Working in a toxic work environment can shift your barometer for what’s acceptable in the workplace - long after you’ve left. Here’s how to handle it.
Recently, Alison Green, author and creator of Ask a Manager, wrote about how people working in toxic environments found themselves becoming desensitised to the level of bad behaviour they were willing to not only tolerate; but accept.
“Working at a dysfunctional job is terrible for all the obvious reasons: unclear expectations, unrealistic workload, tyrannical boss, toxic co-workers…But on top of the obvious, bad jobs exact an additional price that many people don’t know about. If you stay in one long enough, it can warp your idea of normal.”
In short, those working in toxic environments can wind up accepting the unacceptable and then carrying these expectations with them into future jobs.
Legally speaking, workplace health and safety legislation requires workplaces to be, as far as is reasonably practicable, physically and mentally safe and healthy for all employees.
Wondering if your workplace fits the description?
A toxic workplace comes in many forms. Shaun McCarthy, CEO at Human Synergistics, says common examples include environments where:
- Bullying is not only allowed to happen, but no action is taken when it is reported
- General harassment is accepted as being normal
- Staff conflict is not acknowledged or dealt with constructively
- Staff constantly feel they have to ‘walk on eggshells’ in case they upset someone
- There’s a general expectation that work takes precedence over everything else
- Staff are pitted against each other resulting in bad behaviour including taking credit for others work, shifting blame and discrediting colleagues
What you can do
Legally speaking, workplace health and safety legislation requires workplaces to be, as far as is reasonably practicable, physically and mentally safe and healthy for all employees. Wellplace.nz notes this means businesses must take reasonably practicable steps to protect health and prevent harm at work, including psychological harm.
If you feel that you’re currently working in a toxic workplace, often the best place to start is by talking with your manager or HR department. It may be that you can have a positive impact on shifting the workplace culture by managing upwards.
“Try offering suggestions to your manager about how performance could be improved if things were done differently,” McCarthy says.
He also recommends focussing on positive suggestions for improvement rather than criticisms of the current state to reduce the likelihood of being met with defensiveness. For example, suggest social activities to build morale and comradery or provide ideas for other workplace improvements based on success stories from similar organisations.
However, if you think your workplace is beyond repair, it may be time to consider moving on. McCarthy suggests considering seeing a counsellor to debrief if you’re coming from a toxic workplace. This can help you work through any ongoing resentment, anger or unresolved issues that you may be dealing with. A counsellor can also help you identify unacceptable behaviour and get you set for success in your future role.
Remember, it’s not normal for you to constantly be feeling stressed or unhappy by behaviour in the workplace and you don’t have to accept it.
For more information about your rights in the workplace, visit Wellplace.nz.