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Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Workplace Poison

Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Workplace Poison

Dear Dr V

I’m in a bad situation at work and I feel like there’s no way out. It’s so bad I ended up crying on my husband Monday morning when I left for work. I work in an office. I’m basically in a mid-level position. My supervisors are incredibly abusive and insensitive towards the rest of us. It’s a professional firm in a big city, and whereas before we all kind of figured it just went with the pressure of the job, as the economy got worse, the bosses got worse, I guess they think we can’t get a job anywhere else so they can do as they please. I started hanging around with a group of other people like me in the office, mid-level and unhappy. We’d bitch about stuff at lunch, get together on the weekends and commiserate about how we dreaded going back in. Things have gotten really bad: one of the people in our group stole something off one of the boss’ desks, to “teach them a lesson.” Everybody laughed about it, but I felt weird, like it was wrong. Now there’s talk of stealing more stuff, even keying people’s cars …  I don’t know what to do. These people are my only support in this office, and of course there’s no way I’d rat them out, but at the same time I don’t want to be a part of what they’re doing. What do I do?

Scared At Work
Dear Scared,

I do agree with you that your work environment is toxic, but I think the poison is now flowing both ways (if it wasn’t always doing so already). Whether you decide to ride it out at this place or seek your fortunes elsewhere, I believe it would be in your best interest, both pragmatically and spiritually, to distance yourself from this group of colleagues you’ve fallen in with. At the risk of sounding indelicate, an old saying comes to mind here, “If you hang out with shit, you smell like shit.” Meaning that the longer you remain associated with these people who are engaging in unethical, destructive behavior, the more likely it is that you will be perceived to be supportive of, or engaged in it, or worse yet, actually find yourself stealing something or keying a car yourself. This doesn’t mean all of a sudden write off your friends, but rather what I suggest is a gradual detachment from this group. Don’t always go to lunch with them, try and see some friends you don’t work with on the weekend. I suggest this not only for the pragmatic reason of getting you away from the “bad kids,” but also for your sanity. Because if you go to lunch and talk about work, and then hang out with work friends on the weekend and talk about work, you’re always at work. Which means you are keeping your heart and mind saturated in the toxic dysfunction of that place 24/7.

You said that one of your co-workers stole something from your boss, and that didn’t sit well with you, because it felt like “it was wrong.” Yeah, stealing is wrong. Regardless of how rotten your bosses may be treating you and the rest of your colleagues, your friend chose to retaliate in a very immature, not to mention unethical way. Stealing from an asshole is still stealing: the act still stains the honor of the thief, if there is such a thing.

I also find it curious that you seem to be, consciously or not, denying yourself what to someone else would seem the obvious solution: Leave.

I realize it’s far from the best time to be looking for a job, and despite the abuse and exploitation of the phrase “You’re lucky to even have a job!”  by scores of asshole bosses just like yours, it’s easy to feel it might be better to stay in the pain and suffering of something familiar than move into the frightening unknown of something new. The unspoken corollary here is that of course, whatever that something new might be could be infinitely better and more rewarding for you than where you find yourself at present.

I’m not sure what your profession is, but to hang on to your job at a mid-level position in a professional metropolitan firm I’m guessing you’re most likely very intelligent, savvy and skilled at whatever your particular specialty is. While the opportunity may not present itself immediately, I firmly believe that if you begin broadcasting a deliberate intention that is true to your heart, the Universe may help you find your way to where you need to be next.

So, how to broadcast that intention? My suggestion would be to, as I said, disengage from those co-workers bringing negativity into your life. Also, (obviously) start the search for a new job, while of course remaining discreet about this at work. I also recommend you not share this decision with any of your co-workers, simply in the interest of confidentiality and keeping your job until you’re ready to leave it.  You might find that while the problem certainly won’t be truly resolved, you may feel better for removing the negative pollutants in your emotional ocean and taking action in finding a new job, instead of simply being acted upon by the jerks at your current one.

Regarding your bosses, it can be a bit more complicated. Workplace decorum or mechanics may demand you interact with them more than you’d like to (which from how you describe it would be any interaction with them). Also, when you’re spending upwards of 40 hours a week somewhere it’s easy to confuse where the workplace stops and your own true self begins. Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to deal with these people until you’re out of there. So my advice to you would be to reinforce your boundaries throughout the day, if only to yourself. Do your job to the best of your ability, treat others with respect and decency, but inside try to remain objective about the place. It is not you, it does not define you. When you leave, nothing there will matter anymore. If you can make that your mantra, if when your bosses fly into whatever kind of abusive dance they do, pretend you’re an anthropologist doing field work, and think to yourself “This guy is totally crazy. I’m so glad what he’s saying isn’t true”. Of course, smiling and agreeing with them until they go away always works well too.

There are better things waiting for you, I am sure of it.

With Love and Light,
Dr. V

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