How To Deal With A Toxic Executive (And How To Know When It’s Time To Leave)

Let’s get real for a minute. You spend one-third of your life at work. You better believe you deserve to be in a healthy work environment where you feel safe and valued! Sadly, that’s not always the case.

The Harvard Business Review reported that “a study by Life Meets Work found that 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their ‘boss is the most stressful part of their workday.'”

As an executive assistant working in close proximity with a demanding executive, a toxic work environment can feel even more intense, challenging and suffocating. Here’s how to deal with a toxic executive, and how to know when it’s time to leave.

Don’t Take It Personally

First things first: Their behavior is not your fault. It is not a reflection of you or your value as a person or executive assistant. The more you can separate emotionally from the toxic behavior and adopt an objective view of the situation, the better off you will be. This also includes learning how to communicate in a way that diffuses any toxic reaction or behavior, like approaching your exec with facts and not feelings. Remember: It’s. Not. About. You.

Find Support 

Whether it’s friends, other trusted coworkers or a community like ELS, it’s important to shore up support where you can. A solid support network can help you expertly navigate particularly sticky challenges, be there to listen to you when you need to be heard and provide much-needed perspective. Being around toxicity for extended periods of time can trick you into believing that the toxicity is normal, ok or even that you deserve it. Your community will serve as a reminder that you are, in fact, not crazy, and that your struggle is 100% real.

Amp Up the Self Care

We already talk a lot about how important self care is for the executive assistant. You spend your entire days taking care of everyone else. It is absolutely IMPERATIVE that you also include yourself on that list. This is even more important when dealing with the psychological and emotional effects of a toxic environment. Acknowledge that what you’re going through is unhealthy and that your feelings about it are valid. Take every chance you can to infuse positive, uplifting experiences into your day. Breathing exercises, getting some fresh air, working out, eating well and getting appropriate rest will help you offset the detrimental effects of your stressful situation.

When It’s Time To Leave

There are certainly ways to manage a toxic executive without having to leave your job. If possible, you can even look for other opportunities within your organization or turn to HR for support. However, sometimes we just have to accept the fact that quitting is the best way to set the healthiest boundary for yourself. If you feel mentally or physically unsafe at work, if you dread going to work, if it’s affecting your health or if your self-esteem and confidence has taken a hit, it’s time to consider other options. Start networking, reach out to EA recruiters and call on your EA relationships to see what opportunities are out there. Then start to put one foot in front of the other and take steps to landing a new job and exiting your situation. You are not trapped and you are allowed to have and are deserving of a healthy work environment that brings you success and fulfillment. You don’t have to settle for less.

Are you dealing with a toxic exec? What are your coping mechanisms?