As we enter adult life, the lines of what is acceptable can sometimes get blurred – particularly when measuring this against a workplace or our own careers. Theoretically, we would all put our hands up and say that the morals and ethics we carry in our personal lives should be wielded in their entirety into our 9-5 existence. However, so often this is not the case.
I have been in this situation – whereby I found I was working in one of the most toxic and unethical workplaces possible. I was consistently witnessing situations that were socially unacceptable and borderline bullying, but somehow I justified them in my head in order to convince myself that, in this context, it wasn’t actually all that bad. I had subconsciously, without even realising, skewed my morals and values in order to fit into that context and not turn the spotlight onto myself by going against the majority.
To compound this, I was slowly but surely becoming that angry person in the corner that unexpectedly snapped at people. When I wasn’t verbalising this negativity, I was instead staring metaphorical daggers at colleagues out of my misplaced frustration. All of a sudden, I had become someone that I wasn’t; I had given in to the toxicity of the environment around me without even knowing it. It honestly felt like I had morphed from a peace-loving, kind, caring individual into an apathetic hypocrite that turned a blind eye to unethical behaviour, when it occurred in a context in which I had something to lose by speaking up.
What I eventually came to realise was that I couldn’t completely change the situation that was at play in my workplace. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I kept bumping my head against a brick wall when attempting to change the culture. The conclusion that I eventually came to was that the only thing I could control was myself, my own behaviour and how I treated others. I made a commitment to carry the values of kindness, sincerity and honour that I so valued in my personal life into that of my working existence. I understood that in order to survive and keep the essence of who I was intact while working there, I needed to draw up a plan. And this is what it was:
- Always treat others with respect and dignity, regardless of the environment or situation.
- Do your 7.5 hours of work, then walk out the door and leave all of the negativity behind once you step off that doorstep.
- Take regular breaks, go outside and enjoy the beauty and splendour of nature.
- Laugh hard, heartily and as often as you can.
- Remind yourself of who you are, what you believe in and what you are willing to put up with.
- Don’t let others’ bad behaviour influence your own.
- Stick up for what you believe in and speak up against unethical behaviour whenever you can.
- Listen to your inner voice and nurture your kindness at all times.
Let’s face it, we live in a world in which we can’t all the time afford to just give up and walk away when we see something that we don’t like. In a career sense, this is heightened by so many things around putting up and shutting up in order to invest in career progression. I am by no means advocating publicly standing on a podium and calling everyone in your workplace out on their bad behaviour. What I am saying is always take the time to remind yourself of who you are and how you would like to be treated. Remember the values that you yourself carry, and don’t tarnish them by justifying someone else’s bad behaviour. Look inward in situations that are toxic and focus on how you carry yourself.
In the end, I had to weigh up what was best for me. Would I stay and continue operating the way I was but risking my own identity by doing so? Personally, I decided to (eventually) walk away and invest in myself and my innate nurturing nature that I was losing by staying still. That was my personal choice and it might not fit for others. Regardless, I never would have survived as long as I did had I not looked inward and reminded myself that it is possible to operate ethically, morally and with dignity in an unethical workplace. So stay strong ladies!
Sabene is an aid and development worker, blogger, advocate and all around amazing woman. Based in Melbourne, Australia, she is proudly Sri-Lankan Australian and being a Melbournian, enjoys her daily skinny latte. She regularly puts her thoughts to paper for Lumi as well as her own blog I blog for change .