Ten Ways to Deal with Difficult Co-workers and a Terrible Work Environment

workplace, workplace environment, hostile, co workers

“If life give you lemons, keep them. Because hey, free lemons.”

If you’ve been reading my posts on Workology, you might accuse me of being a Pollyanna. You know that annoying co-worker who always looks on the bright side of life? The one who tells you to take a problem to your boss when your boss is your problem? The one that believes that policies work? The one that thinks people are basically good and you just need to find a way to see it in them?

Guilty as charged. I’m the one that says you can’t afford to think “I hate my boss.” I’m the one that says you should quit your job if you can’t be happy there. Of course I would say that. I don’t have to pay your rent. I’m the one that tells you to quit whining about office politics and just be a nice person. I don’t have to work in your terrible office environment and endure horrible, demeaning meetings with your boss. I’m the one who has a great job that he loves. So I should probably shut up.

Well, I’m not going to shut up. But I am going to give it to you straight. I do believe all those things I wrote, but I’m writing to you today from the “worst case scenario” file. Your boss hates you. You hate your work. Your co-workers have the knives out. You’re holding on to the hand basket for dear life, but you don’t like where it’s going.

Let’s just assume that you can’t quit your job today. You have bills to pay. Maybe there are a couple of kids depending on you. You have to have your insurance. Getting out right now is not an option. Nevertheless, you have to have an action plan.

Ten Ways to Deal with Difficult Co-workers and a Terrible Work Environment

1) Get started on your exit plan today

We’ve already established that you hate your job and everything about it. Today, and I mean as soon as you hit the door at home, update your resume and make at least one networking call to a trusted friend. You need to reach out today. Being in a terrible work situation is terribly demotivating. You need momentum – an active search for new work. Do it today – no excuses.

2) Start rehearsing the difficult conversation that is about to happen

Don’t burn any bridges, no matter how bad your current job is.

3) Save money

Sell that $500 car payment. Stop spending today. Put away every single extra dime in case you lose that terrible job, or one day you just can’t take it anymore.

4) Make the best of every day

This sounds like total BS, but it works. Encourage someone at work every day. Focusing on others makes life more bearable. Be sure to say “thank you” for the smallest favors. If someone does a good job, be sure to tell her. Thank the security guard for opening the door for you. Thank the janitor for taking out your trash. You can do these things, no matter how rotten you feel about your job. You can train your thoughts to stay positive even in a miserable situation.

5) Listen

When you land in a pit of despair about your job, it’s so easy to focus on your own misery. Sometimes you can’t hear what your co-workers are saying. Repeat back what they say to you and really try to understand their situations.

6) Go easy on the alcohol

You know that it doesn’t fix anything. Don’t drown your sorrows. If you need a drink every day after work, consider going to the gym or taking a brisk walk instead. Don’t develop a dependency and make your life worse. And if you’re drinking at work – you’ve got a big problem. Go to a meeting and get some help. Stop messing around, before you get fired.

7) Don’t gossip

If the environment is awful, you’re not the only one who has noticed. I guarantee there’s a group around the office that complains about everything. And the kicker is, they’re right! You can’t afford to go down that death spiral of negativity. Your work life is hard enough already. It’s very gratifying to complain about the boss and the terrible benefits and the salary, and gossip about who slept his way to the top. It feels good for a moment, but it puts you in a worse place mentally. Stop hurting yourself and others with this negative behavior.

8) Make a gratitude list

Make a list of everyone at work you’re grateful for. Make a list of the projects you’re grateful for, and the valuable experience you’ve gained. Write down the areas you’ve grown in, and what you’re grateful you’ve learned. Gratitude is a powerful mood lifter.

9) See a therapist or your doctor

Speaking of mood lifters, you may be suffering from low-grade to severe depression if your work sucks. Talk to your doctor. If you’re feeling beat-down and hopeless, quit screwing around. Call your doctor or a therapist today and make an appointment. If you can’t afford therapy, your church, synagogue, or even your company’s confidential employee assistance line may be able to help.

10) Share your troubles, but try to leave the misery at work

You’ve got to talk through your troubles. Don’t bottle up your misery; don’t keep your work troubles secret from your partner or friends. But don’t bring home misery every day, either. Take the time in your car or on your commute to listen to something uplifting. Re-center yourself spiritually on your way home so the misery doesn’t flow downhill to your partner and/or kids when you hit the front door.

If you find yourself in a miserable work situation, I’m so sorry. It sucks, and I can’t fix it. But you are not stuck there forever. There is hope because tomorrow is new day full of opportunities! Start your active job search today. Quit screwing around. And use the tips above to make life a little better in the meantime.

Share your horror stories!

Have you worked in a terrible job environment? Let us know how you overcame it in the comments below.

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Dan Lovejoy

Dan Lovejoy is a User Interface & Experience Architect at OG&E and a self-admitted adorable curmudgeon. The opinions here are his own and not his employer — in case you were wondering.

Reader Interactions


  1. Blake McCammon says

    I was recently in a situation where all the above spoke to my life and work environment. Luckily I got out very quickly, but I did break a few of those rules. I think sometimes when a bridge is as unstable as it was in my situation, lighting it on fire and doing a dance was worth it and didn’t effect my life.

    I came home, worked out, then drank, haha, but never in an unhealthy obsessive way. This was a great post. Kudos.



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