Unhealthy Workplace Stresses You Need To Break Free From

"We", The Workplace and Where You Got Me F**ked Up At

Workin' Girl

If you've been keeping up with my "balancing a 9-5 with dreams of being a famous writer struggle," you know that my past four years in non-profits have been tumultuous.

Between lay-offs and navigating small office politics with big boss egos, my "Come to Jesus" moments have been plentiful. In fact, he probably has me on unfollow for 30 days on his personal Facebook because he's tired of hearing my repeated prayers to work in a place with people who actually want to work, who spend their days excited about the mission instead of the latest office gossip with managers who think that their responsibilities end where their titles begin.

Thankfully for me, sometime at the beginning of December, the stars aligned in my career constellation: I stood up to a toxic boss, was offered a position at a new organization that had me at "Book Clubs featuring the work of Iyanla Vanzant," and officially gave the peace sign to a job I had literally spent every day surviving for the past two and a half years. With a fresh outlook on my career path as I start the new year (with a week off solely for reflection), I decided that as difficult at the past few years in the workplace have been for me, they would be a complete waste without taking away a few lessons that will not only help me continue to navigate my career path as a better professional, but a more balanced person.

Even your worst work experiences can potentially give you tools for success if you know what to look for. Here are several points where the workplace had me f**ked up at and how I learned to dodge the pitfalls and punches like Adonis Creed:

1. Colleagues and Supervisors who Blur Boundaries.

Keep your airpods close and your Tidal playlist even closer. We've all witnessed a situation where colleagues mistake your professional politeness for friendship. I had a supervisor who would regularly unload her personal burdens on staff. She'd call the office on her day off just to gossip about her neighbors and side effects of her latest medications. Unfortunately, this led to a situation where she abused her authority and randomly picked when to make things personal or keep it professional. For this reason, I've enlisted several rules:

  • If we haven't had a conversation outside of weather and weekend plans in person, you can hold on to that friend request on social media.
  • I don't follow or befriend anyone online that has a say in my paycheck or performance off-line until I am no longer an employee and/or don't need to use them as a professional reference.
  • It's OK to tell that co-worker to miss you with the details from her drunken weekend and pop in your airpods to listen to the latest track from Travis Scott. When organic friendships form in the workplace, it can be a beautiful thing. But it's more likely you'll make a mess where you make your money when clear boundaries aren't established.

2. Work Culture that Doesn’t Respect your Work/Life Balance.


If you're Ariana Grande or some other A-list celebrity, there will be times where you need to address work concerns outside of the 9-5 work hours. If you're a customer relations specialist, there probably isn't much you can do about Kathy Davis's delivery issues while you're at your daughter's dance recital. For that reason, I encourage you to side-eye any job that requires you to have Outlook on your phone so you can stay informed about work-related matters 24/7. I've always made the best effort as an employee at jobs that focused on people and not policies. The jobs that didn't expect you to dog sled to work through 12 feet of snow or do data entry as soon as you wake up from your Nyquil coma. This is why during many of my job interviews my questions include expectations during inclement weather and family-friendly policies.

While you're navigating your professional path, recognize that paychecks are important but peace of mind should be non-negotiable.

3. Colleagues who Abuse the Word “We”.


Whether it's a protest that you never agreed to be a part of or a co-worker who couldn't hold on to a sick day if it came with command strips but is quick to take credit for a project, the one word I am starting to wish would be eliminated from workplace conversations is "we". Unfortunately, I've been in way too many situations where I've greatly disagreed with colleagues' ideas of what constitutes as teamwork. If you're confused, allow me to provide some clarity.

Teamwork isn't using "we" because you're too afraid to solely own your grievances with another co-worker or supervisor, so you volunteer another colleague's opinion without their permission. It's important to own your individual experience and recognize that it might be drastically different from others, even those present during those same experiences. When you're taking an issue to higher-ups or HR, have the confidence to own your own experience and allow others the opportunity to handle issues how and when they deem it is appropriate.

Teamwork also isn't about being taken advantage of. I've hated group projects since undergrad and understandably everyone is entitled to an off day. However, if a coworker is collecting the same pay for repeatedly doing the bare minimum while you're getting friendly with the cleaning crew from pulling all-nighters on presentations, it may be time for them know that that's not going to work.

4. A Manager whose Work Ends where their Title Begins.


"You have a lot of people in management positions who are poor leaders." This was another gem I dropped in my exit interview, and the VP of Human Resources nearly choked on her kale smoothie. I didn't intend for this statement to be an insult. But there are too many people in leadership positions who believe that management is about delegating, signing timesheets, and putting their Amazon Prime membership to good use for the remainder of the work day. Leaders, however, listen to their team and balance getting the work done with supporting their staff as people first and then professionals. Leaders work side by side with their staff when necessary while still inspiring them and curating their talents in an effort to achieve shared goals.

A few months ago, I overlooked those that abused their authority. I believed nodding my head in agreement while thinking, "Not the f**k today, Shelly," would get me through the work day. I've since learned that nothing changes when people aren't held accountable. I wanted so badly just to come and do my job and get my check while not messing with anyone else's, but the thing is, you can't care more about someone else's job than they do. The person who is getting paid to do the bare minimum is taking up the space from someone who is hustling sideways trying to make ends meet but hasn't been given a break. You don't have to suffer in silence. Take your concerns to those who can support you and actively make change.

5. A Toxic Workplace that Gives you Anxiety Long before your Latte has Cooled Off.


Repeat after me: A toxic workplace is more likely to change you, than you are to change it. I've written about toxic work environments before, and the thing about dysfunctional organizations is that they were probably long in the making before you signed your offer letter, and they will probably take just as long to improve. During my exit interview a week ago, I appreciated that the VP of HR asked me questions about problems I experienced and suggestions on how they could solve them. However, when it comes to your career path, it's OK to be selfish sometimes. A colleague who was piling the responsibilities on her plate in an effort to impress but was quickly burning out, came to me for advice one day and I told her this, "Look around. There are people here who have been here for decades, making six-figure salaries who look like they are silently suffering eight hours a day. Is that how you see your future?"

Recognize your career is only one part of your life. One job doesn't have to make or break your whole life. We all can't be DJ Khaled making salsa moves through our work day, but you should only suffer so much for a paycheck. In the words of my favorite Lakeith Stanfield character: Get out.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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