Protect yourself by using writing
In some work environments, it’s common for managers to set deadlines or targets and then change expectations halfway through. Perhaps your manager has asked for a certain piece of work to be on their desk by Monday morning – but when Friday rolls around, they’re already demanding to know where it is.
You might be able to protect yourself from this by using written confirmation of discussions. Once you and your manager have decided on the details of the task, email him after the meeting acknowledging the Monday deadline and confirming you’ll have everything ready for then (or, if this seems too forced, slip this into an email that you were going to send to him anyway). That way, once your boss questions why your work hasn’t arrived, you’ll have some backup on what was agreed. The same could apply if, say, you have a difficult colleague who is not doing anything you ask them to, even though it’s part of their job – send them an email about it once you’ve spoken to them under the semi-pretext of summary and confirmation, so you’ve got proof of your repeated requests.
Lay down some red lines
It’s important for you to know what your job description is, and for there to be realistic expectations on what you can do. It’s easy for your duties to slowly expand – like when you’re asked to do that one extra task just as a one-off while your colleague is away, but it quickly becomes a regular occurrence.
Of course, it’s normal that you’ll have to pick up some slack here and there – that’s part of being a team player. And you might actively want extra tasks sometimes if they help you develop your career. But that doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of, leading you to stay late in the office night after night. Set some red lines around which you will say ‘No’ – when what you are being asked to do is unreasonable.
Separate work from the rest of life
When work is causing you serious stress, it’s easy to take that home with you – which ends up making that stress endure 24/7. I’ve certainly woken up in the middle of the night worrying about a particular client email – and that’s even worse when the stress is about arguments with colleagues and so on. Try to find ways to leave work in the office – turn your phone off in the evening and on weekends, and don't check your emails until you’re back at your desk. Nobody should have to be on call non-stop, every day of the week – we all deserve some time away from work.
Find some outlets
Even worse than working in a toxic environment is doing so alone. Ideally, find someone to vent your frustration to outside the office. A problem shared is a problem halved.
Think about workplace culture before you join
Of course, the best medicine is preventative. Before you join a firm, don’t get so caught up in how great the professional opportunity is that you forget to question what the workplace is like. Pay attention to any warning signs at the interview, and - if you can - ask someone who used to work there what things are like (if they’re no longer on the books, they’re more likely to feel able to give you an honest picture).
Toxic workplaces are not pleasant environments to be in. Make sure your back is covered, and think about your own health and sanity. And if things really don’t seem like they will change, it might be best to start considering moving on.