With Shirley Adrain, The WIP Empowerment Coach
When you are job-seeking, getting the right role seems to be the biggest hurdle. Often in the job search, we research the position and company thoroughly, but overlook researching what the company culture is like. In fact, the job may be perfect but the culture is far from it - which can lead to stress and self-doubt. Being happy in your environment is just as important as being happy in your role, and both can have an impact on your performance and career progression.
Recently the Resilience Coach Nerice Gietel answered questions from the WIP community about dealing with subtle office politics. Now the Empowerment Coach Shirley Adrain helps us tackle more overt bullying and harassment.
Q: What are the signs of bullying or a toxic work environment that you should look out for?
It can be difficult to label behaviours as toxic when you first come across them. You might think that you are being over sensitive or simply unfamiliar with a new workplace dynamic. While it is useful to not jump to conclusions - maybe that first interaction is a reflection of someone’s bad day and not a personal attack - it is important to establish boundaries about how you believe you should be treated. If you’re not sure what you are experiencing constitutes bullying or harassment, ask a friend, family member or colleague that you trust for their opinion. Shirley also recommends looking out for the following behaviours to help you identify whether you work in a toxic environment:
Q: When should you present your evidence of harassment, and to whom?
It is natural not to want to deal with situations of conflict, and it feels even more uncomfortable when you don’t have the tools to deal with it. However, Shirley encourages you not to fail (or wait) to report the issue. Arrange an informal chat to someone to your Human Resources department to get their guidance on how to approach this. “You can also try to stop the bullying behaviour by quickly and tactfully pointing it out to the bully in calm and non-emotive language,” says Shirley. Here is one way to do this:
‘When you…’ (enter bullying behaviour e.g. ‘shout at me in front of my clients’),
‘This…’ (enter impact on you, e.g. ‘makes my clients question my capability, and this looks bad on all of us’).
‘In future, can you please...’ (enter what you want to happen e.g. ‘talk to me in private in a calm manner so I can understand the issue and we can discuss and resolve it).
Q: What are the next steps after you have presented your evidence?
If you don’t get a response from HR or see any improvement, ask for a follow up meeting. If your company seems to be stalling the process, it is useful to know what legal recourse you have in your area. The UK, US and Hong Kong legislation information can be found below. If you find you’re being penalised as a result of your actions, then you can seek external help from an equal opportunities commissions or organisations in your area. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done in some regions to legally stop bullying and harassment in the workplace. Therefore, if your company response is not positive, then it’s time to start looking for another job with a company with a more positive culture and better working environment. Seek the advice of a coach to support you in this process.
Q: How can you stay positive while working in a toxic work environment?
At work find one of two friends at work whom you can confide in and focus on supporting each other, but not gossiping. “Keep your integrity at work and don’t emulate the negative behaviours you see around you,” says Shirley. “Take learnings from this experience on how to spot ineffective leaders and how to act appropriately when you become a leader.”
If you realise that the work culture is not going to change in the near future, it’s time to weigh up the role and decide if there are enough good points to stay. If so, find ways to do more of what you really enjoy at work, to help keep you positive while also growing your skills. Alternatively, make a plan to move roles, move departments or raise a formal grievance and potentially remove the person who is harassing/bullying you. If not, make a plan to find another job, remembering that it’s always easier to move jobs when you are already in a job.
If you’re not sure about what consistent workplace bullying or harassment, check out these legislations for the US, the UK and Hong Kong
"Change has to start somewhere, and cultures won’t miraculously be different overnight. But if you contribute to building a positive environment, you are contributing to a better experience for everyone - including the bottom line for the company.”