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7 Steps to Navigating a Toxic Work Culture

Most of us have worked at least one job in our life that we did not like. Maybe the work was boring, the job was demanding, or we felt like we were underappreciated. It’s never easy to go to a job we don’t enjoy, but the struggle is heightened when we find ourselves in a toxic work environment. A toxic work environment takes a bad situation to an entirely different level. It’s no longer a matter of your job not being a good fit for you, but it is a situation where you no longer feel emotionally safe at your job. An emotionally safe environment is a place where you feel secure, valued, and respected. In a healthy workplace, there is a level of trust amongst your peers and those in leadership.


Navigating a toxic work culture through Christian counselling in 60637


In contrast, an emotionally unsafe environment is a place where trust is fragmented, and those in leadership do not care about your best interest. There might be a lack of respect demonstrated by those in your workplace, where gossip, backstabbing, and office cliques are common trends. To make matters worse, some of us have experienced high levels of racism, sexism, ageism, or other “isms” in the workplace that have diminished our personhood and caused tremendous harm.


These are just a few examples of an emotionally unsafe environment that has created a toxic work culture. Sadly, many people have found themselves in this type of workplace and do not fully understand the magnitude of how this environment is negatively impacting them. To help you identify if you are working in a Toxic Work Environment, answer the following questions by stating yes or no.


Am I working in a Toxic workplace environment?

  1. Do people constantly gossip and talk about people behind their backs at my job?

  2. Does my workplace lack accountability that is fair and equitable amongst every employee?

  3. Have I experienced discrimination of some sort in the workplace that was reported but not addressed?

  4. When I have a problem at work, I feel like I can’t bring it to my supervisor because nothing will be done about it.

  5. Do I feel like I can’t trust any of the people who I work with?

  6. Has my supervisor or coworkers disrespected me without apologizing or experiencing any consequences?

  7. Do I feel anxious, angry, or depressed every time I think about going to my job?


Sadly, if you answered yes to more than 3 of these questions, you are most likely in a toxic work environment. And if you are, you have probably experienced some form of trauma. Anytime we experience a deeply painful event that induces a feeling of fear, horror, or helplessness, we have experienced trauma.


For example, we can experience a traumatic event in the workplace if a colleague or supervisor betrays us. We can also experience trauma as the result of microaggression or harassment. If you happen to work at your place of worship, the magnitude of the harm is amplified because it can also result in spiritual trauma or church hurt. One cannot remain in this type of environment without it impacting them in several ways.


The thought of showing up to work can provoke trauma responses such as anxiety, anger, flashbacks, and insomnia that can directly impact our health. When the stress becomes too much to bear, some might resort to coping mechanisms such as drinking, overeating, shopping, drugs, or other behaviors to try to numb the pain that they have endured in their toxic work environment. Although these coping methods might temporarily reduce the pain, some corrective measures must occur if you find yourself in this situation. Below are a few recommendations to consider.


Document Everything!

One of the first rules of thumb when navigating a toxic work environment is to document everything. If you begin to notice certain trends or actions that are problematic, write them down. In some cases, the documentation might be in the form of an email that you send to someone reporting the issue. If it is a verbal conversation, keep a little journal nearby where you can take notes and reference dates and occurrences of the issue. This will help you to identify patterns, and it will also help ensure that you are prepared if the situation begins to escalate.


Educate Yourself On Your Rights

Review your agency handbook to determine if certain internal policy violations have been made. If so, one of your first steps might be to take the issue to the HR department, which we will explore in more detail below. In certain instances, the offense is not only a company policy violation but also illegal on a state or federal level. Knowing your rights based on state and federal laws, as well as your company policy, is critical. Do your research to determine your rights so you can be equipped with the information necessary to advocate for yourself in the next few steps.


Navigating a toxic work culture through Christian counselling in 60637


Consider Addressing the Individual(s) who have caused harm

When someone has done something wrong to offend or hurt you, it's always good to consider talking to that person directly to address the matter. Sometimes having a candid yet professional conversation with individuals who have caused the offense can help to correct the behavior and potentially bring about change. However, sometimes it is not safe for you to address someone directly. Maybe there is a power dynamic at play, or maybe that person has demonstrated that they are not open to receiving your feedback. If you cannot address the individual(s) directly, consider talking to their supervisor or exploring the company whistle-blower policy that the HR department typically manages.


Speak to Your HR Department

If you cannot address the people involved in the offense directly, sometimes your next best step is to talk to your Human Resources (HR) department. One of the roles of the HR department is to serve as an unbiased party that upholds the company policy and ensures that employee rights are being maintained. If that does not occur, the HR department is required to step in. They will walk you through what steps you can take to potentially submit a grievance, receive mediation, or another form of support.


Due to the volatility of the situation, you might feel uncomfortable submitting a complaint out of fear of retaliation. If that happens, you can ask to submit your claim anonymously to your HR department. This process is common for corporations and larger entities but would not be helpful for someone who works for a small organization or church that doesn’t have an HR department. If that is the case, you might consider looking into legal representation.


Consider Legal Representation

Although we hear about people filing lawsuits on the news all of the time, most of us never thought we might be in a position that compels us to sew our employers. However, sometimes things have escalated to the point where we have to consider getting legal representation. Deciding to file a lawsuit is an action that should not be taken lightly. It requires a lot of time, effort, and emotions to see it all the way through. However, it never hurts to talk to an attorney to understand your legal options. For some, the cost of an attorney might prevent them from getting the support they need.

Fortunately, there are nonprofit agencies that provide free legal advice and representation if you are within a certain income bracket. Consider doing a quick google search on free legal clinics to learn about the programs in your area.


Navigating a toxic work culture through Christian counselling in 60637

Leave the Workplace

At some point, enough is enough. If you have done everything that you can possibly do to advocate for yourself, to explore your legal options, and yet nothing is changing, it might be time to leave. The reality is, the longer you stay in this environment, the more your health and well-being are at risk. For obvious reasons, it is scary to leave a stable job, especially when you have bills and others relying on you. But what is the price of your peace and well-being? That’s priceless! And even if you feel stuck in “golden handcuffs” due to the great health benefits or salary your employer offers you, remember God is your source and provider. He has taken care of you thus far, and He will continue to do so.


Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


This is a word that we can stand on. So remember, it’s not God’s will for you to continue to be abused or mistreated, even if it’s under the guise of a well-paying job.


Identify a Counselor

If you have taken all of these steps, I am pretty sure you are emotionally drained and ready to pull your hair out. In hostile and volatile situations like this, you need a safe space to talk about what is going on. Frankly, you might not always feel comfortable talking to your spouse or close friends about the drama that is overwhelming you at work. In cases like this, it can be extremely helpful to work with a counselor. A counselor can help you process and talk through your options while also helping you to heal from the trauma that you have experienced at work.


If you need help finding a Christian counselor to help you navigate a toxic work environment, please visit our website at https://www.faithonthejourney.org/counselors





About the Author

Rev Jocelyn J. Jones


Rev. Jocelyn J. Jones is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in journalism. After earning her B.A., Jocelyn worked for channel 20, WYCC. She left the television industry to serve as the Executive Director of the ARK of St. Sabina, a youth center on Chicago’s Southside. While at the ARK, Jocelyn earned her master’s degree from the University of Chicago in social work. Tragically, the lives of several families she served were shattered due to gun violence. Those experiences and her own quest for emotional healing inspired her to establish her company, Faith on the Journey Counseling. Jocelyn earned her master’s degree in theological studies from McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister, a training facilitator with the Trauma Healing Institute, and the author of the book Breaking the Power of the Mask.


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