Three Considerations for Employees Working in Toxic Work Cultures

The Great Resignation has caused many companies to reevaluate their practices, procedures, and policies to assess ways to create better environments to retain employees. Despite companies’ desire to mitigate attrition, organizations continue to fail employees, and especially those from racially marginalized communities. For Millennials and Gen Z workers in particular, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is high on their priority list. Despite what some have called the racial reckoning that was unleashed in the summer of 2020, many organizations have returned to their racist origins; old habits are indeed difficult to eradicate. Rachel Gurjar and Sahara Henry-Bohoskey are two millennial women who shared their experiences with exclusionary workplace behavior from their former employer. What Gurjar and Henry-Bohoskey endured echoes what so many employees from racially marginalized communities face in their respective workplaces. In an ideal situation, all employees would simply leave toxic and exclusive work environments. The reality is, for many people, that’s just not an option. This article aims to elucidate three important considerations for employees, particularly from marginalized communities, who operate in toxic work environments.

1. Document your experiences. Research indicates that 57% of people quit their job because of a manager. One of the biggest sources of harm to employees is toxic leadership. What many employees report is a lack of accountability among leaders. In an email, Gurjar reflected on what employees in these situations can do. “If you find yourself on your own without colleagues willing to support you, please document everything that happens as much as possible.” Be sure to keep records and documents of the harm you suffered. Henry-Bohoskey in an email shared, “The most powerful thing is to have proof. Keep everything in writing if you can, because once you realize you’re in a bad place, it’s too late. It’s important now to protect yourself If employees report their experiences to management or their HR department, it will be helpful to have a paper trail or documentation.

2. Speak. Every employee has the power to use their voice to try to influence change. If there are others in the organization who have endured the same pain, there is power and strength in numbers. Getting together with these employees and having discussions about shared experiences, at the very least, can provide a safe space to navigate this type of environment. Gurjar shared, “It’s important to communicate with people at your level to see if they are witnessing or going through the same thing. This way you can support each other and remember that you are not sharing your collective experiences with leaders is an option. is important to note that talking is not without risks. Although retaliation is illegal in the United States, there are countless instances of employees speaking up and being ousted from their respective organizations. “Speak up,” Henry-Bohoskey shared, “knowing that there is a possibility of being blackballed or receiving retaliation, because sometimes standing up to bullies and gatekeepers is the only way to implement change. abusers will only continue to inflict pain on others after you are gone.

3. Encourage continuous training. Part of the reason inequities can persist within organizations is a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the exact issues employees face. Often leaders a) don’t know they are causing damage and b) don’t understand how to mitigate that damage. In some cases, leaders recognize that employees are being harmed but don’t care to rectify or fix it, or don’t prioritize resolving these issues. Using external consultants and outside entities can be helpful. “Unfortunately for Rachel and I,” Henry-Bohoskey explained, “we didn’t have an HR department to go to, which is why it’s so important to have an impartial party adjudicating the complaint.” Gurjar says that “reading anti-racist articles is just the bare minimum. Instead of, [have] an appropriate budget for external DEI experts to come in for regular trainings and help identify gaps and implement actionable plans and solutions for employees at all levels, especially at the top. It allows real dollars to go into the hands of racialized people who have made this kind of work their job. Investing in DEI education will show employees that leadership prioritizes creating more equitable spaces for all employees. Employees should advocate for continuous and ongoing training for leaders and staff members. It can even be helpful for employees to suggest specific practitioners, educators, and consultants the company can invest in.

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