Leaving a toxic workplace and surviving to tell the tale

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that last October I took a voluntary separation from my workplace. While many great things happened for me while I was there over a period of ten years, the decision to leave was in part dictated by the ongoing toxicity in much of my work environment. What is a toxic workplace and how do you know if you’re working in one? My work environment had all those signs as well as these specifics.

1. Confrontational, mobbing (i.e. a form of bullying emails) sent to me and others

2. A fear to contribute to group discussions in case of later repercussions

3. Ongoing “surveillance” and reporting from some staff to line supervisors on inconsequential matters. (Staff whining about other staff to anyone who will listen)

4. A feeling of dread on waking in the morning and thinking through the day/week/month/year’s tasks and people involved

5. Second-guessing all decisions to try and curb any unpleasant fallout (such as complaints to the union, HR over incidental matters such as requesting that core responsibilities be completed on time etc)

6. The emergence of anxiety and depression

7. Working 7 days a week and never feeling able to “switch off”

8. Cliques and backstabbing

9. Low enthusiasm for all tasks

10. Excessive frustration and catastrophising

You get the picture. I had turned into a tightly wound, worrying shrew. I couldn’t even think of doing anything else with my life except going to work in the day and collapsing in front of the TV at night. I was neglecting my physical health while attempting to take care of my emotional well-being with varying degrees of success. I swore. A lot. It had become an ingrained part of my daily conversation, so much so that when I was in situations with non-work people I was surprised at their lack of swearing. Apparently, there were other adjectives on offer in the English language apart from the f-word. I had forgotten this.

Anyway, I am six months out from the toxicity and things are improving. I rarely wake up dreading the day. I have enthusiasm for a variety of tasks. I have started to have hobbies that involve going outside of the house. I am no longer chained to my email account. Sometimes, though the toxicity of the workplace comes back to bite you. While physically I have removed myself, recovering mentally takes longer. Certain situations can trigger some of the unpleasantness that was experienced. These emotions are more difficult to leave behind having left a (hopefully) semi-permanent mark.

Last night I was hit up with a reminder of this. In my job over the last two years, I chaired lots of meetings via teleconference and videoconference. Perhaps two or three a week at certain points. Because of the nature of the work environment I always had to be ultra-prepared for a worst-case scenario which on more than one occasion occurred. (Arguments, outright rudeness between staff or directed at me). So, last night when I was to chair a teleconference, about an hour beforehand I suddenly felt quite nervous. Why? This was stupid I thought. It’s a pleasant, low-key meeting of people who all seem lovely. I did some serious self-talk and yoga breathing. And of course everything was fine. But it was the memory of the years of toxicity associated with meetings like this that reminded me of the need to still take care of myself, to surround myself with positive, supportive and kind people and most of all, to remember that I have left that place behind and I am the better for it.


2 Responses to “Leaving a toxic workplace and surviving to tell the tale”

  1. 2paw says:

    I think when you are in any kind of abusive environment you can become accustomed to it, and start thinking that it is the only way to be. It takes some time and distance to put things back into perspective. And maybe a little thing can make you remember.
    I am glad every thing was fine!!!

  2. Wendy Davis says:

    I think you are right. Wise words. It’s amazing the little things that can bring it back isn’t it.?

Comments are closed.