Career & Education | Life | Article

Toxic Workplace: Stay For The Salary Or Leave For Your Mental Health?

by Asher Mak | 25 Nov 2021 | 6 mins read

The line between a toxic and tough workplace can be fuzzy, but if a job is grating on your mental health constantly, then perhaps it is no longer worth staying on.  

Characteristics that define a toxic workplace can include constant feelings of threat, loss of motivation, a sense of helplessness and questioning your self-worth. It’s making you lose sleep, suffer anxiety, and wonder why you’re still there.  

This thought has probably crossed your mind many times: Should I quit and find a better job? Then doubts creep in: But the economy is not great right now. I really need the salary because I have loans to pay. What should I do? 

As we spend most of our waking hours at work, dealing with workplace difficulties can be extremely stressful.  

What a toxic work environment could look like 

Sarah (not her real name), a 30-year-old graphic designer, shares her experience working in a toxic environment.  

In 2018, she joined a local food and beverage chain as a designer in its marketing department. The department consisted of just her and her supervisor, the Marketing Manager (MM). One day, MM dragged Sarah into a private office and revealed that the Group Chairman (GC) was hitting on her. That was just the beginning.  

Every day, MM spent hours discussing her personal life with Sarah to the point where Sarah didn’t have enough time to get work done. While MM constantly rejected GC’s advances, it was difficult to draw the line clearly, which resulted in a complicated relationship that weighed on Sarah as MM’s primary ‘counsellor’. As the harassment escalated, things hit a breaking point for MM and she decided to resign.  

However, the same thing happened with the new marketing manager. The GC hit on her, and a few of the subsequent new hires. Unfortunately, as the GC was in a lofty position, there was nothing that HR could and would do, despite his unprofessional behaviour.  

Sarah also recalled a time when “the entire company had to stand under the hot sun for hours just to create a video greeting to wish GC for Chinese New Year and other significant holidays”. 

There was even an instance where a new employee (who was hired by GC) was terminated because “a fengshui master said the company should not take on new staff at that juncture,” shared Sarah. 


After seeing how things didn’t change despite MM leaving and an unprofessional environment of continued harassment, Sarah moved on to a smaller design agency after working more than a year there.  

Red flags to look out for in a workplace 

No clear structures or processes 

This could mean stifled growth for your career as there is no clear progression structure. A company that doesn’t have clear processes in place also indicates unprofessionalism.   

Sexual harassment 

Any form of lewd comments or unwanted attention that causes you discomfort should be reported immediately.   

Abuse of power 

A culture of fear where you cannot question authority and are bullied and treated as a subordinate.    

Verbal abuse and the lack of communication 

An environment where people are constantly getting angry at each other to the point where work becomes unproductive. 

Office politics 

Dishonesty, backstabbing, bullying, and drama are daily occurrence and a part of the work culture. 

Unreasonable delays in payment 

Payment is consistently delayed with a never-ending list of excuses. 

Constant overworking 

Work hours are in place for a reason; a little overtime here and there is to be expected but should not be constant.  

High turnover rate 

This shows employees are displeased, which often signifies that there are issues with the management.  


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How to handle a toxic work environment 

Do not be overwhelmed by negativity 

Keep an open mind and believe the best in people. While negative thoughts affect many of us, we can only solve tricky issues with a positive mindset. Learning to view things through a rosy lens does not negate our struggles but provides an alternate perspective so we can make more balanced decisions. 

Speak to people who have your interest at heart 

If a workplace is truly toxic, you’ll be comforted to know that you’re not the only one suffering. Always look for friends and allies to have a listening ear when times are tough. Try to steer conversations into a constructive, actionable recourse and never participate in office gossip.  

 If all else fails, you might want to seek a professional counsellor to help you make sense of your emotions. While therapy isn’t cheap, quitting a job prematurely will cost you more.  

Stay focused on important goals 

Stick to the career goals that you had set out to achieve, such as expanding your portfolio. By focusing on your own goals, you will more likely be able to drown out the toxicity assuming that it is not bearing down on your mental health.   

Strive for a good work-life balance 

Set clear boundaries so work doesn’t become your life. This can reduce the impact your job has on you, as you will have something to look forward to outside of work. 

Just quit 

Sometimes, the best option is to leave a toxic work environment. But before you do, take inventory of your finances. A rule of thumb is to get three to six months’ worth of salary saved up, for emergencies.  

When you’re certain of your own financial health, you can make a better decision on whether quitting is worth it and how long you can survive without a salary.  

You can also look for another job while you are employed to ensure a consistent flow of income.   

There is always a solution 

In a toxic workplace, the odds are stacked against us, making us feel helpless to evade unnecessary drama that distracts us from earning a keep. Try to keep a positive mindset and get counsel from more experienced friends, or even a therapist if you’re emotionally impacted. 

 And always keep an eye out for alternatives. It might take improving the relevant skills for our vocation so that we can increase our marketability and value as an employee. Ideally, make the hop only when you’ve found a better job. In time, your experiences will improve your ability to smell a toxic workplace from far away.