Are you trapped in a toxic work environment?
Work is a scary place innit?
It doesn’t have to be. Your employer has no right to hurl expletives or demean you in conversations with others, even though they are putting food on your table every month.
Neither does your employer have the right to make inappropriate advances at you. You may be working for a company so prestigious or lit you don’t mind not taking a wage, but it is time to know when the line has been crossed.
Our recent news feed has exposed how toxic work environments and bosses can be. Even though we are still debating on the merit of social media, we have to thank it for allowing people to call out bad behaviour.
Toxicity in the workplace can be pronounced and recognisable, just like in the debacles that have surfaced online of late. Your boss pours vulgarities at staff like a torrent of rain or hits on you indecently with a ring on the finger. Or signs can be subtle ones – your headcount flipping over faster than you can toss a pancake.
As we learn to value ourselves and our mental well-being, we start to question if we are situated in damaging environments. Here are some telling signs if your workplace is brewing up noxious fumes that can intoxicate you.
Communication slants and not grants
No man is an island, and in order to work together, we need to talk. Communication is key to successful projects, but when the content is not objective nor effective, it can lead to gossip and misinformation.
Gossip poisons and creates a very unhealthy work environment. On the other hand, the lack of communication leads to assumptions and frustrations. We have to choose carefully what to send down the grapevine. It can construct or destruct.
Colleagues roasting on an open fire
How nice if it were chestnuts and not people? We might be approaching the Christmas season for roasted chestnuts indeed, but there’s no time or space for festive anticipation because the workers are suffering from burnout.
All these hours clocked from home have blurred lines even further, and everyone’s piled on sleep debt. A company that is willing to sacrifice its staff well-being is a breeding ground for a toxic workplace.
Your boss is a tyrant
A tyrant is someone who is totalitarian in the management regime – wants to control your every move and makes you feel like you will be sent to the electric chair if you mess up.
This is enforced with a self-righteous attitude, which means that your explanations are always excuses. This tyrannical monster probably is stingy on compliments and the credit for a job well done is hardly yours. This nightmarish figure is also known as a narcissist.
This term may have left our lips since primary school, but bullying still exists; just in more insidious forms. It can be overt verbal or physical abuse, but more covert forms manifest in non-verbal or psychological abuse. Such abuse can impact one’s mental health greatly and should not be tolerated in any environment.
All’s not fair and square
Favouritism can exist at home, let alone in the office. It is easy for employees to be boss’ pets and when special privileges are granted, it is no longer a level playing game.
Discrimination is the worse evil when a person or a group gets denied what others have access to. More subtly, opportunities may be offered to certain individuals or groups, or sometimes, these privileged bunch may be able to get away with missing deadlines or inappropriate behaviours.
Bad day every day
Imagine a waitress serving you grumpily. She might have had a bad morning because her dog peed on her bed. Just forgive her alright? But in a toxic workplace, the bad attitude seems to be permanent because their bad days have been around for months or even years.
People are grouchy and no one seems to love their job. Everybody’s morale is low and unmotivated. This occurs frequently when employees do not feel financially or professionally valued. You don’t bother to speak up because you won’t be heard.
How to survive a toxic workplace?
A 2019 study done by the American Psychological Association found out that toxicity in the workplace is not only on the rise, but employees’ mental health has also been deteriorating greatly.
Physical and mental health have been damaged, and more cases of depression have been reported. Leaving your job is definitely not as easy as it sounds, so here are some tips on managing your sanity.
Don’t participate in toxicity
When the gossip-mongering starts, don’t reward bad behaviour and add fuel to fire. Stay neutral and segue to a different topic to avoid getting enmeshed in the subject. This is to deter negativity from spreading and soon your colleagues will learn not to initiate gossiping with a non-receptive audience like yourself.
Draw a line
It may be difficult but use a permanent marker. When you create boundaries with ‘work’ and ‘life’, you will realise that there is a scale that you can try to balance.
Your work stress should be left at the door (this imagery might not work if you are working from home now) and make sure your leisure time is devoid of work complaints and ruminations. Know what you can control and what you can’t.
Often it’s the people you can’t control, but you can control your reactions and manage your time.
Look for positivity in the workplace
Hopefully, there is still some semblance of positivity at work and flock towards that. If there are colleagues that are facing the same issue, commiserate but use that support to get stronger and happier. You will realise that you don’t hate everyone at work.
Learn to build trust
If your tyrannical boss micromanages your every move, it’s time to make him/her trust you. In order to do that, ensure that you deliver what they want most – information, inclusion and control.
When you understand their expectations, you can address them and eventually, they will be less inclined to micromanage. Keep them (overly) informed by providing regular updates and copying them when needed. Once you’ve earned their trust, they won’t spend time reading every word in your email.
Plan your escape route
When all else fails, or if you are at the brink of insanity, just leave. Life is worth way more than this torture and your well-being is important for your own functioning. If it isn’t the right time to move immediately, start making plans and keeping your options open. Sometimes, the solution lies in just working at another department.
Learn to pamper yourself and relax outside work. Give yourself a treat on the weekend for enduring work for an entire week. Do some yoga or go for a run, or vent your frustrations at a Muay Thai class.
Otherwise, relax at a spa session or just binge watch that Netflix series. It may also help to speak to a therapist about your pent up emotions and learn how to manage them. Your therapist will equip you with skills to cope with stress and anxiety, or rewire your thoughts to channel them more healthily.
A job is a job. It’s a way to pay for a living but that’s it. Don’t let it define your happiness. You work to live. Not live to work. Work on what makes you happy.
This anonymous quote is a simple way to realign your vision. Your physical and mental health matter, don’t let a toxic work environment suffocate you.
Known as Nate, I am someone who cannot quit wielding the pen or punching the QWERTY, no matter where life brings me. Writing has always been the most effective conduit for channeling my wanted or unwanted opinions since I was an undergraduate at NUS. Naturally, I used this skill as a means of sustenance after working as a writer and editor for many years until I decided to start a business in music. That did not put a halt to my marriage with the vernacular.
In October 2016, I graduated with my Masters in Visual and Media Anthropology, which is the study of cultures through films and photography, at Freie Universität Berlin. This transitory period of residing in two cities has pushed the boundaries of my creativity and my battles with word count have not ceased.
Now a new mode of writing, the academic one, has been added to my existing smorgasbord of corporate and lifestyle collaterals, articles, advertisements, annual reports and books. At the moment, my learning curve is an uphill journey as I attempt to grasp the camera for stills and motion clips, while I juggle that with developing my love affair with my other mode of expression – electronic music.