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We see articles and tweets and social media postings about toxic relationships all the time. Most of the time, these relationships are either romantically or platonically in cases of families and friends. The one toxic relationship that people rarely talk about, however, usually involves the culture and environment we expose ourselves to on weekdays. When it comes to workplaces, toxicity tend to hide beneath the claws of structural hierarchy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the boss, the team leader, the project manager or even your fellow coworkers – anyone is prone to enforcing toxicity to a fellow colleague.

Every health-conscious guru who practice mindfulness will tell you that life is not a competition of who gets to the finish line first. They will tell you that it’s okay to have a different timeline than your peers. But society does not digest things this way. Most people I’ve met process life as a competition, especially when it comes to career and profession. This unhealthy mentality is probably what drives most people to knock each other down just so they’d win and gain the favour of their boss. They call it the taste of victory, I call that the taste of disgusting, senseless pride. That said, pride can come in multiple forms. It doesn’t limit to your fellow colleague trying to knock you down; it can also be represented by how your boss does not see you as an employee but rather, as a tool.

I’m pretty sure that googling ‘signs of a toxic workplace’ will give you a ton of articles to help you identify if your current workplace is of healthy environment or not but this is my take on what to look out for in your supposedly ‘second home.’ These are also based on the things I experienced at my first job.


© haworth


Egocentric self-righteous or narcissistic leadership


It’s pretty obvious that ego and working in a team do not blend well together. It’s even worse when your boss or the human resource department or anyone up there in the organisational structure embodies this personality. If they refuse to listen to your inputs and suggestions on how to improve the company and its internal relationship then maybe, reconsider the kind of people you are working with. The management is there to manage, not to control and shut you up. Additionally, they aren’t supposed to manipulate and change the rules and regulations according to their mood and personal reasons too. Not only is this a sign of unprofessionalism, it also means that everything you say and do will be taken personally by the company or your boss.


No transparency in communication


Think about this, what kind of company disregards internal team? That sounds shady and lacking to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a startup or an established company – meetings are necessary. I don’t care if your team consists of only five people and not, say, a hundred employees. It’s important to talk about progress, visions and missions of the company, timelines and budgets and other things related to the workplace, the projects and the company in general. Leaders tend to push these things into the shadows for the reason that they “don’t want employees to feel troubled” but in my opinion, employees should know what they will and will not get in the long run. If the budget is tight, say it. If incentives aren’t available, say it. Do not keep employees in the dark and expect them to quietly digest everything raw.


the supré clubhouse


Feedbacks are rejected, ignored or seen as dramatic complaints


There’s a difference between actual office drama and constructive feedbacks to improve the company’s overall operation and work culture. At the office I used to work at, most employees were too scared and reluctant to speak up because they knew that their questions were going to be rejected or seen as personal dramatic complaints of a lazy young adult. I’ve had a few coworkers told me things like, “what’s the point” or “what’s the use of opening our mouth if we’re not taken seriously anyway” and it was frustrating for me as someone who actually did speak up. I tried my best to give feedbacks and suggestions only to be shot down by the team leader. He told me, and I quote, “if only one person is concern about this thing then I don’t see why I need to assess the problem. If it’s only one person then it’s his or her personal complaint of not being able to endure. It’s not my fault as a leader.” Not only did this lead to a slow burn loss of respect, it’s also one of the reasons why we – I quit. Companies who are not willing to take inputs no matter how small or big, regardless of the number of people who voice them out, are companies I do not want to work with. Employees are human beings and in order for a team to work, there needs to mutual discussions.


Exploitation of labour


It doesn’t matter if the outcome refers to profit, client’s satisfaction or quick project completion, companies who pursue results without considering the crucial role of employees and the process to reach the finish line are, without a doubt, toxic. If an employee tells you that he’s absent from work because he’s feeling unwell and that there’s an actual medical bill backing up the reason, accusing the employee of lying or worse, a weakling does not make anyone a tough and admirable supervisor. Instead, it makes them nothing but a bunch of insensitive jerks who don't care about their fellow team members.


Embracing ignorance


I'll admit, I'm not the most socially or politically aware person out there. But I'm also aware that even though issues like racial and gender inequalities happen around us every day and we can't possibly stop everyone in this world, it's necessary to avoid that issue within an organisation. Imagine having to work in the same room with an ignorantly sexist team leader and a pretentious, unconsciously racist HR manager — if that's not hell then I don't know what is. Not only do good companies know that it's not cool to joke about these things, they also shouldn't bring up topics about religion especially when beliefs is such a huge issue in this country. No matter how upfront a person is, there's always a line to draw when it comes to jokes especially when you're trying your best to keep a solid team with strangers.


Hypocritical partiality


For me, integrity is everything. When I work in a team or follow a leadership, I want that experience to be honest, wise and fair. I do not condone favoritism in work environment as I find that contradicts what most self-righteous bosses would say. It’s a little bit ironic too since most companies or higher ups will always tell you to leave personal feelings at home yet it’s alright for them to do so. I’ve witnessed and experienced firsthand what it’s like to be led by a two-faced leader who’d glorify an employee by trash talking the other just to win them over and honestly, I just can’t stomach that. It’s disgusting and unprofessional. Not only does this creates conflict between the individual employee and the boss, it will also damage the overall teamwork.


High turnover


By the time this happens, one should probably question why people are slowly heading for the door. While resignation doesn’t always mean toxic work environment, do consider certain factors such as what or how the environment has affected them. If it leads to frequent dysfunctional, poor morale and judgment, it’s no wonder people are going to start leaving. It took me a year and more to realise that I was exploited to overwork and be submissive about not getting any bonus. I had to constantly force myself to work fast even though I knew my boss was always going to complain about how I was never fast enough for him. It took me quite a long time to figure out that I deserved better. Even so, in the end, I was the second employee in that small team to walk out the door.

Aside from the things I mentioned above, I do believe that we have to trust our instinct from time to time. This probably sounds weird coming from someone who tend to run away from her feelings and see them as a nuisance but trust me on this one. If your gut says that this isn't the job or workplace for you, maybe think about that for a moment. If your boss or the company you work for tells you to throw away your integrity just to reach a score, don't listen to them. I know that we all need some cash to pay for bills but some things are just not worth it. I've heard stories about how some companies force their employees to get their hands dirty just to score something big and will fire those who refuse to be corrupted. It's an insane capitalist world we live in, folks. I don't know about you but for me, my integrity is my soul and I will not let them rip me apart like that.