Did you know the moment your workplace was toxic?
For 26-year-old Lindsay Hanson, a life coach and online business mentor, she noticed it when she was working in accounting in Boston. She asked her senior manager to grab lunch and they declined, saying they didn’t want people seeing them taking a lunch break.
Hanson, who quit her job working at an accounting firm in taxes, posted a video to TikTok that went viral. Nearly 40,000 people liked her video and in came more than 5,000 comments of people sharing their own examples of toxicity in the workplace.
“When I was giving birth, I got a call from my boss asking if I was gonna have my report turned in and if I was coming back the following day,” said user @indigosjourney.
User @alizbreath, a salesperson, was told they weren’t allowed to take off for their wedding and honeymoon because it conflicted with the publication date of a magazine, despite them giving more than six months notice in advance.
Others shared personal messages that were downright disturbing.
“We were at a company festival, and my then-boss had taken a bunch of drugs the night before, so I think he was still high the next morning,” said user @laurellekamara. “We were all chilling by the pool, and he shared with me that he was dying of cancer. I had a sister who had passed two years earlier, so being the sympathetic person I am, I started to give him advice. He then turned around and said, ‘I’m just fucking with you.’ I quit a month later.”
Hanson said she had read the comments and noticed that many stories shared were similar. Workers were discouraged for taking time off due to a death in the family, or more recently COVID-19. They requested vacation time and were denied.
“It’s really about what we as employees are willing to tolerate. If we tolerate those things, we’re sending the message that it’s okay and we’re still going to stay here,” Hanson told Ladders over the phone recently. “It’s obviously hard to get up and quit your job, but if that’s the workplace culture and people are okay with it, it’s going to keep happening.”
The state of toxic offices in the U.S.
As companies try to make workplaces less toxic, the numbers don’t lie: it hurts businesses more than people. In the US, 49% of employees said they’ve considered leaving their current job due to the unhealthy work culture, and the employee turnover has cost employers $223 billion over the last five years, according to research by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Whether it’s poor leadership that enables misbehavior to the dreaded toxic positivity, Hanson wants her clients and people to know that they have the ability to control their own narrative moving forward.
“We have more power than we think we do,” she said. “With COVID, a lot of people think they don’t have many options and feel like they’re stuck right now, but when we take responsibility for ourselves and what we’re willing to tolerate.”
From toxic to paradise
Before she quit her day job, Hanson was probably a lot like you. She worked at an accounting firm in taxes, holding a CPA and a master’s degree. It was an ideal 9-to-5 when it wasn’t tax season, also known as “busy season” in the accounting world. Hanson thought that this is what she had wanted until she realized it wasn’t; she started to notice the toxicity in her workplace.
She knew about the long hours that go into public accounting. She heard stories about co-workers sleeping under desks, pulling all-nighters, working long hours and never taking time off. Her work was evaluated on utilization, or the amount of chargeable hours that are worked.
“We have this idea that we are in competition with all of your co-workers,” Hanson said over the phone recently. “If that’s the standard, then people feel that if they don’t work long hours, they won’t get a raise or a promotion.”
She knew it wasn’t the life she wanted; it was time to make a change. In 2018, she took a chance: she left behind her CPA and master’s degree and chased her own business.
“This was always going to be here. I know I’m going to regret if I don’t take the chance and see if things are possible. I knew I could always come back to it,” she said.
First starting in fitness coaching, Hanson runs her own life coaching business. She helps women make changes in their life to launch their dreams into reality. Her work focuses on helping others move past their doubts and fears when transitioning to online business.
Take control back
Hanson said that the connectivity of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning workers always being plugged in at home, has created an extension of toxicity.
“Knowing the work environment I was in, there’s likely a heightened expectation that you’re always kind of on the clock. That already existed in public accounting when we brought our laptops home and had work phones, but that is probably more pervasive with people working from home,” she said.
“With older and more experienced generations, there’s this perception that you’re lazier or you’re not going to work as hard if you’re working from home. I don’t agree with that, but maybe bosses are scheduling daily or weekly check-ins because they think you’re not working as hard.”
Hanson said that she’s noticed that people have been hesitant to quit their jobs during COVID.
“There was almost this sense that you should be grateful for having a job right now, why would you want to quit?,” she said. “That was interesting that it was coming up. With so many people losing their jobs, am I being ungrateful if I want to quit my job right now?”
Like how she tries to tell her clients, Hanson said that you can only start to make change when you take control back of your own life.
“Saying you’re stuck somewhere because it’s a pandemic or because of money is very disempowering,” she said. “There’s always a way to change your situation. There’s still places hiring or you can save your money. Maybe it’s a side hustle; we’re living in a time where you can start a business entirely online without any significant startup costs.
“The barriers with making a change are much less now than they were, and there’s so many more opportunities. There’s work-from-home jobs and side hustles… The idea that you’re stuck is going to keep you stuck if you don’t believe you have options. Challenge that thought — is it actually true that you can’t find another job in COVID? If you are determined to change your situation, there’s always going to be a way out of it,” she said.