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When Work is Toxic

Have you ever sat in a meeting and thought about yelling, “Shut the F*ck Up Already!” to someone with verbal diarrhea about nothing of any importance? Have you ever prayed for no pauses in a meeting because a colleague always finds a way to stir the pot, or someone throws out another issue just when […]

Have you ever sat in a meeting and thought about yelling, “Shut the F*ck Up Already!” to someone with verbal diarrhea about nothing of any importance? Have you ever prayed for no pauses in a meeting because a colleague always finds a way to stir the pot, or someone throws out another issue just when you thought the meeting might end early? Have you ever sat in a meeting thinking you wanted to take a pen and gouge out your ears so you no longer had to listen? I once had a colleague who told me she would sit in a meeting and imagine herself holding a shock button. She would envision herself shocking the speaker. She had no control over the meeting, but this helped her feel like she was making a contribution. This is not a good sign.

Well, I have had these experiences. In the past, I worked in a place that I still feel like could be an alternative reality. It was a total free for all. People “froze out” others by not even saying hello. The director was so insecure that he seemed to take perverse pleasure in demeaning and purposefully ignoring accomplishments of others. I sat through meetings that had no agenda, no purpose, and no direction other than to talk about weather and traffic. I have worked with leaders whose main goal was to feel important by stepping on others. It was disgusting. It literally made me sick. I gained weight. I was demoralized. Others would come to me for help, and all I could do was say, “Yeah, I understand.” I couldn’t help. Worse yet, I told organization leadership, and they didn’t care. This is when I developed the MOMF (Move on, Motherf*cker - telling myself to stop being the motherf*cker and let go of trying to control) philosophy so I could mentally survive, but I knew I had to literally leave. I finally did, and I lost weight, had more energy, and felt like I was a completely different person. What a difference.I see too many people in my office who seek help just to deal with work stress. That is so sad, I must tell you. We spend most of our days at work, and when it is such a toxic environment that we have to seek counseling….. well, that is wrong. I don’t know what is going on because the stories I hear are getting more and more appalling. Bosses calling names and throwing things. Humiliation. Retaliation. Basic human civility is out the door. And, what I don’t understand is how folks like this get promoted to leadership and management positions. I think it says something about that organization who promotes these personality types. There are even researchers who are studying how bad behavior in the workplace is making people sick. For whatever reason, some people give themselves permission to treat others like they don’t matter and don’t even deserve basic respect. People are behaving at work like they would NEVER behave to anyone in daily life. This is f*cking wrong. Work isn’t prison. Work is a place where you can go and feel like you are contributing something — where you can earn a living — where you can feel valued no matter what kind of work you do.

The problem is that a lot of folks face a choice of having no other job or a job that pays a lot less compared to the toxic workplace. I would never tell someone what decision to make in this situation, but I can tell you that I believe workplace toxicity kills people — either with bodily disease or a loss of your mind and soul. The decision to stay in a place that is toxic is personal, but I will say that it needs to be a conscious decision. If it isn’t conscious, you feel like a victim. If you choose to stay, you need to recognize the potential side effects so that you can manage them. I would also say that you can increase your sense control by setting short and long-term goals (like job retraining, seeing what else is out there, or retirement).

On a day-to-day basis, it is important to externalize what goes on in the toxic workplace. Workplace toxicity is especially hard on those folks who take things to heart. Remember, just because someone dumps their sh*t — their problems — their issues at your door, doesn’t mean you have to open the door. If you are required to take on a problem, remember that you don’t have to take it on emotionally. That part is yours alone. And even though I laugh about feeling like going crazy on someone at work, I don’t encourage workplace violence. If you are constantly fantasizing about going off at work, it may be that you need help to cope or you need another plan. We can only pack so much into our shit sack before it starts exploding, remember? Counseling does work. Get help before you say or do something that you can’t take back.

Journaling is a great tool for sorting out your thoughts and feelings over time. It is a release that no one else has to see. Exercise is tremendous. Even though you are emotionally exhausted after work, exercise can be such a release for your brain and your body. Make yourself do something to release the toxicity. The point is that even if you feel you cannot leave a toxic environment, you can manage its impact. Workplace toxicity contributes to people having disability, absenteeism, stomachaches, headaches, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and overall feeling fucked most of the time. I encourage you to acknowledge if it is present, ask yourself what you can control (and it is always your mind and your actions), ask yourself what you can do (journaling, exercising, looking for another job), and decide if you need to emotionally or literally MOMF. Regardless of what you do, I believe there is something to learn — a lesson in your life journey — even if it is how not to treat others.

I will add that if you have a great or pretty good workplace, you are a lucky SOB. Take a moment and feel good about that. We often complain about having to go into work, but sometimes it is a privilege that we take for granted.

Previously published on Medium.com

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