Should I stay or should I go? The Toxic Workplace Dance (more like a jitter)

Should I stay or Should I go?

Do you find yourself rationalizing out reasons to stay when you really should go?

It is easy to talk ourselves into staying in a place that is harming us, especially when it comes to working in a place we are emotionally attached to.  It may be that you have worked there for 18 years or that you love the people you serve or your loyalty to a company that took a chance on you when others would not.  The emotional ties to a workplace allow us to rationalize away the need to leave.  I often hear people talking about things such as the short commute, the pay, the benefits, the pension, the vacation, the seniority … and the list can go on.  It can be hard to argue that a safe workplace is better than 11 weeks vacation, but when you spend 8 of those weeks in therapy and rebuilding resilience just so you can go back …. it loses its allure.

What we overlook are the physical and emotional costs of staying

Life is not really about suppressing emotions and suffering in a workplace just because you need a job.  If you are in one of those places now,  the world is missing out on your greatest possible contributions. You really might have the answers to one of societies biggest problems but we will never know it because you are stuck in a soul-crushing environment.  Sometimes it is hard to identify a toxic workplace because as a society, the normalization of workplace bullying has created a host of dismissive statements that mistakenly places the burden of coping on the individual.  Consider how often you hear these types of phrases:

  • “not everyone is cut out to work here”
  • “you have to be tough to survive in this environment”
  • “stop taking things so personally, you are overreacting”
  • “that’s just the way he/she is … we just ignore it” (implying that it is best if you ignore it too)
  • “I have realized I need to have thick skin to survive here”

There is no doubt that these socially acceptable ways of talking about conflict or workplace bullying are having an impact.  The mental, physical, and emotional health of the target and those around them will decline and create a multitude of negative effects, costing everyone.  It is easy to wonder what would make a person stay in a toxic workplace, but having been there, I understand. The first time I stayed far too long because I did not know the signs of a toxic workplace and the second time, I moved on a lot quicker, leaving a job that filled my soul but killed my spirit.  We all have different thresholds of pain and when the pain of staying becomes worse than the pain of leaving, you will know when it is time to go.  If you are not sure, perhaps these questions will help you gain some clarity:

  1. What are my personal/professional goals? (what do you really want out of life).  How is this workplace moving me towards that goal?
  2. Can I achieve these goals in another workplace?
  3. Have I been making excuses to stay? This question will challenge your daily self-talk and how you talk to others.  Are there any repeating themes?  What are the dominant concerns?
  4. What are my payoffs to stay versus go?  (i.e. money, commute) What are my costs to stay versus go (i.e. sick time, enjoyment)?  Make a balance sheet and circle those things that are deal breakers
  5. What have I done to influence the current situation?  With 80% of workplace bully-like behaviors stopping after just one conversation – I have to ask – what have you done about it?
  6. What supports have I used in the workplace to help me create a safe workplace?  Is there a personal coach or success coach available to me?

Ultimately, it is your career, your health, and your decision. If a job is not helping you be the best version of yourself, then it may be time to start examining your options.  Living in fear and insecurity is not a life lived well.

What I learned is that leaving was actually quite easy, once I made up my mind that I was worth more and that I deserved more. What do you deserve?


Tammy Dunnett is the creator of the E-Safe Workplace Mentorship Program and helps people and organizations create psychologically safe workspaces so you can keep talent from leaving.  For more information, visit

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