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.Giphy
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”.Giphy
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.Giphy
"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.Giphy
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.
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Featured image by Getty Images.