Toxicity in the workplace. When it’s time to pack your $h!t and leave.

For many of us adults, most of our waking hours of the day is spent preparing for and spending the day at work, so it is a big deal in our lives and a determining factor of our health: mental health being the most crucial one here.

Work can be enjoyable. Some people spring out of bed, and find a sense of purpose and accomplishments in what they do. For others, it’s just a means to collect a pay cheque and provide for ourselves, and/or our families. Doesn’t mean we hate it at work, we just see it as a means of income; yet for others, it’s “God! I hate being there, despite liking what I do”.

Loving your job and loving what you do does not mean you should sacrifice yourself for it.

From very tough experiences, I have come to learn that you are much bigger and more important than any organisation you are with. Your time in an organisation should be goal-oriented, you should have a vision for what you wish to learn and accomplish, and a set timeline.

Let me break that down.
You enter an organisation:

  1. What were you hired to do? Do it. But do it to the best of your abilities while learning to be more efficient. Learn the tricks of the trade. Network, make colleagues, be memorable. You’ll need them in the future, you’ll see.
  2. What goals do you have here? What do you want to accomplish in your current position? Do you want to be promoted based on work ethics, do you want to learn enough then move on? Do you just want to make a valued contribution then move on? Do you want to change the culture if you have the position to do so? Do what you want to do if it is in your position and responsibilities to do so.
  3. How long will it take you to accomplish these goals set out in Number 2? Set targets and timelines.

An organisation should grow, and you with it. If an organisation is stagnant, then the culture, finances and people are stagnant. Don’t get entrapped. If you did not accomplish your goals, hit too many barriers, and have exhausted your timeline:- either address the problems face on, or move on.

Your own personal and professional development are paramount to not just yourself (obviously), but the organisation itself. This is why some employers offer skills training, academic leave, and incentives for better performance.

When an employee is happy, the business is happy, which makes the employer happy which should make the employees happy and so it goes, around and around. Needless to say, the stagnation of an organisation, poor business and poor performance of the employees points to who is the employer. When staff aren’t happy or not performing as they should then the employer must be held responsible.

I have been in situations where this was not so and this has made me understand the following rules:

  1. Credit yourself: don’t even feel shy or pompous about it. You will not always receive a pat on your back or get what you think is owed to you based off of commitment and hard work. Don’t allow this to devalue you. Rise above it. You wouldn’t have to if they did, and since they are not, DO IT!
  1. Do not use your own money for work tasks; if there is no promise [or system] for reimbursement and you do not know when it will be repaid. People can also choose to kick you in long bureaucratic processes just for ‘lil’ change.
  2. There are some vindictive persons out there. When you take incentives and work beyond the call, they see it as a challenge based off of their own insecurities. Watch your back, keep paper trails, document certain behaviours. You might need it for a HR meeting or Board investigation.
  3. Working beyond your expectations should not be sacrificing your physical or mental health. Take sick days, mental health days, vacation days. Even paid special leave days. Some employers do not roll these over if they pass a deadline; be sure to be guided by your HR policy, ask HR questions based on the policy (make sure these dialogues are documented). If you die, or fall sick you will replaced in two weeks, so take your damn days! Why sacrifice for an entity that see you as replaceable?

Sounds like some serious rules for a toxic work environment, aint?

But it’s more than navigating the office and work-time. It is about your mental health. How do you feel?
Your mind and body are going to tell you when it’s time to leave.

  1. When you wake up in the morning with no energy.
  2. When there is no excitement on your commute to work.
  3. When you see the building and groan.
  4. When you actively avoid coming into contact with a single or group of persons.
  5. When you do see someone or group and feel frustrated, angry or anxious.
  6. When you feel you have to walk on egg shells or avoid stepping on toes.
  7. When you feel a bomb is about to explode any minute now and there is a feeling of impending doom.
  8. When you feel useless, crave a drink, or want to take naps constantly.
  9. When you avoid tasks or going the extra mile because it’s not worth it anymore.
  10. When you can’t wait until 4:30 to get the fuck out of there!

Yup! Time to gooooo! But be smart about it.

  1. Do daily mental health exercises. Like read an e-book or play a puzzle or games online (so it looks as though you’re working on the computer. Be sure to keep a random google tab nearby on something related to your job); take your lunch hours to go walk or take a nap somewhere; go out with some friends after. Go to the gym right after, or have sex (that’s my personal go-to).
  1. Update your CV/ Resume. Yea, you’ve been in this office all this time it’s time to dust off the old CV and make it new. Everything you did, learnt, benefited from: UPDATE!
  2. Compile a portfolio of your accomplishments. Not everything fits on that one-page Resume so create a document about your time and accomplishments at the organisation. I call this a “tenure report”.
  3. Switch to private or incognito mode on your browser and start looking for jobs. Apply online.
    (This too makes it seem as if you’re doing work when you’re actually looking for work! Ha!)
  4. Remember those same colleagues you made through your networks? Casually discuss with them opportunities (I told you that you will need it); they will also be great references (I told you to make yourself memorable).
  5. Read your HR Policy on resignations. How many weeks’ notice, etc. Handy little things you may not have known. You don’t want to resign just so and find out you can’t get paid or you were technically fired for not following the separation procedure. If you can, ask a trusted person in HR about your benefits, if any.
  6. Piece by piece, take home your plants, your stapler, sticky notes, pens; you deserve them!
    Nothing very noticeable or that will get you in trouble!
  7. Just keep doing Step 1 until you get an interview, then that job!
  8. Write your cute little letter that will bring you so much joy! Be sure not to burn bridges though because you may need a recommendation.
  9. Finally! Pack your shit and leave.

Featured image: Canva

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Jairo Rodrigues is an award-winning human rights and social development programme coordinator. He specialises in social change projects and advocacy methodologies on gender relations, sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive sexuality education, LGBT, and youth development.

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