In a podcast last week, Cleveland Clinic psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD, talked about how to take the poison out of a toxic workplace.
“If a workplace is toxic, productivity goes down and absences go up,” said Dr. Chivonna Childs at online program, Coping with a Toxic Work Environment. She noted, “When we’re working in an any environment that’s toxic, we can feel isolated…and it can lead to depression, sleeplessness, and poor appetite. It can attack our self-esteem.”
Even people with a strong work ethic and a love for their work can be affected by a toxic environment. Dr. Childs explained that people in this situation might start calling off more because they don’t feel well physically. They may have muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches. When they think about work, they feel sick. “There may be times when you literally can’t get out of bed, and that can be the depression, or you’re so anxious that you’re nauseated,” Dr. Childs said. Even when you do manage to get to work, she added, “You’re not productive and your creativity isn’t there. So if you have all of these things happening, the workplace is suffering as well.”
What are some characteristics of a toxic workplace? Dr. Childs suggested the following:
- People feel bullied by their boss or others.
- Bosses are overdemanding and have unreasonable expectations of workers.
- Micromanaging bosses make workers feel suffocated, trapped, and controlled.
- There is a culture of blame, where people are afraid of making mistakes, expressing concerns, asking questions, or speaking up about problems.
While some workers will walk away from a toxic workplace, Dr. Childs said, some don’t feel they have that luxury. Most vulnerable, she suggested, are “new employees and those who feel like they cannot lose their jobs. People out here are paying their bills, and they can’t afford not to have their employment.” When employers know this about an employee, they sometimes will take advantage of this – giving the person extra hours, making them work weekends, and/or not providing appropriate financial compensation.
Dr. Childs suggested, “If you’re having to do things that make you uncomfortable, follow your gut. We have intuition for a reason. Listen to your body, listen to your senses. And if you feel it’s a problem, tap a trusted colleague, a trusted coworker.” She stressed, “Build a trusted support system that you can go to.”
Workers should be encouraged to talk to HR if they feel that they are dealing with a toxic workplace. At the same time, she emphasized, “Another thing that I’ve just learned through working in different places and being in a toxic work environment is document, document, document.” Write down the time, dates, and quick bullet points of what happened.
It may not be possible to change a toxic workplace, but self-care is essential to coping and determining what the next move should be. Dr. Childs said, “We have to be inventive about ways we can still advocate for ourselves.” For instance, make and keep plans to do things for yourself on your off hours. Whether that means a spa day, lunch with a friend, a hike in the woods, or an afternoon at a museum, find things you enjoy and make them part of your schedule. At work, make a few minutes for meditation, deep breathing, listening to a favorite song, or something else to get centered.
“You have to learn to prioritize yourself, and it will make everything else better. It will give you some clarity, and then you can decide what you want to do about your job,” said Dr. Childs.
She also talked about the power of “no.” She said, “I always tell people ‘no’ is a complete sentence. You just don’t walk up to your boss and say, ‘No, I’m not doing this.’ We want to be respectful. But as workers, we do have rights.” She added, “Setting boundaries and sticking to them is important.”
Click here for a transcript of Dr. Childs’ program.