08 JULY, 2021 All jobs have some level of stress, even on good days. We all have bad Mondays, challenging weeks, and even disappointing months.
However, if going to work is like having all of these challenges on repeat, it's definitely a sign that you are in a toxic work environment.
I have personally worked in a very high-pressure environment where very significant targets had to be met, or I was out. I found myself saying things like ‘It’s just the way it is’. ‘It’ll get better’. ‘Things will get easier’. I recall constantly feeling a sense of walking on a tightrope. This was never picked up by the management or if it was, it was never addressed.
Once a certain target was met, the culture was always ‘Hmm, what more can we get her to do now?’ not ‘Let’s inspire others to achieve the same’. Things got worse and worse, not just for me but for many on the team I was in. Over a period of time, a job I had really enjoyed became a job I couldn’t wait to see the back of. Not due to the work, but because of the abusive culture management allowed to set in.
Expert reviewer Dr Adrian Raby, GP in a recent article published by BUPA found that ‘Over 11 million working days are lost each year because of work-related stress, and stress can contribute to conditions such as anxiety or depression’. Further, according to a recent survey by perkbox.com ‘In 2020, of British adults in employment – a staggering 79% commonly experience work-related stress. This is 20% higher than 2018's findings.’
Toxicity in the workplace is not just limited to overblown targets. Toxic workplaces can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere or the people, can cause serious disruptions to your work-life balance. Or in worse cases, can even mean being bullied in a very subtle way.
If you’ve experienced bullying or being devalued through harassment in your work and are not yet in the position to leave (or can’t speak to an HR department), then you might want to start being proactive. What do I mean by being proactive?
Time management and personal outlook. In a sense, taking ownership of the time we spend away from our work, for the purposes of self-empowerment. It’s in many ways also the place of employeeswho feel aggrievedto counter toxicity and its seemingly all-encompassing effects. We all have some time in our day. This time can be put to very good use.
Why it is important to take action? Because toxic workplaces rarely stay at work. They typically follow you home. They take over your conversations with loved ones, steal sleep time and can often lead to worry and stress.
Knowing the signs of a toxic workplace and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step to a better work-life balance. Let's try to understand what toxicity is and how to recognise red flags!
🚩 Risqué banter in the workplace
This is about power. After out-an-out bullying it's perhaps the oldest and worst trait experienced in the workplace. How does anyone know if the recipients are comfortable or not with it? It puts the workplace as a whole into the territory of unpredictability. It sows disharmony and, in many cases, real sadness. What may seem on the surface as a nothingness can often be very serious. Managers especially need to keep a keen eye on this and make sure that this potential abuse is not tolerated and encourage employees to report it promptly.
🚩 Casual bullying masquerading as ‘ribbing’
Do you hear constant snipes being thrown around in your workplace? Little remarks explained away as ‘it’s just a joke!’? Again, this is about power dynamics in the workplace, not the words themselves. It’s a sign of dis-function and toxicity being tolerated to let off steam. Why is there steam to be let off?
🚩 High turnover of staff
Is your workplace seeing new people coming into work regularly? This is pretty self-explanatory. Something is up. This probably isn’t a workplace that you can progress well in.
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This is burnout or at the very least the prominent signifier of it. If you feel you have too much work or more work than you’ve been reasonably set. Especially applies if you’ve been treated with disrespect and experienced harassment.
🚩 Work/life balance
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I often couldn’t find time to enjoy being with my family when I finished my working day. I certainly did take my work home with me, many many times. Occasionally I couldn’t even find time to just sit down and enjoy a movie, I just collapsed. I was that exhausted. Does this ring true for you?
🚩 Dreading the work day
If you are able, it’s time to see H.R. You have every right to escalate any and all concerns you have in relation to your physical, emotional and mental well-being at your workplace. Especially if it’s any kind of physical harassment, after which you should be able to raise your concerns immediately. Taking ownership of your self-esteem is essential to maintaining any respect for yourself, especially in a crowded workplace. If yours is dented, the likelihood of you having continued success in your job is pretty slim.
How to handle a toxic work environment
Many years ago (in relation to those problems and stresses I was facing in the workplace and my own self-image), I became very proactive in developing a much better mental outlook. I wanted to feel better about myself in the working environment.
Motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins, Richard Bandler and Paul Mckenna, who I thoroughly recommend, are masters in this field. I found through online videos and articles, the inspiration to practice constant positive self-reinforcement in the face of toxicity in the workplace. I hope you will find what I learned to be beneficial.
When you get home from work, or even on the way home start making plans for new work.
This really is, after family commitments, the most important thing to find time for. That alone will start taking your mind off toxicity in the workplace. Make a list of everything that sets you apart from the crowd in your chosen area. Make it comprehensive. If you can’t think of anything, put on some relaxing music and ask ‘if I could make a list of everything that sets me apart from the crowd, what would come to mind’.
Slowly you will, with this process, build yourself back up. Don’t give up. Put everything you can think of in a CV
Work on it. Bit by bit each day. After family commitments, make time for this. It’s an investment not just in your future but who you are. You’ll likely find every area of your life benefits.
Further, find some time to practice for an interview. Dress in interview clothes and practice for an interview in the mirror. Just as you would do if it were for real. Do this daily over a period of time and it’ll become ingrained and second nature. Set your mindset for success. Your subconsciously overriding toxicity that you may have experienced in your workplace.
It won’t happen immediately, but it will happen provided you constantly reinforce the process. Many people do this, but few to the point where their belief in themselves has actually changed from perhaps doubtful of better employment to really believing in a better future.
Again. Get feedback!
Is what you are doing working? If you don’t know what a successful interview looks like or cannot imagine yourself being in one, do some research. What have successful interviewees done? Is your LinkedIn Profile up do date? Copy that, but fundamentally always be yourself.
In addition to all of this, why not spend some time practising visualising your work day in your current job, more positively. Beginning to end, visualise going into work with a smile saying hello to people and them saying hello back. Imagine getting the work completed on time and to the best of your ability. Then going home with a sense of achievement and optimism for the next day. This process can only help and studies have shown a positive mental outlook benefits you and those around you.
Toxicity in the workplace will, to a degree, probably always exist. But with an increased sense of self-worth, enhanced self-esteem combined with your ability to search for better outcomes, you will be empowered to overcome many of the precursors to burnout employees currently face. Don't forget that how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to the people around us and especially how we relate to our working environment is, within our control. Probably much more than most of us actually realise.
Freya supports the tech talent toolbox arm of Reflection X where she is coaching technologists to achieve their full potential. With over 10 years of experience within the Tech and AI recruitment space, she has been from working closely with thousands individuals and leaders during hiring processes while partnering with very early stage start-ups all the way to some of the top AI Labs in the world.