Triggers and Survival points until you get a better option
Toxic work culture is a term used to describe a workplace environment that exhibits behaviors and norms that are harmful or uncomfortable. Toxic cultures contribute to marginalization of women at work, leading to lower pay, less access to challenging roles, and less power. The effects can extend beyond women lives - when women feel like they are members of a group support system and not individuals, it makes it harder for them to speak up about injustice.

Generally, a poor work environment has a negative impact on the well-being of both women and men. If not managed, toxic behavior can impact the organization strategic goals, productivity and morale. It can also increase employee turnover and lower profits.

It is well-documented that women in the workplace are often subject to abusive treatment, harassment and inappropriate remarks. Eventually, a toxic work environment is more likely to have a worse impact on women mental health than men.

Women have reported toxic cultures contribute to women getting lower pay, less access to challenging roles, and less power.

If it’s not managed, toxic behavior can impact the organizations strategic goals, productivity and morale. It can also increase employee turnover and lower profits.

Additionally, it can affect people at all levels, including the CEO. A company with a toxic climate for women is not a healthy workplace, and neither are the cultures that result. The best way to prevent this is through communication and education, so everyone understands why it is important to be fair to each other, regardless of gender or race. This goal is achievable in small steps by communicating better with each other and having regular meetings where any issues arising can be discussed openly.

So how do you identify toxicity at work? What are some of the triggers?
  • Lack of Communication
It goes without saying that if you find yourself being the last one to know about a major change in your work life, while other people are in the know, it can be demoralizing in the least. Have you seen employees suddenly fired with no notice or explanation? Do you fear you could be next? Has your desk been moved to a different floor or side of the office without your knowledge, or explanation? Have your duties been increased or decreased without your involvement?
  • Sudden unexplained change in management
Imagine reporting to work and finding out that your bosses no longer work with you. New people take position, and no one explains it. You are expected to go on without question.
  • Unfair HR management
How much power does the HR department head wield? Does HR fire without explanation or cause? Is HR supervised like you? Does HR hire your team members without referring to you? Is the HR team the only one allowed to speak to management?
  • Unfair Salary gaps between Men and Women
Are you doing the same job as your male colleagues but at a considerably low pay? Are pay levels streamlined for everyone? What are you told when you ask? Are women fired for asking or questioning?
  • Hounded by Debtors
Are your companies suppliers paid? Or are they ignored, and you are left to deal with it? Is your company ensuring it takes care of its financial responsibilities?
  • Recognition of achievements – Or lack of it
Are you celebrated in your career achievements? Or are you made to feel like you should not celebrate them? Are your achievements credited to others?
  • Leadership – the seat at the big table
Are there women leaders? How are they treated? Are all bosses male? Is the female boss a prop or a true leader? Is she supportive of other females? Are decisions made by leadership in consideration of the needs of women in the company?
  • Harassment – How are they handled
Are you able to inform HR or management if you are harassed? What support do get? If harassment is of a sexual nature, how are you treated after your complaint? Are you victimized for reporting or protected? Do you feel safe or comfortable reporting your issues?
  • Gas-lighting
Have you ever been told that what you know happened didn’t happen? Or what you said wasn’t what you said? Or your words are used against you? You have been gas-lit. Women are accused of being emotional in their day-to-day lives and at work, it could determine how you are seen, respected or trusted. What protections exist to guard you against this?

So what do you do?

While the above list is small and doesn’t fully cover all possible scenarios, If you identify yourself in any of the above triggers, you now know you are in a toxic environment. Unfortunately, your main option may be to keep your head down and seek new employment.
However, you can also take a few steps to quietly protect your self, as you seek other employment options:-
  • Up-skilling
Is there any way you can add to your skills so you can be more marketable and an even better asset in your current employ? There are many free learning resources that may be complimentary to your career trajectory. Check out Online Courses - Learn Anything, On Your Schedule | Udemy and even free courses by Stanford University (Design Thinking Courses and Programs) among others.

Google also has free educational resources (Free Online Marketing Courses From Google) you may use to boost your resume and give you better employment options.

The name of the game is OPTIONS.
  • Everything in writing
It may seem tedious but you are in survival mode. The only way to beat gas-lighting by management or other colleagues is to have proof. Written and acknowledged proof. This is to document any work done, achievements you have made, problems you are trying to solve and communications you may need to prove you made. This guards you against gas-lighting and can be used to show evidence of you raising complaints or concerns about certain things like harassment or responses to HR.
  • Finish what you start
Don’t do your work halfway – if you start it, finish it. This may be hard, especially if your duties are constantly changing, but a good track record of your completed work is always a benefit. Tie up loose ends.
  • Stick to the rules
It goes without saying that any misstep becomes a reason for toxic reactions. Try your hardest to maintain a blameless nature. Mistakes happen. Learn to own up to them. But know the company rules and follow them.
  • Be a problem-solver
There will be many, but any issues that you, or your team face will need solving. Seek solutions. Avoid the blame game. Find a way to solve the problem as best as possible.

While the solutions are easier said than done, you can give your best attempt to ensure that you survive the toxic environment and come out of that situation better.

Everything is a lesson and an opportunity to succeed. Start your job search to escape the toxic times but whatever you do, remember your mental health is important. Guard it.
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