It’s Mental Health Awareness Month!

But what does that actually mean? 

For many businesses, Mental Health Awareness Month introduces an opportunity to share the ways they care about employees’ mental health. But too often, employees still find themselves in toxic work environments. How frequently? Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Almost one in five workers said they have experienced a toxic work environment. These experiences include sexual harassment as well as bullying. (CNBC)
  • More than half—55 percent—reported facing “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions at work. (CNBC)
  • Nearly one-quarter of workers said they dread going to work. (SHRM)
  • One in four workers reported feeling disrespected and unvalued at their jobs. (SHRM)
  • 25 percent of workers reported not feeling safe voicing their opinions about work-related issues. (Civility Partners)
  • One in five people also reported leaving their job in the last five years due to culture. (SHRM)

Obviously, the prevalence of toxic work environments is an issue that needs addressed on a systemic level. But today, we want to focus on the individual level—specifically, workers leaving their jobs because of toxic workplaces.

If you are a job searcher who recently escaped a toxic work environment, you might feel anxious, insecure, undervalued, and even lack confidence in yourself and your abilities. So how are you supposed to bring forward your best self to secure a job where you can find success?

That’s where we want to help. In this post, we will discuss the following:

  1. How to detox after leaving a toxic work environment
  2. Ways to minimize stress while navigating the job search
  3. How to work through imposter syndrome
  4. Ways to identify and secure a position at a healthy workplace

We will also share advice from Avenir Careers Founder and Head Coach, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, MA, Ed.M.

Let’s get started.

Detoxing after leaving a toxic work environment

“I felt like I wasn’t good enough for a lot of the jobs that I should have been qualified for. When I left [my university] I had a good understanding of my skill set—what I could do, what I couldn’t do—and I was looking to grow. When I entered the job with this company, I started to apply those skills, but nothing was good enough.”

That’s just one of several stories we heard from people who escaped toxic work environments. After leaving these workplaces, the thought of a job search can feel overwhelming and scary. So where do you start?

Pause—that’s what Bentsi-Enchill recommends. Similarly to leaving toxic relationships, parting ways with a toxic workplace can leave you with a bit of baggage you need to first take the time to sort through.

“If we don’t reflect and unpack on what made that previous environment toxic for us, we wouldn’t be able to identify red flags going forward,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “Or looking at a new employer and saying, ‘Maybe that’s not the right fit for me.’”

After quitting a toxic job, it’s easy to think about what didn’t work for you. But Bentsi-Enchill said you need to take it a step further and use that information to identify the values, beliefs, and culture you do want and need in your next position at your next workplace. 

“If you do that, it’ll allow you to do the research you need, really evaluate potential employers based on your own personal criteria that you took the time to create, and you will hopefully be able to land in an environment that will fit you best,” Bentsi-Enchill said.

Balancing your detox with your responsibilities

But life doesn’t pause when we need it to, and everyone has responsibilities such as bills and family to support. 

“I think that there’s an argument to be made that this process can be done in parallel,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “So you might not have the ability to take off and figure this stuff out. I totally get that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be more intentional with how you go about selecting the employers that you apply to.”

Below are a few questions you can ask yourself to help guide your job search and avoid re-entering a toxic work environment:

  1. What do you value about your job/skill set?
  2. What did you like about your previous job? Be specific.
  3. What did you dislike about your previous job? Again, be specific.
  4. What type of managerial style works best for you? 
  5. Are you someone who values flexibility in their workday or works better with more structure?
  6. How would you like to grow in your role?
  7. What type of culture do you value in a workplace? Think of specific words to describe this ideal culture—this will help you sift through job postings and guide interview questions.
  8. What values do you hold when it comes to your work?
  9. How would you feel more fulfilled at your job moving forward?
  10. Why did you choose to pursue the type of work/industry you are in?

The most important thing, Bentsi-Enchill said, is to focus on what you do have control over during the job search. That includes processing what you really want and need from your next job and using that information throughout your job search.

Minimizing stress during the job search

Even a normal job search can feel extremely stressful. There’s so much work that goes into doing it well, and it’s challenging to keep spirits high when facing any amount of rejection. 

Keep energized with self-care

This stress increases when a previous job drains your energy and self-confidence. That’s why self-care is so important, according to Bentsi-Enchill.

“The job search is full of rejection. It takes a lot of time, effort, and energy,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “So if you are not able to do things that will restore you, refresh you, or re-energize you, you can’t show up as your best self through all the interactions you’re going to need to go through in order to land a job.”

Self-care can take various forms, but below are a few inexpensive tips:

  • Schedule a time on your Google calendar for self-care. Treat it like a meeting/appointment that you can’t cancel, so you prioritize it.
  • Make sure your space is clean and organized—this will help keep your mind organized and your stress low.
  • Go for a walk outside to get fresh air, refresh, and (hopefully!) get some sun.
  • Meditate—you can use apps such as Headspace, Buddhify, or Calm.
  • Make sure you are sleeping at least seven to nine hours each night.

“If you are flustered or frazzled, you might not come off as your best self, even in writing,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “So finding opportunities to do things that literally just make you happy or help you to relax are really important.”

Printable job search tracker

We want to make the job search an easier, less stressful process for you. That’s why we created this free printable job search kit! It includes:

  • An application tracker to keep you organized
  • Prompts to help you think through your workplace needs and values
  • A job search mental health tracker
  • Much more!

Talk to a professional in therapy

Bentsi-Enchill also recommends talking to a therapist, if possible, during the job search. He believes this is especially important if you are recovering from a toxic work environment.

“If you are able to have the space to process things that you are going through—it might be completely unrelated to job searching—that might impact how you show up in your job search,” Bentsi-Enchill said. 

Below are a few tips for accessing therapy during the job search:

  • If you are still employed while job searching, check to see if your work insurance covers therapy.
  • If you aren’t employed, look into low-cost options such as online therapy, apps, and local or virtual support groups.
  • Ask a therapist if they have a sliding scale policy. Mental health professionals often offer adjustable pricing to make their services more affordable.

One of the biggest indicators of success with therapy is simply liking your therapist. This Healthline article shares helpful advice on finding a therapist who is the right fit for you. 

Phone a friend

Bentsi-Enchill’s final tip for minimizing stress during the job search is to do it with a friend.

“If you know of a friend or colleague that you trust, you can form a job search group and look together,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “It certainly gives you emotional support, but in addition, some studies have shown that people who join a job search group have higher rates of success and faster searches than those who job search alone.” 

He said that’s because you’re able to trade best practices and pull resources with a group. Also, you are supported by having others going through the same thing with you. 

Curing imposter syndrome after a toxic work environment

Experiencing a workplace that made you feel undervalued and disrespected can lead to imposter syndrome. According to Medical News Today, imposter syndrome can leave someone feeling:

  • Like a fraud
  • Fearful of being “discovered”
  • Unable to internalize their success

“When it comes to the job search, the imposter syndrome is questioning your value, whether or not anyone will want you for what it is you can do,” Bentsi-Enchill said. 

He assigns clients an exercise to combat these feelings.

“I think that if job seekers can look back at their body of work, that’s a great way for them to defeat those negative thoughts that lead to imposter syndrome,” Bentsi-Enchill said. 

Bentsi-Enchill’s exercise requires job searchers to share their workplace accomplishments using the C-A-R technique:

  • Challenge: What problems did you, your team, or your previous workplace face?
  • Action: What did you do to solve the problem or address the challenge?
  • Result: What were the results of your solution? How, specifically, did it help?

“By re-engaging with their accomplishments, they really boost their confidence, because they’re required to sift through their different roles for evidence of how they impacted their company, their colleagues, their clients,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “And in seeing that, they’re able to remember, ‘Oh, I did do that, I did make an impact, I did help out, I did bring value.’”

Finding a healthy workplace

After leaving a toxic work environment, the last thing you want to do is rush back into another toxic workplace. That’s why it’s so important to be as intentional as possible when trying to find your next job

“Gaining clarity and figuring out what the ideal work environment would look like should help you be more savvy, more discerning as you move forward.” Bentsi-Enchill said. 

He acknowledges there is a lot we can’t control when it comes to the job search, so it’s important to focus on what you can control.

“You do have control over where you send your application,” Bentsi-Enchill said. “It can be as simple as looking at ‘Best Places to Work’ in whatever your industry is, Googling that, and getting a list of employers who have been rated as wonderful places to work.”

When your research shows you a workplace that could be a good fit, you want to make sure you tailor your resume to the job description

If you’ve experienced a toxic work environment, you aren’t alone. And there are concrete ways to navigate the job search to ensure you won’t end up in another one.

This is part one of our mental health series. Our next article in this series will share advice from a psychologist on identifying and securing a job that fits your mental health needs. Stay tuned!

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