It doesn't have to be toxic at work
We work in an industry that’s full of passionate people. Doing what you like and getting paid for it is a privilege and a curse. We’re vulnerable to workaholism and its harmful effects. One of them may be staying too long in a place where we shouldn’t be. I have had several such projects in my life. I was doing overtime because I felt responsible: for the project, for the team, and probably also for my pride. Sometimes I didn’t log all the hours into the timesheet because I thought that the company was doing me a favour, that I had a project where I did exciting things. I was learning a lot, doing stuff I liked but burning out slowly.
Of course, it ended with moments of extreme psychophysical exhaustion. Worse, you can only find out that you’re in such a state when you break the vicious circle. Getting the proper perspective is hard if you’re in it, especially if you stayed in it for too long. It becomes our norm when we are in a cesspool, and everything is dirty. Unfortunately, the body cannot deceive itself. It is not only about physical health but, above all, mental health. Being in a state of permanent stress, fatigue, and toxic project relationships does not leave us indifferent. Worse, it’s not like you change the job, wash your hands, and it magically starts to be okay. Some of these changes are irreversible. A mental injury requires the same recovery as a physical injury. If we break a leg, we must take care of it and adequately undergo rehabilitation. We may no longer play our favourite sport if we break it several times. Best not to break at all.
Many times I wasn’t great at caring about my mental safety. It is dangerous if you’re an employee but even worse if you’re a team leader. Fortunately, I had enough oil in my head that I never demanded overtime or even passion from employees. Of course, I tried to motivate them to grow but not to put additional pressure. Of course, I certainly didn’t always succeed. As a father of a 3 years old child, I see many similarities between raising a kid and handling a team. People in your group, like your child, will react like a sponge. They will absorb all your practices and the atmosphere you created. Both good and bad behaviour. What’s worse, the more powerful and impactful the unconscious message and vibes you send between words. You may not say anything, but the message is sent. If the leader replies at any strange time, sends e-mails at weird times or talks on Slack, even if it does not require writing back, he subconsciously lets you know that this is the norm. It shouldn’t be.
I have an unpopular opinion that I am glad that there will be more people from boot camps and, therefore, less passion for our profession. Hopefully, this will introduce a more rational approach. I hope there will be less “because I had to”, a blind race for self-development, which is often used by employers for their benefits. Even during job interviews or one-to-ones, emotional blackmail sometimes occurs that “well, we will not give money, but we will give a chance to learn it”. It would be much healthier if both sides treated it as a business. So, for instance: “I offer such wage for fulfilling such requirements, I expect following effort”. We either agree or not. That’s also why I don’t like the recent fashion for equity, compensation, etc. This just blurry the agreement and expectations. Usually for the employer’s benefit.
If you’re in a toxic environment, leave it. Of course, try to change it first and ensure the issue is not in you. But if you don’t see improvement and are still feeling bad, just leave. Don’t call yourself a quitter. It’s self-defence. Staying in a toxic environment changes you. Sometimes those changes are irreversible. You may not notice that, but your close ones will.
A healthy work environment is not based on fruit delivery on Thursday and beer on Friday. It is not a curved screen for half a room. This is a place where we feel safe and know what is expected of us and that these expectations are rational. A place where there is less passion but explicit contract and fulfilment of them. The employer should organize work so that the employee can focus on it during working hours, including the required development and learning. The employee should be encouraged to take their time after work to recharge. The employer should not require this. On the other hand, the employees should focus on doing what they agreed and do that effectively during working hours.
And above all. There is a payment for the work getting done. No hidden emotional blackmailing.
That’s a transparent deal and, I think, a healthier one.
p.s. If you liked this article, check also Agile vs Introverts and What does a construction failure have to do with our authorities?.
p.s.2. Ukraine is still under brutal Russian invasion. A lot of Ukrainian people are hurt, without shelter and need help. You can help in various ways, for instance, directly helping refugees, spreading awareness, putting pressure on your local government or companies. You can also support Ukraine by donating e.g. to Red Cross, Ukraine humanitarian organisation or donate Ambulances for Ukraine.