If 2021 had a theme, it would be all about the Great Resignation. Haven’t heard about it? It’s been the mass exodus of people from the workforce who were absolutely done with the bullshit. And by bullshit, I mean toxic work environments. When we hear the word “toxic,” we jump to bad romantic relationships. Or maybe people in our circle who don’t deserve to be there. But don’t think for a moment that this same negative mindset and emotional manipulation can’t also apply to the workplace.
Let me throw another phrase at you that’s far less subtle than the great resignation. Rage quitting. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve never actually thrown my laptop out my window, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it … often. Seriously, the only regular fantasy I have (besides Covid ending) is quitting my job. I know what happens when you allow yourself to stay in a toxic environment for too long. I’ve been there for almost four years, and up until January, I didn’t have a ton of complaints. Honestly, I was actually pretty impressed with the way they handled Covid in the beginning.
When so many people were losing their jobs or faced working in person with customers, I can’t pretend that my work-from-home setup wasn’t an incredible privilege. With that being said, just because this company showed up for their employees in that way didn’t change the rapid decline of our team environment into a hellish nightmare. Does that sound dramatic? I promise it isn’t. This is the exact description of how logging into a deteriorating situation feels five days a week, eight hours a day. Allowing the majority of your employees to work from home shouldn’t be that big of a deal, since we’re all adults, right? Yeah. The people I work with are the reason we can’t have nice things, like remote work.
Toxic Environments Can Happen At Work Too
Some of my colleagues have completely checked out. And others, well, they are hyper fixated on going above and beyond to prove that we can work from home and still get shit done. None of this in itself is particularly awful or harmful, but when your manager expects the people who are sitting in the middle to balance it all out. Well, that’s where things get messy.
I recently had a check-in. A see how you’re doing, general update kind of conversation with my manager. And for the first time, before the call, I decided to be completely and totally honest about the struggles I was currently facing. There is nothing I hate more than admitting I’m not superwoman, but I’d finally had it. I’d reached my breaking point, and I knew if I wanted to stay in this role, something had to change. So we hopped on the call and proceeded with business as usual until we hit the point where the floor was open. But before I could explain anything I was asked, ‘So, where is your head at?’
It was equal parts sarcasm and a rhetorical question. Here’s the thing: When I began in this role I was an incredible overachiever. I was the person that annoys the shit out of the rest of their team because I’m always two steps ahead. I made it look effortless, when in fact, untreated mental illness — a.k.a. high functioning anxiety— was what really drove me. And so, I went out on a limb to explain that. I didn’t owe my manager an explanation as to why I was no longer overworking myself. I wasn’t doing as much as before, but I still was meeting the requirements and expectations of my role.
The Employees Who Run Your Company Are People First
When I decided to put myself first, I started meeting the status quo. What exactly is wrong with that? Nothing. Not a damn thing. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I told her this. Maybe some compassion, or at least understanding? Nah. The response to me disclosing personal struggles in an attempt to be honest about the challenges I faced was met with irritation.
“Well, you set the bar high for yourself, and that expectation is not going to change.” What can you say to that? Maybe she didn’t understand what I meant? So I continued to explain.
“Before, I was always running at an 11, but it’s because I was unwell. Now, I’m trying to be more balanced. Be healthier, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s brought me down to say, 7 or 8. I still do my job and do it well, just at a more realistic level.”
That clearly wasn’t the answer she was looking for. But it is the truth, and damn it, that’s not going to change. I can’t work all hours of the day, compromising my sleep, health, and family obligations, to meet the unrealistic expectations of my boss. It’s not sustainable, nor is it fair.
This isn’t just one of those “one-off” situations. Although I haven’t had this exact conversation before, I’ve had many like it. If you work in a job where productivity comes before people, it’s a toxic environment. Something that companies often forget is that without the people who keep your business running, you would have no business.
I’m not saying you have to coddle employees, but be respectful of the fact that we are human too. Long gone are the days where the threat of being replaceable scared people into staying in toxic situations. So let’s end the bullshit — it doesn’t have to be a power struggle. I give you my time and meet expectations, and you treat me well and compensate me fairly. If that is not acceptable or attainable, then be ready for people to start prioritizing themselves.