“My boss texted me a question at 3:50 am and got mad when I didn’t respond quickly enough. I have my notifications off until 7:30 am”
Ever experienced this?
Even on good days, all jobs have some level of stress. However, if you constantly feel tired, depressed or even ill when you go to work (or just thinking about going to work gives you panic attacks), that’s more than just general work stress. These symptoms might be related to toxic work environments. In recent times, there has been an uproar of horrible bosses and toxic workplace conversations on different platforms, social media inclusive.
What Really is a Toxic Workplace?
A toxic work environment is one where negative, antagonistic, or bullying behaviour is baked into the very culture. When a work environment is toxic, employees are at their most stressed, communication is limited, blame culture is abundant, and people are rewarded (tacitly or explicitly) for unethical, harmful, or nasty attitudes and actions. On the other hand, in a toxic work environment, bosses many times show signs of favouritism; rewarding certain individuals (often the more cut-throat, Machiavellian types) for doing whatever it takes to get results, regardless of the human consequences of their actions.
Toxic work environments are characterized by factors such as sexual harassment, a lack of respect for boundaries, and micromanagement. Each of these elements can create stressful conditions in the workplace for employees and cause negative health consequences. Also, any place of employment that does not solicit feedback and employee-led changes in policy is at risk of becoming a toxic workplace.
How Common Are Toxic Workplaces?
Unfortunately, they are very common. Usually, it is because bosses are more interested in results being delivered without regard for the “how”. Every organization needs to make profits but when this is done without taking employee emotions into consideration, it can become a breeding ground for workplace toxicity which eventually leads to high turnover rates. One study from Talent Works, found that a toxic work environment is the most common factor that deters women from pursuing tech roles, with 21% citing frequent experiences. HRnews revealed in a paper that 70% of people working in Britain admitted they have worked in a toxic environment at some stage of their career. On average, 1.3% of American employees at large companies explicitly describe their company’s culture as toxic or poisonous, according to Glassdoor. While there is no specific data for the Nigerian workplace ecosystem, the agitations that took place in the month of March on Twitter, that led to the hashtag #HorribleBosses, revealed the depth of toxicity going on in many offices. The most comprehensive study came from MIT researchers revealing that toxic culture is driving the “Great Resignation”. More specifically, they found that a toxic corporate culture is 10.4 times more powerful than compensation in predicting a company’s attrition rate.
Is It OK To Stay In A Toxic Workplace?
Well, it depends! If your job role allows you to carry out tasks that boost your career and you have a short time frame, sometimes, it’s worth staying in a toxic culture especially when you can see tangible opportunities that can fast-track your career or benefit you in the long term. However, you need to be aware that toxic workplaces rarely stay at work. They typically follow you home and everywhere else. They take over your conversations with loved ones, steal away much-needed sleep, and generally cause worry and stress. Toxic workplaces can lead to stress, burnout, depression, damage to your self-esteem, and serious disruptions in your normal life. It can make you doubt yourself and strip you of your self-esteem and identity. You need to know when it is time to leave that environment else you can be left desolate and despairing for life. Basically, it can cause serious damage to the rest of your life. I personally have spent about two years in a toxic work environment. It stripped me of my self worth and sense of identity and at the time I left, I had lost almost 10kg of weight, I was depressed, I had lost my sense of purpose and direction, and my life was basically meaningless. Unfortunately, this is a pattern I’ve seen over and again in my engagement with some organizations that have not infused ‘Workplace Emotions’ into their HR policies, something we help organizations thrive at.
These are not uncommon outputs of staying in a toxic workplace. When you identify the signs of a toxic work environment, here are three questions that you must ask yourself in order to accurately determine if you can still remain there or if you need to cut your losses sooner and move on:
1. Are you in a healthy place mentally, emotionally, and physically? It is a well-known fact that working in a toxic workplace can be extremely draining, therefore, it is crucial to think about your holistic state of health. How developed is your emotional ‘shock-absorber’? When you work in a toxic environment you are bound to experience all sorts of impacts. You need to already be in a holistically healthy place already. You should also know that even if the organization decides to change, that change is not going to happen immediately, so you’ll really need to be in it for the long haul. Are you up for that?
2. Are you in a position of Influence? This is an important question to answer because the importance of finding psychological safety in the workplace cannot be overemphasized. An environment where you can be vulnerable, authentic, and honest is something lacking in a toxic culture. Humans are naturally designed to thrive in this kind of social environment. If you are not a decision-maker in the organization, you might never have the opportunity to turn the tides from negativity to positivity. It would be difficult for you to advocate for the change you want to see that could have made a tremendous difference if you were in a position of influence.
3. Can you switch teams to a more psychologically safe one? If you are truly passionate about the work that your organization is doing, it might be worth assessing whether you can work with another team if you find that working in your own team is toxic. There are instances where the organizational culture is terrible, but there are pockets within the organization where things are fine. If you find that opportunity, latch on to it.
If you answered “NO” to any of those three questions posed above then it is a good decision to walk away from that toxicity before you get drowned.
Finding fulfilling work might be hard to come by, but in order to protect your mental health, you might need to forfeit toxic jobs. When you’re in a toxic workplace, it’s easy to feel like you’re powerless and on a downward spiral, but you need to be able to self-affirm. Remind yourself why you chose to stay there in the first place and never forget that you are in the driver’s seat of your life. No one can make it go outside of what you choose. Again, choose your mental health over any martyr complex.
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