Navigating a Toxic Office Culture in the Millennial Age

Admit it or not, you’ve had one of those days at work when everything just felt wrong. Maybe you realized you had an incompetent boss, tiresome co-workers, or a shitty management in general that was blindly steering the company into the dark. If you’re currently mulling over your next career move, at least let me try and talk some sense into you. So, grab my extended olive branch and let’s navigate the insanely convoluted corporate world, shall we?

How Toxic is Your Office, Exactly?

Before anything else, let’s try to determine first what makes an office toxic. Executive coach Ray Williams published a great column at Psychology Today that revealed the manifestations of a hostile workplace. See if any of these hit close to home.

toxic office
Photo by Kevin from Unsplash

99 problems but respect ain’t one. Have you ever had a game-changing idea that got bluntly rejected by management because “it wasn’t good enough?” If you can’t remember the last time the company gave you a compliment or even an inch of appreciation, then, yes, your office is toxic.

Bullying’s wrong, mm’kay? The culture of bullying doesn’t really end at school—you’ll meet bullies left and right even after you step out of the classroom. If those bullies end up being your workmates, you’re just unlucky. And, yes, your office is toxic.

Everyday is a battle royale of some sort. They say competition is good for business, but what if the competition within your division causes a divide where the top performers are treated like kings and the ones at the bottom are treated like rags? Competing with your co-workers sucks, and it’s a clear sign of a chaotic business relationship.

What’s this work-life balance? “Is that another one of those hippie concepts you millennials invented out of your ass?” If your immediate supervisor ever uttered these words one way or another, the law permits you to punch him in the face. Okay, I just made that up, but if the idea delighted your heart for a split-second, then, yeah, toxic.

It’s all about the money, money, money. It’s the primary objective of any company to earn profit, but if yours goes as far as cutting back on food, basic office supplies and equipment, and *gasp* your salary, that’s more than toxic—that’s just nasty. Is your boss eating the money you guys are making or something? Jeez.

Will the real manager please stand up? If your organizational chart looks like a mean spider web, you have a poisonous workplace bureaucracy. It’s really hard to run new initiatives when there are too many roadblocks ahead. Micromanaging bosses are also indicators of a toxic management.

Previously, on The Working Dead. Working countless overtimes with little to no reward? If you can barely open your eyes during a meeting, then yes, your job’s pretty brutal. You need sleep, man. Take care of yourself above all else. Wipe your face, at least.

To Walk Out or Not to Walk Out

Any of these sound familiar to you? If yes, congratulations! Your office is indeed toxic! So, why are you still here? No one’s stopping you from sending your resignation letter and walking out. Hell, you can even take an AWOL and liberate yourself from obligations. Go travel the world on empty pockets and live a simple and stressless life. Sounds appealing?

quitter millennials
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz from Unsplash

That’s exactly what validates our stereotype of being quitters. Just look online and see how the world views millennials. Look at how many things we have apparently ruined for everyone. In the eyes of the world, we are entitled, naive, and self-important. If you quit right now, you’ll be seen as weak and fragile. “If you can’t survive here, how will you survive the outside world?” We both know that’s a question you’ve been asked a dozen times, and we both know how it’s made you feel every time. We’re supposed to play the game, weather the storm, suck it all up, and other workplace cliches you can shake a stick at.

And then there’s the issue of your basic needs. If you quit, where are you going to get the money to sustain you day after day? Can your savings help you survive a temporary (or permanent, you lazy bum) unemployment?  Are your parents willing to support you for the rest of your life? Prepare to answer these questions because, once you decide to quit, your answers will decide your future. You will either be a financially comfortable early retiree or a heavy burden to everyone you love.

Accepting Some Harsh Realities

Unless you’re a prodigy, you’ll be powerless in the higher scheme of things—and we all know most of us millennials are far from being whiz kids. It sounds harsh, I know. And, sure, feel free to tell me I’m wrong, but consider this: If your boss decides to run the company to the ground, can you stop him? Most likely not. We’re always under the whim of the brass, and there’s little we can do about it.

office boss
Photo by Hunter Race from Unsplash

And, let’s face it, some companies and organizations will be helmed by inept individuals. Just look at America’s very presidential leader, Donald Trump. You can agree or disagree about his cartoonish, villainesque policies and general behavior, but he’s the boss of the entire freakin’ America. And, unlike your boss, this man was actually elected by the people. So, yeah, not all leaders are great, but they still warrant your respect and loyalty because, well, they’re on a higher level than you. That’s just how it works.

Remember that one episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine where Sergeant Terry Jeffords was stopped by a cop just for being black? Terry tried to file a complaint against the cop, but Captain Raymond Holt’s knee-jerk reaction was to reject it. Why? Because he didn’t want Terry to take a career suicide. Standing up for yourself is career suicide. And, you know what? Holt wasn’t wrong. Going up against the powerful people who corporately own you is a fruitless endeavor. As most people would say, “You’re lucky you have a job.” And that’s true. Accept that.

Hot Take: Muscle Your Way Up

Just like what one of my favorite comedy series suggested, work your way up and change the game yourself. It’s a classic advice simply because it makes the most sense. Some of the most successful people started from the bottom (yes, just like that Drake song). They overcame obstacles and worked their asses off to get to where they are. Play the game, win it, and change the rules. That’s what old wise folks say, and it can totally apply to you. You can be the catalyst of greatness your toxic office desperately needs.

toxic office
Photo by Josefa nDiaz from Unsplash

Think about it. If you love the industry you’re in, then wouldn’t staying in your lane and working your way up be worth it? Workplace hostility shouldn’t hinder you from learning the ropes of your chosen industry. To motivate yourself every day, treat your job like a hands-on learning experience with pay. Learn everything you can and use that knowledge to get to where you want. Simply put, you can turn your crappy job into a stepping stone to a better career in the future. So, step on it!

And even if you’re just in it for the money, you can still use your job as a breeding ground for your next career move. It’s way better to have a crappy job now and earn some cash in the process than to wait for that perfect job to land on your lap. You can even accept side projects that you actually enjoy and do them when you’re bored at work. It’s a bit unprofessional, I know, but at least it will keep you from feeling sorry for yourself. At the risk of being insensitive, money is easy. You just have to be willing to grab opportunities or, if necessary, make them yourself.

Hot Take: Follow Your Heart

But you know what? Screw your stupid boss. Screw your judgmental co-workers. Screw your broken coffee machine that makes barely potable coffee. Swing for the fences and write that resignation letter. No matter how hard you hustle, you’re only human after all. Eventually, you’ll burn out. You’re probably going through it right nowyou drag yourself every morning just to stand up and go to work. Yeah, I know the feeling. If I had a dollar for every time I woke up on a workday already tired, I’ll have enough money to buy my own goddamn mansion.

Screw what others will say. Screw the stereotypes, the judgments, the guilt. Chase your passion. If you feel like you’re in the wrong company, leave. Look for a job you can happily conquer, even if it takes years. Look for a company you’d love to help succeed or one with principles you can get behind. Acknowledge your worth as a person, and don’t settle for something beneath you. Quitting isn’t the worst thing you can do; abusing your strengths and talents just to serve a worthless cause is. 

follow your dream job
Photo by Saulo Mohana from Unsplash

And, sure, money is important, but so is your personal well-being. Aren’t you tired of feeling sorry for yourself every time you’re at your desk, spending the rest of your day wishing for your shift to be over? Here’s another mindbender for you: Isn’t it unfair how you spend the majority of your day on your miserable job and then squeeze together the remaining hours for the things you actually love? Life is just too damn short to waste on trivial things. The money you earn will never buy back the tears you’ve shed and the time you’ve lost, so by all means, quit your job and start afresh.

Now it’s up to you. Faced with two possible career paths, which one will you take? Either way, know that the only opinion that should matter is yours and that of the people you love. And lastly, don’t ever regret your choices. Now go live your life as you see fit, you misguided and tortured soul. It’s time to treat yo self.

How toxic is your office? Is everyone in your department stressing you out? Tell us your horrible work stories so we can talk about them at the comments below.

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