How To: Survive A Hostile Work Environment

“I Quit!” Does this sound like something you’ve been wanting to say lately? Maybe the best part of your workday is when you’re fantasizing about how great it would be to write your resignation letter directly on your boss’ forehead. Trust and believe, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve fallen off the deep end a bit, but you’re definitely not going to be by yourself once you hit rock bottom. For one reason or another, countless individuals can’t stand their jobs or the people they work with.

Over the last few months alone, I have had most of the people I know talk (aka rant) about their impossible jobs and co-workers. From gossip and rampant incompetence to scandal and downright shadiness, the one thing most people will experience in life is trouble in the workplace. The types of issues people encounter on the job are as varied in form, delivery and severity as you can imagine—the possibilities are endless. Some things are simply minor irritants that crop up one moment only to blow over the next. If you’re lucky, the worst thing you have to deal with at work is your co-worker continually “borrowing” and never returning your pens, or someone swiping your favorite parking spot. Ha! If only, huh?

Well, what if your work issues are far more serious? What if your place of employment is just downright hostile? If this is something you’ve been wondering, you’ve come to the right place. This article is going to outline my best survival tips for navigating a toxic work environment. I’m also going to share some of my own experiences with rough work situations. Boy, could I tell you some stories! Eventually, I will be sharing the vast majority of them, but in the interest of this particular subject, I’ve only included the most relevant examples.


What Makes A Toxic Workplace…Toxic?

First of all, let’s talk a little bit about what a toxic work environment actually is. Essentially, a toxic work environment is one that makes you unreasonably, uncommonly and distressingly uncomfortable. The general consensus is that a toxic work environment is so stressful that it quite literally makes you sick or at least comes very close to doing so. In the best of cases, toxicity is limited to only one department or group  of people (hopefully not your own). However, bad behavior can pervade an entire company, poisoning the company culture as a whole.

You may be asking, “What causes a workplace become toxic?” And no, the answer isn’t “work”, even though some of you would much rather spend your days on the couch binge-watching shows on Netflix (including myself). But in all seriousness, there are many things that can make a workplace toxic—some are mildly annoying while others are downright unlawful.

Examples of Toxic Workplace Behavior:

  • Excessive gossip, rumor-spreading, lying and finger-pointing
  • Being encouraged to steal money/property, falsify information, cover-up unacceptable behavior or otherwise act in an unethical/immoral manner
  • Inappropriate jokes, comments and actions (ie. racist, sexist, crass in nature)
  • Unwanted physical contact or undesired solicitation for physical contact
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Violation of labor laws (i.e. neglected breaks and lunch hours, irregular or blatant lack of due compensation)
  • Unethical/inconsistent hiring, promotion and termination practices
  • Discrimination
  • Preferential treatment for some employees and/or mistreatment of others
  • Violence (verbal or physical)
  • Gross lack of accountability and responsibility
  • Gross lack of communication
  • Any persistent behaviors that distract employees or prevent them from adequately doing their job in a timely manner (i.e. excessive talking unrelated to work, not returning calls, not furnishing requested documents/information, misrepresenting information)

As you can see, the list truly goes on and on. When determining whether or not your workplace is truly toxic, the main thing to pay attention to is the frequency of such occurrences. Though an environment may have poor communication every now and again, that does not automatically qualify it as being “toxic”. Likewise, an occasional argument that takes place in the office is probably not enough to say that a workplace is actually “hostile”. For the most part, a workplace becomes toxic when one or more inappropriate behaviors occur on an ongoing basis or are extreme while being carried out.

If you notice that your workplace is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors on a regular basis, you just may have a toxic and hostile environment on your hands. It is important to take action against inappropriate workplace behavior, but what if you don’t know quite what to do? The following suggestions may help point you in the right direction.


 

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1 Keep Your Head On Straight.

No matter what is going on around you, always remember to keep your composure. Dealing with hostile, vindictive people can already lead you into a volatile situation that you don’t want or need to be in—so why add to the fire? Though it’s often easier said than done, if you encounter a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset, just take a deep breath and let whatever is going on roll right off your back. Count to ten, walk away or imagine your rude co-worker in their underwear. I don’t care if you have to momentarily tuck tail and run into a bathroom stall to cry your sad little eyes out—do not retaliate in the heat of the moment.

Yes, it would be far more satisfying to unleash a scathing verbal (or physical) assault on Sally right after catching her spreading malicious lies about you throughout the lunchroom, but do you really want to jeopardize your own job and livelihood? After all, you are supposed to be in the workplace, not on stage at the Jerry Springer Show (no offense, Jerry). No matter what someone else says or does to you on the job, it doesn’t give you the license to behave poorly in kind. For every action, there is a reaction, but that does not mean that your reaction needs to be fueled by anger. If anything kicks off in the office, take a breather and calm down before trying to address the situation.

I have personally found myself in many situations that required me to remain professional and seemingly unfazed. This is not to say that I wasn’t screaming expletives somewhere in the back of my mind, but hey…as long as you don’t react outwardly, you should be golden. I’ve had co-workers come in my office yelling at me and cursing me out over things they did wrong. Then there was the time that a prospective client read me for filth for about thirty minutes after I politely declined her job proposal (and she wonders why I didn’t want to work with her). Don’t let me forget about that other time when my boss angrily hurled a stack of papers at me like a petulant child (yes, hurled). I am hardly the type to sit back and passively accept mistreatment from anyone, but in each and every case I somehow managed to bite my tongue the best I could until the situation could deescalate. Miracles do exist.


 

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2 Stand Your Ground and Know Your Rights.

One of the best things I can recommend to anyone who is working in a toxic, hostile environment is to commit to standing up for yourself and being your own best representative. Whether it is an ongoing issue or a developing problem, do your very best to fully evaluate the circumstances before making any rash or detrimental decisions. Assess the problem(s) at hand and determine whether or not what you’re going through lies outside the boundaries of what could be deemed “normal” workplace antics. Identifying the extent of the situation will help you find the most effective solution.

  • Are you having issues with only one nasty individual or are you being attacked by an entire tribe of troublemakers?
  • Are the things you are experiencing isolated events or quite commonplace throughout the company’s culture?
  • Is anyone else expressing similar concerns as you about particular people, practices and/or policies?

Though most people want to avoid strife in the workplace, no work environment is perfect. If you’re working with other people and you do it long enough, you will encounter some kind of discord. So, unless you are independently wealthy or have other employers knocking down your door to offer you amazing positions, it may not be the best idea to automatically hand in your resignation at the first sign of workplace disharmony.

This is not to say that you should strive to remain in bad situations and needlessly subject yourself to abuse. Absolutely not. There are some environments that are legitimate cesspools that breed nothing but stress, angst and maliciousness. Prolonged exposure to such conditions can negatively impact your health, general welfare, job satisfaction and job performance. Work frustration can then spill into your home and family life, straining your personal relationships. This is why it is important to evaluate the severity of your particular situation and create an action plan at the first sign of trouble.

The second thing I’d suggest to anyone dealing with unreasonable tension at work is to not allow yourself to be manipulated by the behavior of others. In the event that your workplace is uncommonly dysfunctional, you may find yourself the target of discrimination, threats, intimidation and other forms of belittlement. Some people use these tactics as a means of controlling you or influencing you to leave your position, department or company. Don’t give up without a fight! People do not have the right to use such behavior in the workplace, so do not give them power that they are not entitled to. This especially applies to individuals who are your superiors. Just because someone is your boss or in a position of authority within the company does not mean that they can speak to you or treat you in ways out of accordance with the law.

This leads me to the third thing I’d recommend to someone struggling to survive in a distressing work environment: know your rights. At the first sign of inappropriate behavior, try your best to educate yourself about what is (and isn’t) considered appropriate workplace conduct. Check your employment contract or employee handbook to see what policies your company observes as it relates to your particular issue. Do they have a statement addressing conflict resolution? Are there procedures in place to help employees report concerning activity? If you cannot readily find such information, contact your company’s human resources department to see if they can provide it. If neither of these options work out, look up state and federal employment laws. Knowledge is power. Being aware of your basic employee rights will help you easily identify when those rights are being violated.


 

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3 Don’t Jump On The Bandwagon.

Okay, so let’s say that you aren’t actually the office whipping boy (or girl). Perhaps you are simply that poor unfortunate soul who innocently chows down on your ramen noodles in the back of the breakroom while your co-workers throw a drama fest. Maybe you are constantly surrounded by people who gossip about fellow co-workers or even your superiors. Heck, maybe your boss is in the breakroom gossiping about co-workers. Stranger things have happened, you know. If you are this blameless, ramen-loving individual, just keep eating. It can be super tempting to contribute your own insults here and there (I mean, Sally really is an incompetent ignoramus), but don’t do it. Chances are you aren’t a chef, so don’t stir the pot. But I mean, if you are a chef, stir the pot—just not that one.

Sometimes the workplace is nothing more than an income-providing, equally annoying, highly petty version of middle school. You’ve got cliques, rumors, bullying—the works. No one wanted to be the dorky kid that gets picked on then, and no one wants to go through it now. If you work in a toxic environment in which finger pointing, back-stabbing and nepotism are as commonplace as germs in a kindergarten class, I can totally understand you not wanting to become anyone’s next target. Sure, you could adopt an attitude of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, but would you really feel good about yourself by becoming a mean girl? And yes, guys can totally be “mean girls” too—I’ve seen it. It’s rare, but when it happens, it gets ugly. Really ugly.

If you are frequently exposed to people who behave unprofessionally and contribute to an uncomfortable work environment, don’t be afraid to simply mind your own business. You don’t have to go on a crusade to save all of the victims of the office drama, but you don’t have to join the witch hunt either. If anyone tries to rope you into their childish games, there is nothing wrong with telling them that you aren’t interested in discussing anything other than your work. If you give into the rumor mill and start engaging in unsavory activities, you won’t have a single leg to stand on if things boomerang on you and blow up in your own face. And from what I’ve seen, those who play with dirt, typically end up getting dirty. It all goes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And like your mom has probably told you at least once, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” You should really listen to your mom, you know? She’s a super smart lady.


 

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4 Go Get A Reality Check.

Let’s suppose that you are starting to really dislike some people at your job. I mean, really dislike them. You dislike these people so much that you want to tear your hair clean out of your head every time they get near you. You get completely nauseated every time you hear their voice (and it’s not that week old tuna sandwich that was abandoned in the break room fridge either). But hey, your disgust is completely warranted. Maybe you are starting to feel as though you are constantly being singled out and picked on. Or maybe someone has been doing things that you have perceived as threatening, discriminatory or even downright inappropriate and unethical. We sometimes worry if we are overreacting or taking things the wrong way, but what if your assumptions are correct? If you are starting to question your sanity in the workplace, it’s time to get a reality check.

Rally up some of the most trusted individuals in your social circle and fill them in on the things you’ve seen, heard and experienced at work. It can be your boyfriend, your wife, the guy at the bar, or even Fluffy, your next door neighbor’s cat (no judgement). Often, when we are extremely involved in a situation, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees—you are just too close to the potential (or actual) problems to see them as they truly are. By getting some additional perspective, you will be able to check and balance the things you are feeling to ensure that you have the right impression of your work situation. It usually feels nice to vent a little bit as well. After all, you really don’t want to bottle up unpleasant feelings and keep your troubles all to yourself. Excessive worry and stress can severely impact your health and overall happiness, so make sure to find a good support system to rely on after hours.

Another benefit to talking with friends and love ones about your problems at work is that they may have stories to share about their own psycho bosses and co-workers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to someone stressed out about a work situation and come away from the conversation thinking I had the best job in the world. Compared to the crazy things going on in their place of employment, my problems were small potatoes. Hearing how your work environment could be may help you to better tolerate how it actually is—at least for awhile.


 

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5 Let Them Hear It Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

Whenever someone is being treated unfairly, being gossiped about or finding themselves on the receiving end of questionable behavior, I believe in going straight to the source of the problem and asking for it to stop. This is a tactic that many people can really struggle to do if they are naturally shy, a bit afraid of confrontation or otherwise unable to deal with the person or people mistreating them. If this sounds like you, that’s perfectly okay. I can totally understand not wanting to rock the boat if you’re already being targeted by someone at work. If you simply can’t bring yourself to confront the issue that directly, there are other things you can try.

However, if you can brave an attempt to solve things on your own, I highly recommend it. Firstly, most aggressors can’t stand a “tattle-tale”—even when they are dead wrong and know it. I always like to try a face to face conversation before involving others because many circumstances can reach a quick resolution by doing so. Sometimes mere misunderstandings and miscommunication are the root cause of hostility between co-workers. Opening the lines of communication and avoiding office gossip/speculation can really help provide clarity to underlying tension. And based on my own personal experiences, some people are actually inclined to respect you more when you show that you are capable of calling them out on their nonsense.

Of course, confrontation in the workplace is a lot different than confrontation out on the street. You definitely need to handle the situation with kid gloves. However, I think there is always an appropriate time, place and method for addressing someone you work with. If you leave your anger at home and approach the situation with a neutral, non-accusatory attitude, you may be able to ace it.

For example, let’s say that “Sally”, your co-worker, has been giving you the cold shoulder for the last few weeks. She won’t return your calls, she blatantly ignores your emails and you could have sworn she rolled her eyes at you during the last staff meeting—twice. Perhaps you wouldn’t normally be too fussed about Sally’s behavior (you really don’t want to be bothered with her anyway), but her avoidance is actually causing your job performance to suffer because she’s refusing to give you the info you need to properly perform your job duties in a timely manner. In fact, it’s starting to look as though she’s doing it on purpose. Instead of going to every other co-worker in the department talking about what an inconsiderate dolt Sally is, you could try to have a cordial conversation with her to find out what’s really going on.

A great confrontation formula that I tend to use sounds something like this:

“Hey, Sally. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something. Do you have a moment? Great, thanks! You know, lately I’ve noticed that you’ve (insert their behavior here). I don’t want to misinterpret or read into anything, but I’ve been feeling as though (insert your feelings here). Is there anything I’ve done or said to upset you? If so, I’m really sorry.”

You can use a very similar, non-blaming script to address a potential gossiper as well:

“Hi, Sally. I’ve been hearing some things around the office that are a little concerning. I don’t want to blindly follow hearsay, so I thought I would ask you about it directly. I’ve heard that you’ve been saying (insert rumor here). Is this true? If so, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t discuss me with others any longer.”

There are many, many ways to peacefully and professionally address people when you feel you’ve been wronged by them. By doing so you can cut down on erroneous information, assumptions and misunderstandings. You will know exactly what they said and they will know exactly what you said—no he-said, she-said necessary. Who knows? You might find out that Sally’s going through a divorce, is having a rough time in life and didn’t even realize that she was treating you poorly. Or, Sally may prove to be a complete crackpot when she scowls at you and tells you to kick rocks. Either way, you’ll know exactly where you stand and have the opportunity to ask for the behavior to stop. If it stops, great. But if not, you may have to take things a step further.

The Do’s & Do Not’s of Workplace Confrontation:

  • Do evaluate their mood beforehand. Do not proceed if they are visibly disgruntled.
  • Do not attempt this while you are actively angry and/or unable to control your actions, emotions and words.
  • Do try to have witnesses around or do it in writing (be sure to keep a copy).
  • Do not explicitly implicate other co-workers by saying, “So and so told me this or that”.
  • Do keep the other person off the defensive by using non-shaming, non-blaming language that focuses more on how you have perceived their actions and less on what they’ve done.
  • Do not blatantly accuse them of anything, no matter how much proof you have.
  • Do not confront a co-worker in front of the public (clients, customers, suppliers, etc.)
  • Do use professional language and a neutral tone of voice at all times.
  • Do abort the mission and walk away if the person becomes angry or an argument seems imminent.

 

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6 Call For Reinforcements.

Let’s say that you’ve tried your best to resolve the issue by yourself, but your work situation is now as intolerable and disturbing as it ever was. It may be time to get other people involved.

If your place of employment has a formal human resources department or a designated HR representative, you might want to consider setting up a private meeting with them to discuss your concerns. I know that it can be hard to involve other people when you’re having a hard time with something/someone (especially at work), but your HR department should have people on staff who are specifically trained to handle such matters in the appropriate way.  A good HR staff can be an employee’s best resource in the workplace. They should know the company’s rules and regulations, follow procedures by the book and treat all employees with unbiased, professional regard. They should also be able to tell you if what you are experiencing is serious enough to warrant formal action. Traditionally speaking, the things you take to HR are usually kept confidential, unless otherwise specified.

As great as an HR department can be, there are times when HR actually handles things in a manner that makes things worse. Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to tell if your HR department is competent before going to them. This is definitely not said to scare you—quite the contrary. It’s simply important to realize that just like other co-workers, some HR staff members fail to act with integrity and discretion. I have both witnessed and heard about countless instances of HR staff acting unscrupulously. By doing things such as giving friends preferential treatment, bending employment rules, sharing confidential employee information with others and hiring poorly qualified family members instead of the best candidate, the practices of bad HR staff members can ruin an otherwise great company.

Let me give you an example of what can happen when you’re reporting a situation to bad HR staff. I actually worked in HR for one of my previous employers and quickly learned that not all HR departments are squeaky clean and ethical. There was a situation taking place in my office that I decided to report to an HR manager I was relatively close to. Let’s call him “Bob”. Despite being courteous and forthcoming about the individual I was receiving inappropriate advances/comments from, Bob immediately became salty and unfriendly with me. Apparently, he was offended by the fact that I’d accused his peer (and long-time friend) of exhibiting inappropriate behavior—even though it was true. Instead of offering to help, Bob made it sound as though I were lying about the situation and refused to hear anything else I had to say.

From that moment on, Bob made it very clear that he disliked me. Slowly, but surely, his other peers also began to treat me quite differently than they had in the past. Their coldness was usually subtle, but they would be rather curt with me when I needed to interact with them. I could definitely tell that we were no longer on the friendliest of terms, which was a shame because I had previously enjoyed perfectly cordial working relationships with them all. I don’t want to point any fingers, but I’m pretty sure that these individuals shut me out due to me trying to report a man they considered a friend. I worked in an industry that is male-dominated, so as a woman I was in the minority. As unfortunate as the situation was, it taught me a valuable lesson. Some HR departments are simply fraught with nepotism and shady practices, which can make things very difficult for employees who are non-insiders.

By now, some of you may be saying, “Okay, Nell. My company is really small. We don’t even have a formal HR department…good, bad or otherwise.” That’s perfectly fine. In this case, I would simply report your concerns to your boss.

And if your boss happens to be the thorn in your side, report their behavior to their superior. At least one of you is saying, “But what if my boss is the business owner and there is no superior?”

Yikes.

If you are in this particular situation, the best thing I can recommend is to have a one on one sit-down with them. Hopefully, you can have an open dialogue about what the issues are and come up with a satisfactory solution right then and there. However, if you do this and the behavior that’s making you uncomfortable persists, you’re really going to have to make a serious decision about your future with this company. It’s a very difficult position to be in, but when dysfunction is coming straight from the top of an organization, it usually filters down to infect the lower ranks too. This can drastically (and negatively) impact employee interactions, performance and morale.

Whether you report your problems to a boss or your HR department, I would be very, very concerned about any company that fails to modify bad behavior after being told about it. That level of disregard tells a lot about the company’s priorities and how little they value the wellbeing of their employees. If I found myself in such a position (as I have in the past), I would definitely keep my eyes open for another position with a new company. This is especially true if my career progression was being stifled or I was experiencing health-harming levels of stress.

In the event that the things you are experiencing at work are severe, notably unreasonable and/or illegal, you may decide to seek the services and counsel of an employment law attorney. The employment laws of each state are slightly different, so it is hard to give a comprehensive list of what workplace behavior is deemed “unacceptable” from a legal standpoint, but I do know that some definite no-no’s include sexual harassment, wrongful termination, failure to provide compensation and discrimination based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. These are all issues that are clearly addressed by the law, making employment law attorneys an excellent source of information and assistance.


 

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7 When In Doubt, Ride (or Hide) It Out.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of, but are still unable to rid yourself of workplace drama, I recommend keeping your head down as much as possible. Whether you are in the process of finding a new job or simply trying to hold onto your sanity until something changes, you may find that it’s easier to ride things out when you make yourself scarce. Hole up in your office or cubicle and focus on your work as much as possible. I think I’ve avoided a great deal of on-the-job trouble by doing exactly this. When you shy away from unnecessary interaction and pour all of your energy into your work, it is very hard to become involved in or overly bothered by the foolishness going on all around you. No matter what the root of your problem is, the more distance you can put between yourself and “the root”, the better.

For example, if your workplace is rife with rumors and gossip, keep your socialization at a minimum. If it doesn’t pertain to work, avoid talking about it by changing the subject or simply excusing yourself from the conversation. If you know troublemakers like to gather in the break room, have lunch in your car. Be very careful about who you share details of your personal life with as well. Sure, people who like to spread lies and rumors are quite adept at doing so on their own, but they always appreciate it when you are actually helping them out. And since it is sometimes hard to point out the wolves in sheep’s clothing, I would recommend applying this rule to everyone you work with.

If there is a lot of backstabbing and unhealthy competitiveness in your workplace, go ahead and forget about anyone there being your friend. Yes, we spend a lot of time with our co-workers and it’s always nice to believe that at least a few of them like us enough to not throw us under the nearest bus when we least expect it. However, I have seen so many people put their faith and trust in a co-worker only to be betrayed by them. Keep it cordial, but always watch your back.

If you receive a lot of abuse from a co-worker or boss and want to avoid interacting with them as much as possible, try to eliminate extraneous reasons to interact with them. For instance, email them instead of talking to them face to face. Be vigilant and proactive about work tasks so that things are finished before they have to come and ask you to do them. Dreading the next staff meeting? Choose the chair most out of the line of eyesight of the person who is causing you grief. People tend to forget about what and who they can’t see. You know…out of sight, out of mind?

And whatever you do, don’t be like me and hoard vacation days like there’s going to be some great vacation day famine. Take advantage of your time off! Whether it’s your weekend, vacation time or a holiday, make the absolute most of any time you get away from your migraine-inducing job. Regardless of what you are going through at work, ensure that your private life is still downright amazing. Spend time with people who don’t make you question your sanity and do things you truly enjoy. Use your free time to unwind, untangle your nerves and re-fortify yourself before heading back into the trenches on Monday morning.

Also, planning fun things to do after work hours is a great way to help you get through the workday in one piece. Plan a cocktail date with a friend, a shopping spree at Sephora or a game of Monopoly with the kids. If you have something enjoyable to look forward to later in the day, you will find it easier to redirect your focus from the negative to something positive.


 

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8 Pack Up And Ship Out.

There is very little worse than working your butt off for a company only to find yourself dreading each and every workday due to something that is out of your control. Whether it’s a company you’ve dreamed of working for your entire life or one you’ve already devoted the last twenty years to, it’s often difficult to imagine having to walk away from something you once loved. So, if you fundamentally love your company, but are in the middle of an unhealthy work situation, you may want to consider ways of pivoting out of your current position without leaving your employer altogether.

If your current company is large enough and has a lot of departments, you could always consider applying to internal positions in a different departmental area. If you have a troublesome boss, perhaps you can find a similar position to your current one that reports to someone else. If departmental co-workers are your issue, you may be able to find a new position within a different department that could benefit from your skillset.

You could also consider a location transfer, providing that your company has such options. Sure, you may have to move or inherit a longer commute, but look at the potential benefits! Not only would you put some distance between you and the people who are driving you crazy, but you’d be able to maintain your tenure with the company. But before you fill out that transfer slip, I would strongly recommend that you check out the prospective location in advance. The last thing you’d want to do is walk into yet another toxic work environment. What if it ends up being worse than where you are currently?

Whenever I’ve wanted to review the opinions of a company’s past and current employees, I’ve headed straight to Glassdoor. You may have to take some of the reviews with a grain of salt, but based on my own experience, the majority of the reviews and ratings are accurate. As long as you evaluate the context of everyone’s opinions, you should be able to make a preliminary determination as to whether or not that company location sounds right for you. I’ve used Glassdoor countless times during past job searches as well, so I highly recommend that job seekers check out companies before applying.


 

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9 Document Everyone and Everything.

Anytime you experience something concerning, inappropriate or unusual in the workplace, I think it is always a good idea to document it. Whether it is a one time occurrence that happens and never crops up again, or a string of ongoing events, keeping a written record of conversations and happenings can be extremely useful. Not only will it serve as a reminder of what’s happened if your memory fails you, but it can really help illustrate the duration and severity of a situation as well. If you are ever asked for details about something once you’ve reported it, having documentation can simply help add to your credibility and ease the reporting process.

Your documentation doesn’t need to be super fancy at all. Whether you type it out on your phone or scribble it down on a paper napkin, it’s your facts that will matter most. The key to great documentation is to be as detailed and specific as you possibly can. Though it’s great to document an event as soon as it occurs (for the clearest, most accurate memory recall), it’s not always practical to do so at work. That being said, always try to make your notes as soon as it’s reasonably possible.

Also, make sure that your notes are kept in a safe place (preferably not on a company phone or in the workplace) and protected from accidental destruction or deletion. Keep all of your notes together and in chronological order for easy retrieval later.

Examples of Information to Include in Documentation*:

  • Date of Event
  • Time of Event
  • Place of Event (Be specific. Were you standing/sitting? Was it by the water cooler or next to your cubicle?)
  • What exactly was said and who said it?
  • Who heard or saw the event take place? (Can anyone corroborate your story?)
  • How did you feel when it happened?
  • Attach any available physical proof (Could you take pictures of anything that occurred? Could you print out the email** that contains the conversation in question?)

* It is unlawful to record anyone without their prior knowledge, so please don’t run around playing undercover sleuth, Nancy Drew. However, it is lawful to record conversations if you tell them (and they agree to it) first. This is not a bad idea if you ever need to sit down and have a conversation with someone at work and witnesses can’t be present.

** Some companies have restrictions against the reproduction and distribution of electronic communications (i.e. emails). Every company is different, so you would have to check to see if your employer has rules against making physical copies of company emails for your own personal records. Usually, there is a statement attached to all emails that states the specifics of such rules, but if you are in doubt, find out.


 

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10 Know When To Throw In The Towel.

The advice that I’m about to give you truly applies to any difficult situation you may face in life. You may be going through a rough romantic relationship, a toxic friendship, a murky financial situation—anything. But more specifically, when it comes to figuring out whether or not to quit your job, you need to be honest with yourself. Only you know what behavior is “acceptable” or “unacceptable” to you because it is you who is experiencing it and you who is perceiving it.

If what you are experiencing at work is simply annoying and you could see yourself dealing with it even if it never improved, then I would say to simply stay put. The job market can be really tough (depending on your locality and industry), so don’t run away from anything you can comfortably tolerate.

However, if you’re fully convinced that you are working with a troupe of wild monkeys and the thought of putting up with it one second more brings tears to your eyes, it may be time to throw in the towel. The key is being able to know when it’s time to make a change because we don’t always allow ourselves to be honest about such situations. Sometimes, our financial and relational predicaments can also influence us to put up with things far longer than we really should. I unfortunately learned this critical lesson the hard way.

Once upon a time (how fairytale), I had a job that started off amazing, but quickly turned into the worst job I could ever dream up. Right out of the gate, I’m going to disclose that the issues I had with this position actually had very little to do with hostility in the workplace. My job was extremely self-monitored and I had little to no interaction with other people on a day to day basis. The problems I had were far too complex to get into here, but I can only imagine how bad the situation would have been if there had been overt employee hostility as well.

I eventually reached a point where I detested my job so much that I would practically bawl my eyes out before every. single. shift. The amount of oppression and hopelessness was unreal. My entire life started to revolve around two things: being upset while working and being upset while not working. I started to find it impossible to enjoy my private life because I would count the seconds until I’d have to clock back in. The stress I subjected myself to caused a lot of problems for me. I started to have health issues and lost many, many nights of sleep. My relationships also began to deteriorate due to me being chronically frustrated and unhappy. It was simply one of the worst experiences of my life and because I had never dealt with something this serious before, I didn’t know how to handle it.

I remember wanting to quit so many times, but because I didn’t have an immediate replacement and needed the income, I couldn’t leave. At that time, jobs of any kind were extremely scarce in my local area. Despite my best efforts to find a new job, it simply wasn’t an option. This being said, I can totally identify with anyone who feels trapped in a bad situation due to having financial obligations. When you have car notes, a mortgage and mouths to feed, most people aren’t going to up and quit no matter how hellish their work environment is. I didn’t even have such things to worry about and I still struggled to make a move. Months continued to go by and with it went all of my joy.

You may be asking what I ended up doing in the end. Well, after a lot of serious consideration, I resigned. I didn’t wait to find a new contract or another position either—it was that dire. Did I technically need the income? Absolutely. I took a significant risk when I left that job, but as I saw it, what good was money if I landed myself in the hospital from stress? Not good enough, as far as I was concerned. I eventually decided that I had enough faith in myself to know what was best for me. Once I came to that conclusion, I went to work finding what I needed, wanted and actually deserved. And as a result of this experience, I came to find work that I am passionate about opposed to merely enslaved by.

Work is simply a means of gaining income—nothing more, nothing less. Can your work provide amazing services and improve the world? Of course. Should it compromise your values and be detrimental to your health? I don’t believe so. Many people view their work as a representation of themselves, which is great. I’m definitely the type of person who loves to pour myself into what I do, giving it everything I’ve got. I love people with excellent work ethic and a strong passion for their work—those people are iconic. However, I think it’s important to still maintain healthy boundaries and be able to realize when something simply isn’t working to your full benefit, you know?

The concept of living to work opposed to working to live can be very dangerous if a person feels unable to do or even recognize what’s best for their health and overall well being. After all, you need to be in a good state of mind and be in proper physical condition to enjoy the fruits of your labor or else, what and who are you really working for? If you need to take a leave of absence, do it. If you need to leave your current position and take a lower paying one until you can find a suitable replacement, do that. Don’t be afraid to do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself. Meeting our financial obligations is always important, but so is our health. Never allow the fear of the unknown to scare you into forgetting that.


Additional Resources

If you suspect that the behavior you are experiencing or witnessing at work goes beyond typical office politics and borders on being unlawful, you might find the following resources useful in determining what mode of action best suits your particular circumstance.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 


 

I genuinely hope you find these tips and resources to be valuable if you or someone you know is currently working in a hostile or otherwise challenging work environment. Feel free to share this with anyone who might benefit from it. Life is truly difficult enough without having to worry about maltreatment in the workplace. If there is absolutely nothing else that you take away from this article, I hope you simply remember to be your own best advocate and always treat those you work with the way you would like to be treated.

If anyone has any useful “survival” tips and tricks that they swear by, I’d love to hear about them. Also, if this ends up helping you out with your own workplace dilemma, I’d love to hear about that as well. Or, if you’d like to request an article or response regarding something specific you are going through, just send me a private message. ‘Til next time, golden guys and dolls! ❤

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