A little while ago I found myself in a really bad job. The work itself was fine, but the atmosphere was stifling; in an open plan office of around 40 people there were frequent screaming matches, a dangerous post-work drinking culture and plenty of people made to pack up their desks and leave for good, in the middle of the day, in front of everybody.
I only lasted a matter of months and most of my work pals left around the same time. We became something of a survivor’s group, updating each other on recent firings, walkouts and other drama. So how do you deal with the fallout from a toxic workplace – one that’s still taking its toll on your self-esteem and mental health long after you’re gone?
Millennials are hardly a CEO’s best friend
In the same year that it was revealed British millennials have the second worst mental health in the world, a CBI study of business leaders showed that a third of companies are dissatisfied with graduates’ attitude to work. It seems like many of us are making ourselves sick trying to fit into working environments that aren’t set up for us – and I’m not talking about bean bags and sleeping pods, but things like a lack of flexible working, and no understanding of what graduates can bring to the table.
The newest, youngest and least senior employees still have rights
With the job market being as saturated and unstable as it is, once you’ve found a job it’s easy to overlook issues like pay discrimination, dodgy contracts and lack of benefits simply because you’re so glad you’re in employment.
Young people are also more likely to put up with poor working conditions because they don’t have anything to compare it to. How are we supposed to know our entitlements if this is our first role? The atmosphere and progression opportunities of smaller companies attract lots of millennials – but they’re also the places least likely to have dedicated HR departments.
Workplace sexism hits us hardest, too
Young people – particularly young women – are indebted to the trailblazers of our industries, those who came before us to tackle sexism in the workplace and ascend to roles previously only occupied by white men.
However, the struggle is far from over. A recent study showed that one in five women has been sexually harassed in the workplace, and also revealed what the Telegraph called a ‘significant age divide’:
19 per cent [of those surveyed] aged 18-34 said they had experienced workplace sexual harassment, compared to seven per cent of those aged over 55.
Let’s not forget, too, that trans, non-binary, disabled and minority ethnic employees have issues of sexism and ageism compounded by the other forms of discrimination they routinely face. Studies have shown that the gender pay gap is worse for black women, while a survey of the Irish trans community found that nearly a third had been verbally abused at work for being trans.
I had to learn that your job does not define you
One thing that a toxic job teaches you is to not hinge your personality on your career aspirations. It’s no easy task considering that from the moment we hit secondary school we’re quizzed about our future by teachers, parents, and career advisors – but learning that there’s more that makes you you than your 9-5 is a really important discovery.
When I first left, I was heartbroken and felt it was my fault that I hadn’t been able to make this job ‘work’. I wondered if the problem actually lied with me, and that I really was an entitled twenty-something who wasn’t cut out for going in every day and taking orders. That’s not an easy thought to swallow at the very beginning of your working life.
I can assure you now that if you’re thinking the same thing, the fault almost definitely doesn’t lie with you. I was able to find a different company that treats its staff with respect, and my career has huge prospects again.
Not everyone can leave like I did
It’s a privilege to leave a toxic job, particularly if you leave with nothing to move on to. I had a little money saved up and no co-dependents so could live very frugally for the month that I was between jobs. For those with childcare needs, disabilities, or other responsibilities it’s a very different story.
If you’re still stuck in your toxic workplace, waiting for the right time to get out, have courage. Courage to report behaviour that’s out of line, to move on to something better when you can and to understand that you are bigger, better and fiercer than this role.
Milkround is a graduate jobs website committed to giving students and graduates career confidence, and that means conquering fears of finding, applying and making that first step on the career ladder. With Milkround you get direct access to employers, with no mystery jobs and no unpaid internships. Find your perfect role here
The views in this series are those of the author and not necessarily those of Milkround.