Our social media is often flooded with posts on the mental health of actors, artists, entrepreneurs, other big people, etc. They share their stories of how they got to the top, battling what not – and nobody is taking that away from them. Their struggles are real, but so are ours – the struggles of the employees or the ones people in power so easily toss away.
For someone who is and has constantly engaged with young people through various platforms, and as someone who is now working full-time in the field of mental health and well-being of young people, I cannot go forward without talking about what it’s been like to have my own mental health affected because of certain toxic conditions in the workplace.
I have worked in many capacities in different organisations – full-time, part-time, freelancer, volunteering, intern, etc. All of the places that I have worked in are well-reputed organisations that really believe in the values that they portray. However, they haven’t been able to fully create the same set of values within the workspace. Honestly, I don’t know who to blame because work is hard and it isn’t possible to look at everything, every time. Anyway, I know for sure who is not to be blamed – me.
In the last two years, I have encountered several toxic situations as well as toxic people during work. I have met people who enjoy calling out other people’s mistakes on WhatsApp groups and Slack channels with an underlying intent to humiliate, I have met people in power who don’t own up their mistakes, but scream at you in meetings just because you questioned their authority. I have worked with people who have been downright rude and insensitive to their co-worker’s needs, seniors who have probably manipulated bosses to get their not-so-favourites laid off and who knows what else!
These people are real and unfortunately, they are usually found in powerful executive positions. But at the same time, I cannot deny that I have been around some wonderful positive people as well, who have always been a support system across the places I have worked in and have been approachable despite their high positions.
Why am I talking about toxic behaviours, though?
The point behind talking about insensitive and aggressively dominant behaviour at the workplace is that it can lead to a lot of mental breakdowns. It’s true – take it from someone who has been through it. There were two winter months that made me feel all sorts of things. Waking up in the morning had become the hardest thing, and then going to a place that didn’t even like you for eight hours was another challenge altogether. I kept asking myself, “Why me?” but never found my answer. I don’t even want one anymore.
But what I do know and want to address is how certain experiences have shaped the way I look at myself now. Those winter months had a major role to play in making me afraid of so many things in my current workplace – which, to be honest, is the best so far. I lack confidence, I feel anxious on many days, I stress over tiny things like forgetting to CC an email (and guess what, I’m not even supposed to CC every damn mail I send, yet I freak out!)
Do you understand how certain experiences have shaped me? Do you understand how every rude message, every passive-aggressive statement, every freelance story not respected, every volunteer engagement not taken seriously and every ‘tiny situation’ kept piling up till it all became too toxic? This isn’t just me, this is the story of so many people who feel the pressure every day, and are treated like machines rather than human beings.
I’m sure this piece would resonate with many people, and at the same time cause a lot of discomfort to those in power and those who use or let others use their power in a destructive way. I’m still working on a lot of damage done to me by certain situations, but my biggest problem is the way all of this has been normalised because this shouldn’t be normal.
Treating people you work with terribly is not normal, being unfair to them is not normal. Nobody deserves to be treated poorly – this is a belief so many organisations have, yet when it comes to the way their own employees are treated, the motto is forgotten.
I hope someday, we can all move on and be more understanding of one another, because this is not impossible. It is power trips that people go on that make this impossible. And, I believe that once everyone understands the need to be grounded, there will be better working environments which can get more work done than screaming and shouting in a conference room can.