Top 5 Things I Learned From Working In Toxic Work Environments
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
When I lost my job at the beginning of Covid I felt so many emotions. I was devastated, I was scared about my financials, but I mainly felt like a failure. It's now been almost 5 months since I lost my job and my mental state is completely different than when I initially lost my job. I've been doing a lot of reflection on my (short) career, trying to figure out what the next logical step is and what I should be looking for in a company so that I can feel as happy as I feel now. Looking back at all of my work experiences made me realize that there were lots of recurring instances of toxic traits in these companies that ultimately led me to leave, and while it really sucked in the moment it also taught me how to be a better employee, colleague, and leader. So here they are the Top 5 Things I learned from working in toxic work environments.
Rely on the Compliment Sandwich technique when giving feedback.
As someone who's an empath, I've never really loved confrontation and because of that giving and receiving feedback has always been something that's been really hard for me. I've had bosses make feedback sessions incredibly personal, I've had bosses who only ever spoke to me to tell me the negatives of what I was doing. I had one boss who used and taught me about the compliment sandwich technique for giving feedback. I was in a position for the first time ever where I was "in charge" of others on a team and was having a particular person who wasn't working to our standards. I didn't want to just tell them they sucked so she suggested telling them something they're doing good, what they could improve on, and then something else they're good at. For example, "We really love how intuitive you are, you really know what you're doing out on the field. But sometimes you deviate from the program and it's causing some issues with consistency. If you were able to work on that I know you'd be getting more repeat customers. Especially since you're one of the team's favorite instructors!" This has been super helpful for me and it's how I best receive feedback as well.
Not an example of a compliment sandwich:
2. Your Boss Doesn't Need to be Your Best Friend
My first handful of jobs I became really close to my bosses, most of them I still follow on Instagram or have as a friend on Facebook. When I switched into the "corporate" world I found myself going to interviews hoping to find a boss that could then possibly become a friend and mentor and what I found instead was dysfunction. The idea of a company becoming your "family" and your boss wanting to be "best friends" usually mean blurred lines, miscommunication, and uncomfortable situations. At the end of the day a job is there for a job, you can build a friendship with your bosses but clear lines and boundaries are important and keeping a more professional relationship makes these lines and boundaries clearer.
No... no we did not.
3. Always Have a Clear Middle Ground Between You, Your Boss, and HR
Keeping up with the idea of clear lines and boundaries. Make sure there is someone that can act as a third party in between you and your boss. Ideally this would be HR as that is what Human Resources is meant for but if this is not possible, if you are working in HR, flesh out early on who you would be able to speak with if you were struggling with your manager. I've worked in two different scenarios where there was no clear boundary and it caused issues. One company was very small and it didn't have an HR department, there was my boss, her boss, and the President of the company. There were other departments but no one that was there just to act a neutral party. This caused an uncomfortable situation when my bosses boss was acting unfairly towards me and the President of the company was (kind of) stalking me. The second situation was when my direct manager was the head of HR and the only other person was the president of the company. If I had laid out a clear path early on to solve conflicts and give myself the ability to feel heard this wouldn't be an issue and now it's something I look out for and clarify in interviews.
All Toby wanted to do was his job
4. Speak Up When Things Make You Uncomfortable
I really figured this one out pretty recently. I went on an interview and lots of uncomfortable, unprofessional, and inappropriate things happened during that interview and I didn't say anything. I wasn't even really fazed by it until I told the story to my sister, I wasn't fazed because things like this had happened throughout my career. Bosses who would watch my instagram stories (I would block him and unblock him randomly to see that he would watch my story every time I unblocked him), Co-workers who told me that sexual assault survivors were just looking for attention, and bosses who gave me feedback like "people don't like you and don't want to talk to you". All of these things made me uncomfortable, unsafe, and voiceless in my workplace. I should have spoken up for myself in those moments, there is no job that makes being uncomfortable worth it.
5. Get On The Same Page About Learning & Teaching Styles
This has become my go to question in interviews, especially since I'm still new in my field and have things I have to learn. I've found that communication is the most important part of work and when communication isn't happening correctly things start falling through the cracks. By learning early on how someone prefers to communicates: specifically when speaking of how they prefer to teach and how they prefer me to learn; this will set up for a better collaborative professional relationship. I had a learning and teaching style difference with my last company, but since I had asked early on how they preferred to do that I was able to adapt earlier on and find a way to make it work for the both of us. Sometimes people aren't bad teachers, sometimes they just don't communicate the way you do.
6. No Job Is Worth Depression
I'm someone who's dealt with depression in their life on and off for years. Over the last 4 years I've worked really hard to limit those times and cultivate a life for myself that is positive and happy. I had a job that spiraled me in to a very deep depression, I'd cry in my car driving to work, I was hurting myself, and I felt like I was absolutely worthless. I was under this impression that I had to stick it out; stick it out for a certain amount of time for my resume; stick it out and hope that things could get better; stick it out because I didn't have any other options. The thing is... I did have options, having that job on my resume for x amount of time didn't matter, and things never got better. I spent months and months being depressed for absolutely nothing. At the end of the day if you don't love what you do then it's not worth doing anymore.
If you've made it to the bottom of the post, thanks for reading! I'd love to hear if you've ever had a not super great work experience and how you handled it. Also, I want to shout out the people who worked in these companies that really had my back. There were so many people there that made me feel so supported and loved and I really felt like I grew because of them, I couldn't have survived my time there without y'all. Here's to the future! Superunknown (especially now) but limitless in its possibilities.