Traumatic effects of toxic environment at workplaces

PETALING JAYA: It is not always sunshine and rainbows at workplaces. At certain points in our lives, we may find ourselves working in a toxic environment and be at a loss about what to do.

A kindergarten teacher, who wished to be known as Layla, told theSun it took her three years to gain the courage to leave the hellhole where she was working.

“The kindergarten’s vice-principal micromanaged everything the staff did. We were only allowed 10-minute lunch breaks and we worked from 7am to 7pm for a paltry salary of RM700.

“We also never got annual leave and were not paid on days we took medical leave.”

Layla said she only worked at the establishment because of her passion for teaching children.

“I fell into depression and could not even bring myself to get out of bed. I hated my life.”

Layla, who is now teaching at a different school, said her current employers treat her far better than her previous one.

Nur, a private sector executive, described her previous workplace as a “shark tank”.

“The seniors would not help you when you needed it and colleagues would bully and bury you for their own survival. You feel alone and just want to disappear.

“Once when I went for a bathroom break, my immediate supervisor asked me which bathroom I had used because she wanted to check how long I took.”

Nur recalled how the work environment affected her family and her. It turned her into an agitated, stressed-out person, who would take out her frustrations unwittingly on her family.

“When I left, friends said I made a mistake because I will lose out on my pension. However, I think it was for the best because I might have not lived to enjoy my pension if I stayed there. I even had a miscarriage while I was there.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Joel Low said some common signs of a toxic workplace when employees are in a constant state of tension to be perfect to ensure they do not get into trouble, need to snitch on colleagues to get a leg up at work, have to be on the guard, need to keep ideas secret to avoid being taken advantage of and have to put in crazy hours with little recompense.

On whether generational differences contributed to toxicity at the workplace, he said it is not necessarily the case.

“I think one could face toxic elements regardless of how young or old one is. But I think what happens in multi-generational workplaces is that there are significantly different work ethics at play.

“These differences don’t need to result in a toxic workplace environment, but if the differences aren’t reconciled, they can result in toxic situations because of the general levels of distrust, or inability to communicate.

“An important distinction to make is that we need to recognise that our ability to make drastic changes to our environment and the people around us can be limited.”

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