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Support For Toxic Work Environments

How are you really

A practical guide for toxic and challenging environments

This guide was created as a supporting tool for those (especially women) who find themselves being gaslit or bullied and any other toxic environment that can occur in the workplace. This is an unspoken event with most experiences hidden away and cloaked for the uncertainty that your story would not be believed, let alone vindicated.

Please Note
  • This guide is written with sensitivity as we do not intend it to be a trigger. Please take the time to consider how you are feeling before moving to the next page
  • This list is not exhaustive
  • It is intended that you apply this to your own situation and discard the things that aren’t a good fit
  • There is no right or wrong response

How do you know if you’re in a toxic situation?

  • How do you physically feel at your workplace? Paying attention to any tension, position of your shoulders, breathing patterns etc
  • How do you feel each morning approaching work? Especially Sunday night?
  • How do you feel on a Friday after work?
  • On a scale of 1-10 how would you describe your mental health at the moment?
  • Have you noticed a change in your sleeping patterns and appetite?
  • How do you feel as bedtime approaches? Do you feel resistance at the thought of going to bed?

What can you do?

  1. Work environment Can you move desk or work from home?
  2. Affirmations a key part of the poison within toxic environments is we begin to forget who we are. An affirmation that you declare each morning or in the toilet cubicle at lunch can be a mindful way of reinforcing yourself
  3. Take your time Quite literally, you are entitled to a lunch break if being in the office is not great for you, find local places that you can walk to and carve and protect this time as your own. Sometimes the emotional labour of spending optional-time with those that are draining you isn’t worth it
  4. Write things down After each questionable interaction, write down what was said and done (even if only as a personal record) so you do not second guess yourself or miss a pattern of toxic interactions.
  5. Get things in writing If you are finding the issues occur in face to face meetings that are never recorded, request in the meeting that everything discussed is confirmed in writing. This should be a reasonable request if the person in question is senior to you i.e. your manager/HR.
  6. Find a friend find a trusted friend to share this with, sometimes this may be somebody at work who knows all the characters in your story or somebody far removed from it. Being listened to and then supported can help. The main thing is the person you share with has to genuinely care about you. These can often be allies within the business you’re working in. Try and avoid just venting to them (unless its over a glass of wine and out of work time). Venting will feel good for a while as you unburden yourself, and maybe you’ll find connection in that and be able to seek solace in the experience of others. However, this feeling will not last unless things actually change. If challenging microagressions which you don’t feel your organisation will take seriously or know how to respond to, use your ally network to amplify each other, championing each others work and short circuit negative behaviours. For more on this, check out the book feminist fight club.
  7. Read your contract If you find things like working hours, pay, job role and anything else contractual is being manipulated refer to your contract, ensure you understand it and the rights it gives you in these situations. This is the foundation of your working relationship so it is important both parties stick to it.
  8. Be mindful of procedures and policies have these at hand (especially the grievance procedure) as they can change without you noticing and should be there to prevent situations such as these. It is important to be mindful of these to ensure you are following them to the letter.
  9. Weigh up the pro’s and con’s of the role This one is easiest done with an old school piece of paper with the line in the middle, it will be the foundation of an escape plan should you want one
  10. Plan an escape This could be moving departments, this could be moving jobs or office locations.
  11. Speak up This is purely personal, if you are comfortable doing so, speak up for yourself in the moment OR if it is more comfortable in writing after (but beware, writing may lead to another face to face conversation) . Some bullies continue because they don’t think they will be called on it. Sometimes a written confirmation of the nonsense can help you take back some power “Hi {insert name} I just want to confirm that you think I should approach this task in this way? In our last meeting you also mentioned something that seems to be the opposite. Please let me know which I should pursue”
  12. Find an advocate Sometimes the toxic conversations happen in public i.e. this person talks over you or openly tears down your ideas at every given opportunity. Find a trusted colleague who is also in that room and ask them to advocate for you, sometimes a simple “Hey, I think we should let {insert your name} finish her point” can work wonders!
  13. Get Help & Advice There are many organisations out there can give advice if you feel you have nowhere else to turn to. You can search for legal and advocacy services here –

Walk away If you do not believe that you can change the culture, or you believe that doing so will further damage your sense of self or your mental health, get out as soon as you can. I realise jumping ship without a gig to go onto is not an option for a lot of us, but as soon as you find something (even an interim thing), go for it.

Emergency mental health tips and tricks

  • Get some fresh air Sometimes getting away from your desk and going outside (where possible) can help clear your head and help you feel calmer
  • Grounding Techniques There are some techniques that many people use that can “ground’ them when they are feeling anxious. For example; the 54321 technique. Name 5 things you can see around you, name 4 things you can feel, name 3 things you can hear, name 2 things you can smell and name 1 thing good about yourself.
  • Try to ‘Belly Breathe’ Belly breathing (diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing) is where you breath deep breaths using your belly. Evidence has shown that this type of breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety. For more information, follow this link
  • Distraction techniques are useful for emergency situations. Bring some headphones or a book with you to work.If you find that the situation is becoming too much, take a 5-10 minute break, find a quiet space & go listen to your favourite song or read a chapter of a book you like. This can help to bring heightened emotions down and think more clearly about your next steps.

Take care of you

If you find that even after taking all of these steps you are still feeling low and anxious, it may be worth speaking to a medical professional in regards to getting help in the form of talking therapies with a counsellor. There are many free NHS services available and some services where you can self refer. Having another perspective and solution to workplace (and other) problems may help you to feel more settled.

This resource has been created in partnership between Just Jaz and some anonymous contributors.

Support For Toxic Work Environments - Just Jaz

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