We all dream about a job that meets our interests, skills, and maybe the so-called purpose of our lives, and also covers the monthly expenses that provide us the convenient, fulfilling, and relaxed life we think we deserve after so many hard-working and committed hours in our workplace.
Well, for the majority of our society unfortunately these expectations remain far, somewhere on the horizon due to a lack of accessibility, self-reflection, and other unpredictable components our modern life can throw in our way.
But whether or not you were lucky enough to follow your call, many of us still have to deal with countless obstacles standing outside of us during our daily shifts. And it is called: a toxic workplace environment.
How to Begin – Where to Start
Whether you have a dream job or not, you might have some thoughts about what would make you happy, or what kind of environment you can picture yourself in that fits your personality and matches your permanent or temporary plans.
The most available and very well-known practice to start your career is to find a good internship that shakes you into practice. The process of finding the most suitable for you is not only to put light on your might hidden interests but giving you the experiences that are necessary to gain to see the full picture of your abilities and true desires. Also most importantly these experiences give you insight into how your future life will be, once you are feeling committed to that workplace or profession.
Red Flags when Applying for a Job
It all starts with a resume put well together, reflecting your skills, abilities, and main interests that can take you up to the next level of a personal job interview. Meanwhile, the priority for most of us is to show our perfect side to our future colleagues in an intensively stressful situation like this.
We tend to forget about checking on our own needs and expectations during the interview. Although these formal situations have certain communicational narratives which put the participants into tight roles, if we are aware we can easily have some sense of the ongoing conditions in the workplace by checking on the attitude of the hiring employee, especially in the case that you are talking to your future boss.
Metacommunication such as the tone of speaking or general openness tells a lot, not just about your future workplace but also the profession you have chosen and thinking that is the best for you. We are all divided or united by our differences and similarities and so different professions require certain attitudes and commitments that are suitable for some, but unbearable for others.
Keep your needs and expectations in mind, know your worth and see clearly what you can offer as well.
Major Signals of a Toxic Environment
It is always hard to fit in a new workplace but it has its rewards as well. There is nothing like a fresh start, where you can leave your hard times and bad experiences behind to become the best version of yourself, like a vaguely appearing new story of yours on a white blank paper.
You are ready to learn, improve your skills, broaden your horizons by meeting new people and testing your abilities. Ideally, we all want a place where we can grow and fit in as fast and smooth as possible knowing well that these transitions have certain backsides that require great flexibility during such change. You integrate a new life schedule with a slightly new mindset as well so it is a must, to feel safe and balanced in your new working condition.
Toxic PC culture
Political correctness is just a basic requirement in any workplace but we all know that these optimal circumstances in most cases unfortunately don’t meet reality. Besides the intensive pressures of learning new skills, your capability is highly dependent on your colleague’s approach to work and their responsibility for your situation.
During the first few weeks, you can easily see whether you find yourself in a supportive team or rather a toxic environment.
Lack of Friendly Attitude
One of the first signs to notice in a new environment full of toxic energies is the lack of any form of invitation from your colleagues. This behavior could be composed of such seemingly minor cases as avoided interactions during work, assuming you don’t have any specific task together with some of them. Remember the protocol, which says the senior members should come and introduce themselves to you, not vice versa.
These introductions help you to start conversations, get to know others, and ensure your companions that you are open-minded and interested in their approach to work or any other topics that come up during the chat.
As you start to get familiar with your job and the social dynamics at your workplace you can easily find yourself as a target of rumors. Some would say gossiping in a workplace is a necessary phenomenon, there is nothing new to it, that it always was and always will be. But the intentions behind it can arch from innocent jokes to insults hidden in anonymity.
At this point, the decision is yours. Playing along with the game, trying to blend in to feel acceptance is a deal that never pays well. Not only because it violates your integrity and morals, making you an even easier target in this scenario, but because you immediately become part of these toxic dynamics, perpetuating it instead of positioning yourself above this behavior.
Do not forget that these toxic narratives go on to infect your life as well and you always have the privilege to show an example to others helping them change and opening their eyes. If it does not go well in the longer term, still stick to your integrity and honesty, seek out help, try to bring people together, or reach out to your HR colleague or even to your boss.
But most importantly don’t forget that if being yourself in a workplace is not an option, you’re probably working in the wrong place.
Minor Inconvenience or Major Problem
Although the problems mentioned above could be solved easier with good communication skills and openness there are certain issues in a working environment, for which there are no excuses. Unfortunately, their importance in many cases remains unaddressed.
Racism and Discrimination
Racism is a phenomenon that may not be very noticeable but appears in almost every working environment. In most cases, one might not be aware of how exclusionary their behavior is towards others. Whether you belong to the majority of your colleagues regarding your skin color, body image or just appearing politically correct is not only about walking on eggshells and tiptoeing around sensitive topics.
It is rather knowing that we couldn’t know, especially one’s personal history so we should never take anything for granted. It is about the need of knowing someone better first before we are going into politically sensitive topics to know where the other draws the line in sharing thoughts.
Racism is something that cannot be tolerated on any level and again if you feel that there is no one you could reach out to for help, you really should consider the possibility of leaving this job.
Another big issue that usually occurs in a workplace environment is sexual insults, which still in these very well-researched times usually remain undiscovered. Thousands of employees, especially women experience sexual abuse in some way every day during working hours. We tend to think that verbal abuse or “innocent jokes” are not hitting the line of harassment, but make sure that you reach out for help in any circumstances you feel attacked, humiliated, or oppressed in any way.
Know the facts, that you always have an institutional background, integrated or outside your workplace that can help you. You should always be aware of the ongoing social dynamics around you. If you notice abuse on any level, make sure that you are doing the right thing and reach out for a talk, and ensure the possibility of an open and safe discussion.
Sexual insults are invisible most of the time, but especially in cases where some are in such vulnerable situations where they have to hide their true personality. Many members of the LGBT+ community unfortunately are not in such luxurious situations that they could reveal their identity in working environments. They still become the victims of bullying.
Regardless of visibility, you always have to be aware of the chance that someone may be in a situation where jokes or in extreme cases suggestive behavior of phobia towards any sexual minority can be highly offensive. LGBT+ pride is not about advertising someone’s sexual orientation but is still an evolving process to obtain basic human rights that everyone deserves.
Isolation and Exculsion
Exclusion can come in any form and in an age where we tend to value political correctness over honesty, hurtful sentences could easily hide behind the camouflage of innocent small talk. But it all has the same result. Oppressed emotions and mixed messages create low self-esteem and you can find yourself in a spiral where you can’t find your way out.
No matter how hard it is, you always have to speak your mind from the very first time in your new workplace, stand up for your own and other people’s justice, and have the right to free speech. In case you would find yourself standing against such obstacles like a contemptuous colleague you have to make sure that you reach out for an open-minded and respectful conversation with others.
In case you would find yourself with an ignorant boss, who cannot handle situations like this in your new workplace, that could be the biggest warning sign that the system where you’ve arrived is full of errors starting from its very foundation.
Leader or Tyrant
The worst thing you could experience at a workplace is when you find yourself in front of a boss that simply cannot qualified enough to take the job. This problem, depending on which segment of the job your boss is incompetent about, can reveal itself instantly or could slowly unfold during the workflow.
Ideally, a good boss is not only someone qualified enough to do the job but has the personality of a leader. One who is capable enough of seeing through complex situations in intense working scenarios, which requires high-quality concentration abilities, organization skills, and the capability to detect ongoing social dynamics during the workflow.
In many cases unfortunately this is not the reality. You can easily detect an incompetent boss by his or her reactions in strained situations. Usually, this type of boss is putting extra pressure on you, continuously demanding expectations that are not in your competence, and revealing the sad fact that he or she doesn’t see through the entire task in detail.
This type of narcissistic boss tends to be too emotional by the lack of ability to separate tension from a professional down-to-earth attitude. Always blaming you for his or her mistake and always looking for situations where he or she could pick someone from the group forced into the role of the scapegoat.
This kind of personality type is usually the root cause of a toxic environment and if you find yourself in a situation like this you have to see clearly whether there is any chance in the future to change it or not. The possibilities depend as much on the institution’s professional background as the competence of your colleagues. Remember that you are not alone and don’t hesitate to seek out professional help. You should never be the one who is taking action all by yourself because it can easily lead to a situation where you are left alone and excluded. The problem is usually not with the people but with the system itself.
How to Handle a Toxic Workplace
No matter how hard you are envisioning your goal career-wise, there is always a chance that you are finding yourself in hard situations in your current or future workplace. But don’t forget that the key is always in your hand to stand up and become a role model. The first thing to do is to scan the situation in which you find yourself, try to see through the ongoing social dynamics, and consider the realities of possible solutions.
Being a fresh colleague seemingly does not give you too much space to make radical changes but it also gives you the convenience to see the situation clearly from a distance and draw the line at how much you are letting yourself be forced into uncomfortable scenarios.
The most important thing is always communication from the very first workday. There are certain communicational practices easily available on the internet that helps you master your conflict management skills. The real deal here is to keep a distance from any kind of toxic energies or behavior if possible and don’t fall for the game. Seek out help, try to be as open as possible, and imagine yourself as a team worker who is there and capable of clearing out situations and available to provide help for others.
The other essential component to get the most out of yourself is surprisingly based on a basic human instinct: self-defense.
Psychological Handling of Difficult Days
You have to recognize situations that are way above your physical availabilities regarding your emotional and mental energy and your invested time. At the end of the day, you are not there to solve years of their problems nor to be a private psychologist to anyone and obviously, you will never be the solution for deep-rooted personal problems. If you arrive in such a toxic environment that struggles with long-term inner contradictions you need to be aware of your own limitations. You always have to know where to stop or in radical cases when to quit.
Learning and Developing Yourself
Because optimally having a job is not only something that pays the bills and the rent. But rather a place where you can learn and grow. A place where you are listened to and your daily work is much appreciated. These elements are necessary for a healthy physical and mental condition. You are the only one who can set the rules for yourself.
Recognize Toxicity in Advance
Knowing and recognizing such situations are not only useful for practical reasons. These skills can reveal your true interest in practice, can help you listen more to your moral compass, and helps you get closer to the person you really are. But most importantly it helps you become a braver person than yesterday, who gets what should be deserved and this is called: self-respect.
Try to become this person and when one day it finally leads you to a place where you feel that you belong (at least just a little bit), you will truly understand its real worth.