What makes a workplace toxic might vary for different people, but at the end of the day, there shouldn’t be any compromise on basic decency, respect and professionalism.
One of the most telling qualities of a toxic work environment is usually its ability to cloak its wrongdoings, at least to outsiders. They gently draw unwitting people in, disguising it as a place that prioritizes the best interest of its workers when the opposite is the case. It’s not news that when it comes to scale of importance, the vast majority of companies (if not all) place their progress and profits over the mental or physical well-being of their employees. It’s usually a dicey affair ー employees and employers have dissenting opinions when it comes to what’s most important. Regardless, in spaces of this nature, there’s not only a general disregard for the worker’s wellbeing, leaving the employees to work in harrowing conditions but there’s usually unbearing micromanagement and unrealistic targets set by the higher-ups. Take for example Amazon. It was reported a couple of years back that warehouse workers who worked in the multinational company were forced to pee in bottles or forgo their bathroom breaks entirely because fulfilment demands were too demanding.
While Amazon is obviously a giant organization, making their wrongdoings a lot harder to conceal, much smaller companies are adept at downplaying just how toxic their work environment is. This means that more people are probably unaware of the conditions at such companies and can be easily roped into their toxicity. Personally, I’ve been unlucky to work in a couple of unconducive environments and because of these experiences ー a lot of which I wish I never had ー I’ve become much better at spotting toxic workplaces and so I have decided to share a couple of things to look out for when working or applying to work in a company. These things obviously would be debatable ー we all have varying experiences, values and thresholds ーbut I believe at the end of the day, there shouldn’t be any compromise on basic decency, respect and professionalism.
To begin with, while trying to incorporate a sense of family in a company isn’t inherently bad, I've found that more often than not, it’s sometimes used as a guise to cover up distressing conditions. Some companies want you to feel like ‘a part of the family’, to feel some sense of loyalty like you would feel to your actual family and again, while it’s not bad, it’s sometimes a ploy to take advantage of employees’ naivete. Such toxic workplaces tend to be filled with micro-managers at the helm. They will ensure you are constantly watched and overworked. While this may be a fun new experience for an employee who is eager to people-please, said employee will quickly understand that there is really no satisfying micro-managers, especially with work done outside of their supervision. This essentially means that the employee will almost not experience any personal growth.
One of the most obvious red flags is underpayment. The most ridiculous part is companies that underpay their staff are usually the ones that task their employees with a ginormous workload. Just last year, a Scottish compact newspaper came up with a list of 191 businesses in the United Kingdom who paid their employees below minimum wage. A lot of the companies listed are huge corporations that have a lot of menial staff and there’s a huge chance that these staff worked tirelessly, taking home peanuts at the end of the day. In Nigeria, according to a study conducted by Stutern in 2017, it was found that 75% of new graduates earn less than N50,000 ($125) in their first job. And a deeper look at the number reveals that 1 in 4 new graduates earn less than N20,000 ($50) as their first salary in Nigeria. This is saddening, to say the least. What's even worse is underpayment tends to be slightly worse in businesses with a large number of women or marginalized people in the workforce.
Also, posing random, abstract or unspecified items as bonuses when employees have worked very hard shows a sign of toxicity within a company. Bonuses should always be stated carefully when promising employees incentives for a job well done. This is to ensure full transparency between the company and their employee and ensure that employees are positively motivated to go out of their way for a shot at the bonus offered.
While many might disagree, I personally believe a ‘one-man’ business has a chance of being toxic. There is almost no business in which employment is open to the general public, held entirely under the helm of one person’s any and every desire that will not eventually become toxic. This is why another core staple of a toxic workplace is its inability to have an efficient HR workforce. One-man businesses negatively thrive mainly because the person with all the agency delegates very little power to the human resources department. This is why in a country like Nigeria, you see so many employees ever so often skirt past the HR Department to seek the favor of the MD directly. This is because the human resources department is not wholly backed by the MD. If the MD gives preferential treatment to a particular person, you will find that their authority begins to supersede that of the HR Department, to the point where even the department is unable to call them to order. Businesses set up like this are harmful because lawlessness, favoritism and inability to check one’s authority become the normality.
If you find yourself in a toxic workplace, take note that it is very easy to start making compromises on things you could have sworn you would never compromise on. Try and keep your head above water. At the point where you’re certain you’re in a toxic work environment, the best thing to do is reevaluate your options. It's not news that finding jobs in Nigeria is difficult so it’s always advisable to persevere if you can or must and begin searching for another suitable job while remaining in that current workplace. Sadly, finding another job could take forever and there’s also no guarantee that your new job wouldn’t be toxic. It is almost always a gamble. I advise that you try to do your due diligence, ask about the work culture from whoever has reliable information and check online as well. Unfortunately, we don't have Glassdoor here in Nigeria so try Nairaland ー trust me it's more informative than you might think ー and LinkedIn. But most importantly, take appropriate measures before you quit the toxic workplace. Your mental and physical health should always be a priority but it’s also important to learn how to navigate situations of this nature, you don’t want to quit a job without an actionable plan for another or another source of income.