We shouldn't just have to "survive" a toxic workplace
How do you survive a toxic workplace? For a while, I thought that I was the only person who struggled to get out of bed each morning because the thought of clocking in at my regular 9 to 5 filled me with anxiety. It turns out that I’m not. Over the past couple of days, I’ve had several unplanned discussions with some of my girlfriends about trying to make it to the end of the workday. Casual catch up conversations turned into deep, almost tear ridden, confessions about our struggles to survive at our jobs. I’m clearly not the only one who dreams of a workplace filled with black women, mid-day naps, and a Champagne fountain.
I wish I could say that I walk into work every morning like Olivia Pope strutting into the White House or Cookie Lyon strolling in to Empire Records. Truthfully, I walk in every morning looking like Sophia stomping through the corn fields. “All my life I had to fight” is so accurate that it’s scary. Every day on the job can feel like a fight when you’re the only minority, especially if you’re a black woman. How do you make it through the day when you’re constantly being put through the ringer, over-scrutinized and over criticized while your white partners seems to skate on by? How do you survive when it seems like you’re the only competent person in the entire building? How do you stay out of jail when it seems like every person in your office has made it their personal mission to push your buttons? I swear, some days I sit at my desk and in my head I repeat, “Try me today if you want. Come on. I dare you. In fact, I double dog dare you motherfucker. Try. Me!”
And while you’re dealing with these things, you have to manage your own feelings around being treated unfairly. Why are you doing all the work and why are you doing jobs that are outside of the scope of your work? I've dealt with this several times and inevitably when I put my foot down about something, I get called into the office for being difficult or having an attitude. There are moments after a confrontation happens, where I slink back to my desk after being chastised for no fucking reason and just watch the clock until it’s time to leave. And if it’s not this, something will happen to make me doubt myself and my own abilities. I know that I am more than capable of doing my job and I’m far more intelligent than the average person, but the wrong words from an angry white woman when she’s having a bad day can cause me to doubt everything that I’ve ever done.
Some of my friends don’t have issues as intense as this in their workplace. Some of them feel like they’re not being properly utilized or fulfilling their highest potential. Some of them feel like they are under constant scrutiny and that they can’t have one bad moment for fear of being called out or fired. To be a Black woman in the workplace means to be “on” at all times, and that’s just facts. And, it’s tiring as hell. If you're like me, and you try to contain all of these feelings and tell yourself that you just have to make it 5 p.m., know that they will inevitably spill outwards into your daily life. “I just have to make it through the day” will turn into “I’m just trying to survive PERIOD.”
So, how do you deal with it? Let me share what has worked for me:
- Do whatever you can to not take the frustration and bullshit of the workday home with you. Take a walk around the block several times before going home. Go to the gym and work out frustrations. Schedule a happy hour with your friends or go sit in a park. Just don’t drag the bullshit home with you.
- Take a mental health day where you can. If you can’t afford to take the day off, don’t eat lunch in your office. Eat it outside or in another part of the building. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel just by simply not eating lunch at your desk.
- Find a hobby. It can be anything. Tennis, crocheting, writing, reading, puppeteering. It doesn’t fucking matter. Find something that you can look forward to in your down time.
- SELF CARE, SELF CARE, SELF FUCKING CARE.
- Decide whether your job is your passion or if it’s just something you’re doing until you can commit to your passion full time. If your job is your passion and you’re still unhappy, decide whether or not you have to be at that job to fulfill your life’s dream. What other options are available to you? And if you’re just doing this job and you can move to greener pastures, ask yourself the same damn question.
- Talk to your friends. Rely on them. They’re probably going through the same shit as you and could use someone to talk to as well.
What have you done to eradicate toxicity in your workplace? Let us know in the comments.