Over the past six months, I have spoken to two women who were in a toxic workplace environment. Talking to them about their experience took me back to the toxic work culture I experienced in my employment before having kids. I’ve learnt a lesson or two, and my experience is part of what lead me to work at home in self-employment.
Toxic work cultures
The most common work complaint I hear is overload; employers expect way too much of employees and have absolutely no consideration or care for workload, health or the effect this work stress has on morale. Other complaints include not liking teammates, work is boring, the hours are terrible, or you just have an arsehole of a boss. But don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderfully supportive employers out there.
A common and unhelpful piece of advice often passed around to those struggling with a less than favourable work culture is something like, ‘Just suck it up, it’s a job’. I disagree with this statement; we have more control than that.
Work takes up our lives
Yes, it’s a cliche I know but, life is short, and working takes up a hell of a lot of it. Why do something you hate, and that doesn’t make you happy? Why work somewhere that makes you so sick with anxiety that you can’t function? It’s no way to live.
I’ve put together a few points to ponder in dealing with your toxic workplace environment, in the hope that these tips may empower you to make change for the sake of your health and happiness.
It may be that implementing these tips improves your work environment or, you may prefer to move on to bigger and better things. It’s always worth a try.
What to do if your workplace environment sucks
Try not to take things personally
I wear my heart on my sleeve and can tend to be quite an emotional person, and so in the past, I have taken things personally when I probably shouldn’t have. It affected my work, big time.
The fact of life is that we have to work with some jerks and with some incompetent ones. There will be times when things are said, but it is so important to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them. At the very point a co-worker says something that irritates or offends you, or if something happens, remember to catch your thought and remind yourself, ‘It’s not about me.’ Direct the energy somewhere else because that person probably doesn’t even care about their actions.
Kill it with kindness
‘Kill it with kindness’ is the same theory I use with online trolls. Unkind people tend to be that way because there’s either something going on in their lives you don’t know about or, if you react the way they want you to, it gives them some satisfaction, like a bully.
Remember, ‘Don’t feed the troll’ with the retaliation they want. Act politely, shower them with kindness by saying good morning and good night and even ask them if they’d like a coffee when you make your trip to the cafe. Unkind people are quick to retreat in their ways when they don’t get the response they were expecting. Perhaps this approach might put an end to a co-worker creating a toxic workplace environment where you work and help you enjoy your job again.
Keep a diary
Keeping a diary would have to be one of the most important tips I can recommend. If there is a particular person making your work hell or if you feel as though your workload and what is expected of you considerably exceeds your hours and pay, a diary is gold.
If a co-worker causes you distress/bullying/harassment, record the incident in your diary. These type of records can potentially be used as evidence if you take the matter further.
If you’re dealing with an overwhelming workload, document the work you do in a day and how long it takes you. You can present this information to your boss when you negotiate a pay increase or when you request that your workload is reduced.
Leave the work environment
If you’re overwhelmed with your work situation, the best thing you can do is escape it to clear your mind. Take some leave or go on an overdue holiday. It’s likely you’ll find that a break away from the workplace will allow you to think more clearly about what you’re going to do about your job.
Alternatively, if you find your work and health situation deteriorating quickly, leave work and take any job so you can have a reprieve and plan your next course of action.
Analyse your job and create a plan
While you’re taking some time out to decide whether or not to leave the workplace, have a good hard think about your position.
Ask yourself, “Since I started with my employer, have I made any progress in my job?” If you haven’t made much progress, perhaps you’re getting bored and starting to feel resentment against your employer without realising.
Ask yourself, “Was there a point in my job when I felt excited about going to work and when I was driven to achieve goals?” Perhaps your job could be redesigned, so it is more exciting and helps you achieve your goals. Alternatively, there may be an opportunity for you to move into another position that better fits your ambitions.
Don’t forget to refer to your diary and the work hours you’ve logged. Do you need to talk to your boss about reducing your workload?
After analysing your position, come up with a plan that you can present to your employer.
Speak to your boss
Your best bet for raising concerns and getting answers is to speak with your boss. If you are having issues with a particular coworker, it’s here you should raise a complaint.
A meeting is an opportunity to present your plan, and outline the options you feel will help improve your work situation. You have nothing to lose in doing this.
I think what it ultimately comes down to is asking yourself, ‘what really matters to me’? Is an excellent salary what matters even if it means you have to work in a toxic workplace environment? Or does your happiness, health and family matter more, even if it means sacrificing an excellent salary?
It’s up to you to take the next step to make things happen. You might be surprised at the outcome.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert or psychologist. This article is general information based on my own experience and the experiences of those I know. Workplace bullying including violence, harassment and bullying, is a serious issue. If you think you have been subject to this behaviour in your workplace environment, please visit The Fairwork Ombudsman for more information or contact your state health and safety authority.
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