relating with colleagues outside of a work setting can help to develop healthier relationships that are transferrable to the workplace.
  • When facing challenges with the people you work for rather than those you work with, you may consider working hard to improve your work performance such that no room is left for complaints.
  • If you’re a team leader, you can encourage your team members to execute assigned tasks efficiently in a bid to drive change in the workplace. This can make your team win the applause of your organizational leaders, as they see the results of effort put into your work. All of this can create a positive ripple effect that can lead to a better working atmosphere.
  • Great work performance can also afford you some level of influence. You may recommend areas of change to your workplace leaders, that makes it less difficult to function effectively.

If after attempting some or all of these steps and there are no positive changes in sight, you might want to assess your options again.

difficult workplace

When quitting right away is not the best option in a difficult workplace

Working in a toxic workplace can be challenging and it can be tempting to consider quitting on the spot. However, if you’re in any of these situations you might need to be strategic about your exit plans and find better ways to manage the situation.


Having a toxic direct report can make the overall work difficult for an average employee. For someone looking to get a promotion soon, and the challenge only lasts as long as you’re in that position, you might want to hang on to your job while the phase lasts, especially if you won’t have to deal with this individual after promotion. This means you’ll need to seek a different way to address this challenge while you hold on to your job.

A critical phase in career:

The job may be tough, but you’ve probably worked so hard to be where you are now and quitting work might not be an option. You might be in a role that requires you to acquire experience for a specific period before you can gun for a new position. This means that, if you’re facing challenges with the people you’re working with or for, you’ll need a strategy to help you survive that phase.

Insufficient savings:

The idea of quitting might be far-fetched if you haven’t saved enough to go job-hunting. You don’t want to get financially stranded in the job-hunting process. This means that you’ll need to map out a way to cope on the job while you save or wait to get hired for a new role.

No work-life balance:

It can be upsetting when your work begins to take up all of your time and it feels like you have no time left for yourself. It can be tempting to quit work right away, but before you do, you still need to have a plan. Leaving your job to face your life may leave you depressed if you’re out job-hunting for longer than you imagined. Hence, it’s best to find ways to deal with the imbalance while working out your exit plan.

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How to thrive while working in a difficult work environment

Working in a difficult environment can be draining on an employee’s morale and motivation, while you might not be able to influence decision-making in that regard, here are a few ways to stay afloat in such situations.

Prioritize your boundaries:

When other employees are in a similar situation as yours, it’s easy to turn the workplace into a breeding ground for gossip and hard feelings. The best way to stay afloat in this situation is to ensure you prioritize your boundaries and discard conversations that only make you feel helpless at your job. Tips like changing the subject, walking out of the group as politely as you can, using headphones, if possible, can help you take charge of your working atmosphere.

Take charge of what you can control:

Things like office gossip and toxic team leads may be totally out of your control. Prioritizing your inner peace—listening to uplifting music or podcasts while you work for instance—can make a lot of difference. Recognizing what’s within your area of influence and how you choose to respond to toxic activities can help you prioritize your peace. Taking on activities that help you relax can help you manage feelings of anxiety and even develop a positive attitude that your colleagues can emulate. This means that your attitude can create a ripple effect on others that could make the office more conducive to work in.

Don’t personalize professional criticism:

It’s not unusual to face work-related criticisms, and the best way to deal with them is to separate yourself from them. Don’t allow it to get to you, instead think of ways to improve your overall performance in light of those criticisms. Seeing your feedback go from negative to positive can change your overall disposition toward your work while you’re there.

Know your next steps:

Understand that there’s only an extent to which you can endure working in a difficult environment. It’s important that you outline your next steps if you’re thinking about quitting soon. What do you need to do—save more money, spend some time job hunting or building a side hustle to leverage on? When you determine your next step, it helps you develop the strength to go through the current phase without burning out.

Get an external support system:

Toxic work environments can be emotionally draining, and it’s best to have a strong support system to scale through the phase. A support system in the form of trusted family members and friends can help to provide the right emotional support.

Seeking professional help from a coach can also help you to map out how to deal with the toxic situation at your workplace and plan out a strategy to transition into a new job. It’s not unusual to find people working in this situation having to deal with an identity crisis or doubt their potential in a different work environment. A coach helps such an individual uncover the true worth of their identity and identify their potential.

Final words

Where job satisfaction is important to how people work, employees can attempt to drive change in their little way. If positive changes are not forthcoming and quitting becomes inevitable, employees must prioritize their peace, get the right support system or even work with a coach to help map out their potential to get hired under better working conditions.

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Samuel Olawole

Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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