does sharing strategies for dealing with toxic workplaces normalize bad jobs?

A reader writes:

My first job after university was at a horrible company on a particularly toxic site in a traditionally problematic industry. Long hours, most people working away from their families, and there was a “work hard play hard” mentality that crossed so many HR lines it wasn’t funny. Sexism, racism, and homophobia were rife.

My team was a lovely island of (relatively) sensible people who actively pushed back against the most egregious examples and were vocal positive influences on the overall culture. I learned so much from that team and the pay was really good so I stuck around slightly longer than I should have.

Being yelled at by senior management was a regular thing and there were nose-to-nose screaming matches in the halls almost weekly (rumor was that these were sometimes sorted out with fists after hours but I never saw confirmation). To counter this, my team strived for bubbly friendliness or calm sympathy. We never rose to the bait when someone was yelling and did a lot of active listening — “I hear that you aren’t happy with having to attend legally mandated safety training. I hear that you think that this is a waste of your very valuable time.” We also openly discussed strategies for defusing these situations. At the time I thought it was really positive but, now that I have left, I am starting to wonder if it actually normalized the behavior and sharing these tips was actually a negative thing.

For example, I remember one of my team advising me to sit down when I was being yelled at. She had noticed that when the (40-year-old, six foot manager) was leaning over and shouting at her (a five foot, 20-something woman) he eventually seemed to notice that the optics weren’t great … and would sit down himself and calm down. I tried it and it was exactly as effective as she said — if he didn’t notice, then generally someone on his team would join the “conversation” and defuse it. This became a key strategy for our team and we openly shared it with newcomers or any other allies we made who were pushing back against the toxicity. Looking back now though … ugh! I am shocked that I was comfortable having strategies around this kind of behavior rather than just quitting on the spot.

The way we presented it to new starters was “when” you get yelled at for no reason rather than “if,” and I am worried that our calm acceptance suggested that it was okay or a minor annoyance. On the other hand, given that this was happening, was it better to arm them with a strategy and reassure them that it wasn’t their fault? It was all presented in the calm, matter-of-fact way that you often promote on this site and there was always an “if you need to walk away, you won’t be judged” and “feel free to send them to (higher level team member) if it gets too much.”

The scary thing is, I didn’t even notice how horrible it was until I had a new grad working under me. I started to explain how to deal with toxic people and the look of horror on her face was a reality check. I no longer have to deal with the particular toxicity but, well, the industry I work in is fairly notorious for being awful and, though it is getting better, it is likely that grads will end up dealing with people like this at some point in their careers. Am I being helpful by arming them with the tools … or am I normalizing something horrible by suggesting that they should have strategies (beyond going straight to HR)?

It’s so, so normal to share survival strategies when you’re working in a dysfunctional environment!

Because the thing is, unless you and your coworkers are quitting on the spot, you need ways to make the environmental safer and more bearable. There’s nothing wrong with sharing those strategies with other people who are stuck there with you.

But you’re right to worry that how you do it can have the effect of normalizing behavior that shouldn’t be normalized.

They key is to pair your advice with a clear and unequivocal statement that the thing your strategies seek to mitigate is Not Okay.

If you just tell a new person, “Jane is going to scream at you, but it’ll be better if you do X,” then yes, you’re risking training junior people that this is normal / acceptable / not something they should find problematic. You can avoid that if you instead say, “There’s a lot of yelling in this office. That’s not okay, it’s really toxic, and it’s not something any of us should have to put up with, but since it’s happening, what we’ve found is most effective to deal with it is X.”

Obviously after a certain point, you don’t need to give that disclaimer every time. If both people in the conversation have worked there for years and have already acknowledged to each other how messed up your working conditions are, it’s fine to just skip ahead to the relevant thing you want to convey. Even then, though, it’s still useful to give each other periodic reality checks — like “I can’t believe I’m having to recommend this” or even an explicit “let’s remember this is not normal or okay so we don’t get used to it.”

Also, don’t beat yourself up about not quitting on the spot. Most people can’t afford to do that … and there really is a “frog in the pot” effect when you work in a toxic place, where things that would shock you if you were dropped in out of nowhere don’t feel as shocking when you’ve grown used to them over time. Plus, you were in your 20s, a time when most people are still figuring out professional norms and what is and isn’t okay from an employer. You’re doing the exact right thing by interrogating that experience now — but do it with an eye toward deciding how you want to navigate work in the future, without blaming yourself for not doing it perfectly at the time.

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. your genderqueer dad*

    OP’s team also did right by their colleagues and themselves for pushing against the worst offenses. It takes time and power but people can work together to change a culture.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I actually don’t think anyone but the leaders can change a culture. But you can certainly help and support one another within a bad culture!

      1. TechWorker*

        I think it depends whether the leaders actively endorse/encourage/contribute to the bad culture or are just lazy/indifferent. I do think in the latter case employees are more likely to be able to drive some change.

      2. CorruptedbyCoffee*

        As someone who just left a really toxic organization full of really great people, I really dislike this. I was there over 11 years, and I watched SO many people convinced they were going to fix things burn themselves trying to make things less toxic.

        In reality, the top very much resisted making the kind of changes that would help, and the people at the bottom were never going to change the culture and rules set by a large org with an established hierarchy an abusive culture. It ended up putting all the responsibility for change on the people being most abused. People felt demoralized and angry, but also blamed themselves for it despite the fact that they actually had very little control over the org or even their own positions.

      3. Kfish*

        My mother did her doctorate on this topic. (One way to deal with a toxic workplace – get a PhD out of it). She concluded that it was possible to make change if leadership allowed it, but not if they opposed it.

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Please please take to your heart when Alison says most people don’t quit on the spot.

    Do not beat yourself over you and your colleagues not doing so. People are working for money because they have bills to pay. Not leaving is not of acceptance. Its a sign of reality. I need this job, I can’t quit, how can I make it bearable while I job search?

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      SO much this. A lot of commenters here like to tell OP’s to just leave and I’m worried that’s contributing to OP’s concern.

      Realistically very few people can financially “just leave” whether that’s out right quitting, taking a pay cut to do so, or losing benefits like health insurance.

      It’s so so normal to need to just survive until leaving becomes an option and I’m sure that there are circumstances where leaving is really never an option.

    2. Keylime*

      This is so true. Whenever I’ve left jobs like this my only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner….but I recognise that I wasn’t able to leave sooner so I don’t give myself a hard time. Also a toxic workplace like this can make you fearful to leave….what if the next place is worse?! Better the devil you know and all that. It can really mess with you, more than a lot of people realise.

    3. Aeryn Sun*

      Exactly. I had a toxic job for years with a lot of bad behavior and things I wish I wouldn’t have put up with – that said, I also needed to pay my rent and keep my health insurance. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge “Hey this isn’t how jobs should be” while also sharing coping strategies for when you can’t just leave.

    4. Ink*

      Especially with the economy what it is. Between inflation and industries who didn’t factor in the quarantine boost being temporary, I’m sure plenty of people are in the same “lucky to be in the small % who weren’t laid off” situation that was common after the 2008 recession, or are about to be. If you don’t already know that you could walk off the job right into a new one because your field is desperate to hire, the bar for quitting on the spot ends up somewhere in the region of being asked to do something hugely unethical or flat-out illegal, if not beyond.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        In the US, there are also health insurance continuity reasons. Sometimes a six month gap is undoable.

  3. Meg*

    I think a lot of folks here have to remember that quitting on the spot is really a privilege. Due to a *ton* of circumstances people can’t leave, no matter how much they realize its bad for them. Finding effective strategies to make it bearable and the bad stuff shorter (I think) is a good thing. I’m glad the team was doing what they could with what they had.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      I was just thinking, I understand concerns about normalizing terrible behavior, but people have to survive the situation first. Most of us can’t just walk away from terrible jobs.

    2. iglwif*

      Absolutely. Many, many, many people can’t afford — financially or professionally — to quit on the spot.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      This this this. If quitting your job were that easy you’d be seeing a LOT more stories about mass resignations. But it’s not. Those who are able to quit on the spot are incredibly fortunate.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Exactly. Staying put isn’t saying “I endorse this behavior.” It’s saying “This is how I support myself” so sharing coping mechanisms makes total sense. Sharing the context for the advice mean you know it’s not OK but you’re a realist.

    5. Godbert*

      Yep. And we only hear the stories where people quit with nothing lined up and it turned out okay (or zomfg amazing best thing that ever happened to me changed my life!!!!) in the end. We don’t hear about the ones that ended in ruin, financial or otherwise.

    6. Aeryn Sun*

      I remember when I was at my lowest point at my old job I did mental calculations on what it would take for me to quit my job without something lined up and it would have been really hard. It’s something I doubt most people have the finances for, especially when job hunting can take time. I wish I had the coping strategies for the long hours, toxicity and bad environment while I was there, I could have used it.

    7. not nice, don't care*

      My partner is actually assaulted & hate-crimed on the job, in part due to intentional malfeasance by management, yet still can’t afford to quit.

    8. bamcheeks*

      I think the number of people who can “quit on the spot” is tiny, and I don’t think anyone really forgets that. Quitting on the spot is a satisfying power fantasy for like 99% of us,-m and I think most people use it that way.

      What is way more common is a response like, “this situation isn’t going to change, I’d start looking for a new job.” Whilst that’s also an impossibility for some people, the number of people that it’s *genuinely* an impossibility for is much smaller than the number of people who could technically look for a new job, but get caught up in the idea that they have to *fix* the situation or make a success of it somehow. There’s a super common pattern in letters to Alison of, “how do I fix this? I’ve tried everything I can think of!” -> -> update: “when I read your answer, it was a real wake-up call. I realised I’d been thinking of this as something I had to handle, but your response made me realise that I couldn’t. So I dusted off my resume and am delighted to say I’ve just landed…”

      It’s the same as Dan Savage’s DTMFA— it’s human nature to get caught up in the idea that you have power to solve the problem in front of you, and sometimes you *do* need a reminder to step back and realise that you can’t solve that problem, but you can change the context.

    9. kiki*

      Yes. Or there are reasons staying in a job for certain amount of time outweighs the costs of the dysfunction. If I can get my student loans paid off for staying at a job for three years, that’s potentially tens of thousands of dollars saved. While there’s a breaking point, putting up with some dysfunction to get out of debt makes practical sense.

    10. alienor*

      There are pretty much no circumstances under which I could afford to quit on the spot at the moment, up to and including a literal punch in the face. If I were asked to do something illegal (unlikely to happen at my current employer) I would have to refuse to do whatever it was and hope I didn’t get fired, or at least that I could get unemployment if I did.

      1. Bast*

        I could in no way afford to “just quit” a job with nothing else lined up, no matter what happened. What does change the situation is how bad the situation is. There have been certain jobs that I have worked where I was desperate to leave, and while I wouldn’t have been able to just quit, I would have taken nearly anything offered just to GTFO. Essentially, close your eyes and leap and hope to land on your feet in a better place. Meanwhile, there are situations where although it was not great and I was over it, but it wasn’t bad enough to where I was desperate enough to take anything. In the latter situation I could afford to be a little pickier and bide my time, using coping strategies to just get me through the day to day grind while reminding myself it wasn’t forever.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yup. I work with a lot of people of a socioeconomic class where they are able to leave jobs they simply don’t like because their parents will support them while they find another, and it just blows my mind. I have never had that luxury. Doesn’t mean I don’t aggressively look when I need to make a change, but there have definitely been situations where I had to establish some interim coping strategies because a not-remotely-ideal work environment was better than not being able to pay my rent or buy food.

  4. Lacey*

    OP: It’s easy to look back and think, “Oh I should have done this! How stupid/bad of me not to have!” but often we weren’t able to see things so clearly in the moment – don’t beat yourself up for it.

    1. Observer*

      but often we weren’t able to see things so clearly in the moment

      That’s very true. And that’s where people like Allison, and this board, can be really helpful. Because they do provide people some outside perspective.

  5. Kagan MacTane*

    Alison said: “Also, don’t beat yourself up about not quitting on the spot. Most people can’t afford to do that…”, and I’d add:

    …and many of the people who actively work to make a place toxic are counting on that to provide them with a captive audience​ — or set of victims​ — for their toxicity.

    1. Cat Mom of 4*

      Absolutely!! I knew my former workplace was toxic and my coworkers and I often discussed leaving. But with the reality of mortgages and other bills, and few jobs that would be better in terms of pay/benefits, we stuck it out. I secretly planned my exit for over a year – I saved my bonus, tax refund, birthday money etc. Made some plans for health insurance/ prescriptions as I have chronic conditions. Then I received an unexpected small inheritance from a relative and that was it. I had enough saved to be okay for at least a year without me working. And then I just waited for my last straw to come. I put my notice in the day after it did. Management was shocked. I had been there over 5 years and surely they did not expect me to ever say I’d had enough. But I did. And I have not been this happy since before I took that job. I am slowly becoming de-programmed from all the toxicity and dysfunctionality so that wherever I work next, I will be better at boundaries. Good luck to all who are still in their toxic workplace. Start making plans. You can leave too.

      1. Bast*

        I had my “final straw” moment at a place and quietly began a job search. At that point, I was committed whether it took a month or a year. Within 3 weeks, I had been offered a new position. I actually took a slight pay cut to leave, but the hours were better and the work conditions were professional and non toxic. My old job really did not think I would leave and kept throwing money to try and get me to stay, but leaving was the BEST thing I ever did. My boss was absolutely shocked too and then went into “after everything we did for you” mode. Every time I waivered, I reminded myself of that LAST STRAW and the knowledge that it was never going to get better no matter what was promised.

  6. Queer Earthling*

    Sometimes, you have to figure out how to live in the world and conditions you’re given. You did your best. You shared strategies, you found people who would support you and supported others–you even pushed back where you could, and I don’t think anyone would have blamed you for keeping your head down. Given your situation, I think you should be, if not proud of yourself, at least comfortable in the knowledge that you got through it.

  7. AnonFor Today*

    I’ve been thinking about this kind of scenario but in environments where sexual harassment and abuse were rampant. How back in the day women would warn me with random suggestions: “Don’t accept meetings from Mr. Boss after 5pm.” or “Make sure your don’t get left in a room with Mr. VP after the weekly meeting.”
    It’s traumatic remembering those days, and I always feel angry thinking about the people giving those warnings and I couldn’t figure out exactly why. They were trying to help by giving a warning, but I was still angry at them. And now I know why. They didn’t (couldn’t) call out the actual problem.
    Back then you couldn’t say out loud that Mr. Boss is a perv and will grab your skirt. You couldn’t admit that Mr. VP would make sexual remarks anytime he was alone with a woman.
    Alison’s response of pointing out the problem while giving the warning has given me a lot to think about and work through. And I’m SO grateful that I now live in a time where I CAN say the first part and not just the second part.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Oh man! You said clearly exactly what was knocking around in my mind. People couldn’t say it that directly because it would have also meant Confronting The Patriarchy and there wasn’t usually a lot of support for that (but there WERE tons of consequences).

      Spoiler alert for the book Lessons in Chemistry plus content note for quick mention of assault (but no details):


      I just finished listening to Lessons in Chemistry (about a brilliant female chemist in the 1950/60s; also the dog is awesome). If you haven’t read it, it will directly touch on these things while also pissing you off more (and there is one short but non-gratuitous assault scene and one attempted assault).

      But also I loved her attitude all the way through the whole book and I am channeling her a lot lately. She never sank down into agreeing with others’ assessments of her / of women. She kept connected to how ridiculous this all was, the whole time. It was healing to me because for so many instances in my life, I would think I had to play the game from within the game. Convince the abuser. Appease the crazy instead of calling it crazy and stepping outside of it altogether.

      She never does that. She stays clear that this is crazy, the whole time. It’s been really helpful for me. I might listen again.

      1. ElsieD*

        I too was reminded of a book by this letter- the graphic novel ‘Ducks’ that won the 2023 Canada Reads. It sadly makes it clear that even in this century nothing much has changed in the toxic (in all senses) workplace of Canada’s oil sands, for all the workers.
        And I totally agree with Queer Earthling. OP, you did your best, survived, and helped.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I hear you. I think likely it was also true that they thought, “What’s the point of leaving? It’s the same everywhere. It could even be worse. Here’s the strategies that work here.” If LW’s industry is known for being terrible, on some level people have accepted that this is going to happen just by working in this industry.

      I think some of your anger might also come from essentially being told “you will be victimized, here is how to minimize it”. Just the assumption that of course you’ll be a victim and nobody will do anything to stop it is terrible.

      1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

        I agree with this. There are of course downsides to every job, but at some point being told by 3 different people to ignore anything sexual Bob says to you really means that a large group of people are not just tolerating but fostering sexual abuse. It means they know something awful is happening to other people and they’re choosing to let it happen. in reality, the situation is more complicated than that. Speaking up may result in more problems for the victims, or maybe they can’t afford to get fired. But morally, it feels icky to think that all these people are letting bad things happen.

        1. Bast*

          And sometimes, if Bob is powerful enough in that profession, he could make it VERY difficult for you to find work elsewhere due to his connections and influence in the field.

    3. Baunilha*

      I’m so sorry you went through that. To add to your comment and Alison’s response, these strategies are good but not enough — if we know Mr Boss is a creep, we must never lose sight that he is the one with the problem. Otherwise, we risk creating a culture where the guilt shifts back to the victim, since “everyone know Boss is a creep and we warned her, it’s her own fault she was harrassed” or something like that.

      I remember when the whole Harvey Weinstein thing went down and some female celebrity (not sure who) said everyone knew about him, so if women chose to be alone with him anyway, then what happened to them was their own fault and just… no.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I wrote about this in my PhD thesis! I was looking at a lot of 1920s pop culture about work romances, and nearly all of them talked about sexual assault and sexual harassment at work. All of them were marketed to women, and they had to talk about and deal with women’s known reality. But this was before the big feminist movements and legal changes of the 50s, 60s and 70s, so they couldn’t offer *solutions*. Every one of them had The Sleazy Boss and The Nice Boss. Most of them had That Secretary, the one who had succumbed to Sleazy Boss, and was distrusted or pitied by the other secretaries. The Protagonist would usually be threatened by Sleazy Boss, get away a couple of times, but be stuck in a hard place where she knew she was going to lose her job if she didn’t go along with it the third time. Fortunately, before that could happen, the romance with Good Boss would come to its apotheosis and they’d get married, and as the boss’s wife, she no longer needed to work and was protected from the Sleazy Boss.

      So all of them recognised the futility of this choice: there *will* be a Sleazy Boss, he *will* threaten your job, and you *will* have to decide whether to give in or lose your job— but none of them could offer a real solution apart from the fantasy of “marry the nice boss and leave the office forever” because there isn’t an individual solution to that which isn’t a feminist revolution.

      1. Runner up*

        you probably won’t see this, @bamcheeks, but I really appreciate this (depressing) analysis.

    5. Tio*

      Back when I was a teen/college student working at McDonalds, we used to do this. We had a group of ladies that would pull aside the new girls and tell them things like that. “Try to avoid being alone with Matt. He will ask you out and be furious when you say no. He might throw something but probably not at you. Speak loudly if he does and we’ll try to come find you. Mark will scream at you until you cry. Don’t feel bad about it, that’s his goal. He’ll also call you or anyone else a slut if he sees shoulder uncovered even after shift. Try to ignore him. Mike’s really racist so don’t be surprised when he busts out blatant slurs.” (Yes management knew about all of these men. No, they would not fire them.)

    6. Jack Russell Terrier*

      Yes – my mum was warned to ‘keep away from Dave, he’s a bottom pincher’.

      About the 1920s romances. I see something disturbing in a lot of current romances – the protagonist doesn’t want to give in to Imagined Bad Boy, but he persists and persists and she can’t help herself.

      This gives the idea that it’s ok for guys to keep chasing you even when you’ve been clear they should back off. We don’t want to send that signal to men or women.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is my least favorite trope ever – the idea that persistence after rejection is romantic and will “win” the favor of the target is damaging and, at worst, dangerous. I don’t know why I would change my mind and suddenly be attracted so someone who couldn’t take no for an answer and didn’t respect me.

        1. Despachito*

          This, this, this! Thank you.

          This trope was so frequent in its time. It was disgusting and instilling that you will not achieve a girl unless you behave creepy.

        2. misspiggy*

          Dorothy L Sayers turned that trope inside out really nicely in her 1930s detective romance trilogy.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I’ve found that in the novels at least, the more modern (or adult) the romance, the less likely the “Imagined Bad boy persists and she can’t help herself” trope is still in use. Romcoms seem to still cling to variations of it, and some of the best selling teen romances seem to still use it much more than I like, but the adult romances I’ve been reading these days seem to use the dark handsome jerk who persists and persists as the villain, not the lead, if he shows up at all.

        Of course, there’s also all the “based on false wolf tropes from bad science” werewolf romances still selling like hotcakes, so …

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          And in the Harry Potter books, James is apparently romantic for threatening to torture someone unless Lily goes out with him, but Snape is a stalker for…leaving her alone after she dumps him. Rowling called the yelling back and forth in Snape’s Worst Memory ‘a kind of flirting’. I honestly hope girls who read that don’t fall for it.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Well, Rowling is wrong in a whole lot of ways, and was even before her current display of toxicity.

  8. Viki*

    Toxic and abusive workplaces do not get better easily. It’s very hard to just remove the cause and for things to be just hunky-dory perfect.

    Coping methods on how you can get through the day is a kindness, and letting new hires (young employees in both age and experience) is vital, because you need money to live and sometimes this is the only option. I’m not even talking office work, but retail or customer facing jobs.

    When I worked at a call centre, we were subject to the worse verbal abuse from customers, people just ranting angrily at us, calling us horrible names, threatening us and blaming us for their large phone bill, their inability to pay, the reason their children are bullied, immigrants and a trick was to mute yourself and have the headset horizontal to your ear, so you could still hear them, but you were getting yelled at less than if it was flat. Which, isn’t much, but it made the job more bearable than it had been previously when a rep told me that.

    No one thought it was okay, but you need money. So you suffer through toxic workplaces, knowing there’s going to be a better place out there, but in situ, any way to make this job not horrible, was needed.

  9. Smithy*

    I do think that one piece that’s important/helpful about operating within places that are toxic/abnormal – in addition to what AAM mentioned – is mentoring junior staff about how they can best position themselves to leave.

    To the point that most of us don’t leave bad jobs because we literally can’t afford to, I think one survival strategy that is very common is a belief that if X Very Bad Thing changed, then everything would be alright. Maybe that diagnosis is correct, maybe it’s not. Maybe there’s an opportunity for junior staff to engage in fixing those issues – but usually the reason it’s a toxic/bad workplace is that there really isn’t. And by keeping your eyes entirely on that workplace prevents thinking about what would need to happen to leave.

    Some of us stay in “bad” workplaces because there are parts of that job that benefit us more than our other colleagues for the moment (i.e. tuition reimbursement, quick promotions to very high pay, flexibility during a period like a wedding/ill family/early child rearing years, etc.). So while those tools to survive are helpful, for a junior staffer who’s been there for 18 months an believes they *have* to stay there for X years before looking – is that true?? Or even if they really should stay another Y months through Z special project, what are steps they could take now with their resume to be in position?

    1. Smithy*

      A little more context to this – the worst place I worked at, my boss was making three times what I was. So his willingness to stay in that environment was greater. However, how he talked to me about leaving was just “you should go” – which as a method of coaching junior staff is not the exact approach I’d recommend.

      So I do think things like what achievements a junior colleague or direct report could/should highlight on a resume. What types of jobs would be good next steps, where to look for jobs, taking them out for lunch to learn more about what their long terms ambitions are/advice around growth, etc. And also, if you work somewhere that has internal transfers and other teams are known to be good, making those connections.

      1. Red Flags Everywhere*

        Excellent points and I would add letting them know you’ll understand if they are job searching and you’re willing to give them a solid reference (as a colleague even if you aren’t the boss). It’s 100% understandable that people are afraid of what a toxic workplace will say about them if they are trying to leave.

        And then remember that while THEY can’t/shouldn’t address the toxicity and how they worked around it/remained professional in interviews, you can certainly directly state that as a reference. I’ve done this and the hiring manager was even more impressed with the candidate’s discretion after I relayed a couple of anecdotes.

  10. Unpause ROTTMNT*

    Oof, this brings to mind the time a new director was brought in to manage our team. We were sat down and told “you might hear rumors about Kathy. It’s not *that* bad” until eventually we were given the list of Things to Make Working Under Kathy Easier (which went from never knocking on her door, to never contradicting her, to not walking away when she was having a meltdown at you) Anyway the only thing I could eventually do was leave the job. Toxic environments are tough and it’s impossible for one person to change things. We tried!

    1. Ex-prof*

      Oh my. I had a boss who was a Kathy-esque individual. I did walk away while she was melting down at me. She fired me. Then word came down from higher up that she had to unfire me. This did not improve our relationship.

      Toxic bosses are horrible and anyone working under them needs to make some kind of plan to get away, somehow, someday.

    2. Goldenrod*

      I worked for a Kathy too. One of the major red flags was a printed list that her assistant kept in a file called “Kathy’s sandwich preferences.” It listed things like, “CRISPY bacon only.”

      When I first took over as the assistant, I thought, “Why would you need a written list of sandwich preferences? Can’t she just tell you what she wants?” No. She relied on her assistant for that. One time she even asked me, “What sandwich do I like?” and waited impatiently for me to look it up in the file.

      Also, she would stride quickly past me, bark out her lunch order, then disappear into her office with the door closed. Knocking on her door was not allowed. Clarifying questions were not allowed. You just had to try to decipher what she had said and hope you got it right. SO CRAY CRAY.

  11. Ink*

    For you, OP, at what was probably an entry-level position or eventually promoted a rung or two up? I think the main risk of “normalizing” that environment was to yourself. (scare quotes because it seems like you kept an ok handle on how abnormal it was, more than many people would manage.) If you were in management, especially upper management, then yeah, handing out this advice would be worse, and really bad optics. But you had very, very little power to change anything but how you reacted (and what behavior alterations you could prompt in someone yelling at you with that reaction). Self awareness, verbal acknowledgement, and looking for a different job are plenty, and survival matters more than the hypothetical broad, sweeping effects your actions might have on your coworkers.

  12. ecnaseener*

    Yeah, I think that ideally you would acknowledge that this is a serious issue and not normal – but it’s probably not realistic to expect yourself to do that consistently. Because as you said, “calm acceptance” is a good coping mechanism. Letting it roll off your back, blocking out as much as possible, these are necessary to get through the day in a crappy situation. You can’t necessarily switch that off just for one conversation and then easily switch it back on.

  13. Be Gneiss*

    I came from a very toxic workplace where yelling was common, people threw things (bigger than staplers) at other employees, and the one vaguely HR person – who was given no authority to actually handle anything – discreetly gave us a list of “guys to not be alone with in a warehouse due to their criminal records.” But it paid very well, and I needed a job that paid well. So, we had a set of strategies and tips & tricks, and coping mechanisms to get through the day.
    OP, sure, maybe you could have used some of the things in Alison’s script to make it clear that you all know that having to deal with this stuff isn’t okay or normal, but I think by sharing strategies and supporting each other you were still doing a very good thing. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and say “you should all walk out! You should just quit! You perpetuated the terrible environment by not standing up and declaring it toxic!” But in reality most of us are just doing our best to get through the day, and most of the time that involves things like getting paid money so we can pay bills and buy food. You were doing what you could to help make it manageable for the people you worked with, and that’s okay.

  14. Dulcinea47*

    The flipside of not beating yourself up for not quitting on the spot is, do keep looking for another job. Everyplace is not like this and you do not have to tolerate it forever. It really warps your judgement after a while.

  15. Bee*

    At least one of those effective strategies didn’t involve biting anyone? (That story was wild, and I would love a BETTER update than the one we got.)

    Toxic environments poison the mind, and it’s hard to be logical until you’re out and you’ve had a chance to regulate yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself for doing what you had to at the time, and take the advice to build in sanity checks going forward.

  16. Observer*

    I am shocked that I was comfortable having strategies around this kind of behavior rather than just quitting on the spot.

    This is pretty toxic too. Because it shifts the blame on people who really often don’t have good options. I know very, very few people who can afford to quit on the spot. After all, why did you NOT quit on the spot? Did you *really* think that there was nothing wrong with what was happening, or was it a matter of you feeling (probably correctly) that this was what you were going to have to deal with if you were going to make it in the field?

    This is something that comes up on this site a LOT. People will say things like “you should just quit”. And then the inevitable backlash happens. Because most of the time people really *cannot* just quit on the spot. And more often than not, it’s not just about making it in their field or career progression, but about survival. Whether it’s that someone has others who depend on them, or it’s someone who doesn’t have an emergency fund, it’s often the case that people really cannot quit.

    Allison’s approach if far, far healthier. Arm people with tactics and techniques while acknowledging how messed up it is that it’s necessary. And either push back where you can, think about your own exit, and / or find ways to minimize the negative effects.

    Also, this is one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to have a decent emergency fund if at all possible.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Because most of the time people really *cannot* just quit on the spot. And more often than not, it’s not just about making it in their field or career progression, but about survival. Whether it’s that someone has others who depend on them, or it’s someone who doesn’t have an emergency fund, it’s often the case that people really cannot quit.

      Yep. It’s you should quit on the spot and live on the street and that addendum usually changes the calculus and rarely for the better.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        “You should quit and live on the street.”

        This is powerful language, and it bluntly sums up that quitting on the spot isn’t an option for most of us.

  17. Jellyfish Catcher*

    LW, You have nothing to apologize for: you were young and inexperienced, yet strong enough and resilient enough to recognize toxicity and never adapt it.
    You were also so lucky to have a safe, kind group for examples of how to rise above that behavior and show that you can still act with integrity, even “under fire.”
    Look at this as a gift, given just when you needed it: those fine people helped you grow in a positive way, and gave you examples of grace under fire. That will stay with you, always.

  18. NutellaNutterson*

    I recently completed a recommendation for someone, and it was a series of questions with radio buttons to rate how much the candidate does/doesn’t demonstrate particular qualities. (Ugh, do not agree with this but not my role to object!)

    One of the items was so egregious I actually copied it out of the form. Here it is in it’s full horror:
    Exhibit emotional maturity and self control, even in stressful situations (e.g., does not physically or verbally abuse or threaten others)?

    Is that really the baseline for behavior?! I was truly alarmed.

  19. AY*

    Sorry in advance if this is too off-topic: so much of OP’s description of the job reminds me of Kate Beaton’s recent graphic novel, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. In it, Beaton grapples a lot with how her younger self dealt with misogyny and sexism in the workplace, and to a lesser extent, with the nature of the oil industry itself. You may remember Kate Beaton from her webcomic Hark! A Vagrant. Anyways, to the extent any readers are interested in some exploration of these topics, I highly recommend the graphic novel!

    1. H.Regalis*

      Yeah, Kate Beaton! I remember reading excerpts of this on her website. She has been such a huge influence on the art style of many, many webcomics. She’s great.

    2. LW*

      Ha, funny you should mention that industry. It wasn’t oil but an adjacent industry. Lots of crossover with workers

  20. Morgan Proctor*

    “If you just tell a new person, “Jane is going to scream at you, but it’ll be better if you do X,” then yes, you’re risking training junior people that this is normal / acceptable / not something they should find problematic. You can avoid that if you instead say, “There’s a lot of yelling in this office. That’s not okay, it’s really toxic, and it’s not something any of us should have to put up with, but since it’s happening, what we’ve found is most effective to deal with it is X.””

    I don’t know, I don’t see a difference between these two wordings. They are both normalizing toxicity. The second one is kind of worse. You’re telling someone a situation is “not ok,” and following that up with advice that makes it ok for the perpetrator of said situation, because the advice isn’t “here is how to make it stop,” it’s, “here is how to get through it.” Acknowledging it doesn’t make it go away. You’re still forcing someone to deal with a toxic situation with the same silly “coping” method. Yes, sometimes people just really need a job and don’t have the luxury to quit, but… if you’re being literally yelled at regularly enough that either of these scripts are needed, you need to quit. That needs to be the advice here. The LW is correct. These coping methods normalize abuse.

    1. Silver Robin*

      ….okay and while the person is job searching to get out, how do you recommend they get through the day? Lots of folks cannot quit with nothing lined up and jobs are hard to find. Hearing “you need to quit” while you are just trying to make it till Friday is really unhelpful and, to me, more dismissive. Yes, I know the ultimate answer is quit, I am working on that, what do I do *right now* to make the meeting in 30 minutes the least bad version of itself?

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’d argue that it’s a “silly” coping method. It sounds like it worked fairly well. The baseline scenario was horrible, but having a couple of tricks up your sleeve to deescalate bad behavior comes in handy.

      Obviously the long-term value depends on whether the bad behavior starts to get extinguished as these subtle shifts occur, or bad behavior starts getting called out because the shifts don’t work and it’s obvious that the offender is over the line, or whether the LW and coworkers determine that the offender won’t be leaving and so can plan a reasonable exit based on their short- and long-term needs.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      You’re not forcing anyone to do anything. If the person you’re speaking with has the ability and means to quit on the spot, they can do so. But if they don’t (which is generally the case) you’re providing them with tools until they can either find something better or someone much, MUCH higher up is actually able to create the necessary change to the work environment.

    4. Observer*

      ” and following that up with advice that makes it ok for the perpetrator of said situation, because the advice isn’t “here is how to make it stop,”

      No, it’s advice that makes the situation survivable for the victim. Because the OP does not have the power to make it stop. And *certainly* no advice for how a newbie can make it stop.

      if you’re being literally yelled at regularly enough that either of these scripts are needed, you need to quit. That needs to be the advice here.

      Right. Because people just have the ability to walk away from a job while making sure they have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and the wherewithal to look for a new job. Forget about luxuries like access to healthcare. NOT.

      Advice like this is toxic and perpetuates toxic and abusive systems. Because it place blame on victims and responsibility on people who don’t have the power to do what you say they should.

      1. H.Regalis*

        Thank you. You said this is a much more polite way than I would have.

        Advice like this is toxic and perpetuates toxic and abusive systems. Because it place blame on victims and responsibility on people who don’t have the power to do what you say they should.

        The advice you’re talking about that’s like this is the worst. You’re getting screamed at and have no power to stop anything without risking losing the basic things you need to survive? Let me tell you how everything is your fault because you didn’t deal with the situation exactly how I think you should have. The people abusing others get treated like some unstoppable force of nature. Where are they in this?

  21. This_is_Todays_Name*

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I cannot STAND when someone repeats back to me, “I hear that you….” “I hear you’re upset about…” “I hear that you’re calling us today because your internet is down,” WHATEVER. I don’t know what exactly about it hits me so wrong, but it feels… condescending? Patronizing? Infantalizing? Not sure what a different option would be, but for me, in a tense situation if someone said that, it’d make my blood pressure go HIGHER not calm me down!

    1. Cyndi*

      I used to have a friend who did this when any of her friends were upset and it drove me absolutely up the wall, and I couldn’t figure out why until she decided to go to school to be a therapist. Nodding sagely and going “gosh, I can see why that would be upsetting for you!” is what I’d expect from a therapist but weirdly condescending otherwise, IMO.

    2. Martine*

      If you’ve ever been taught Active Listening, this is the script you’re told to follow. It’s supposed to acknowledge that you’re hearing what the person is saying. I too find it extremely annoying to be on the receiving end of it because it sounds condescending.

      1. Cyndi*

        Saying something like “Oh no, that sounds really rough, I’m so sorry!” is a million times better and more sincere sounding to me, even though it’s expressing basically the same thought.

        1. Kella*

          This only works if you are, in fact, sorry. A good amount of the time, active listening scripts are used in situations where it wouldn’t be appropriate to offer sympathy or where you have no sympathy to give because the person is actively abusing *you*. It also cuts down on the number of misunderstandings because if you are reflecting back that you hear they are upset about X thing, it gives them an opportunity to correct you if you haven’t understood them (since upset people often don’t communicate themselves clearly.)

          1. Cyndi*

            Fair enough! Once my friend came to mind I was thinking more about people using that kind of language to express empathy and support, but of course that’s not really the situation at hand.

      2. bamcheeks*

        This is a very restrictive version of active listening— I use active listening, summarising, and reflecting a lot in my role, but not like this!

    3. apples and pears*

      It feels dismissive. It implies you might be unreasonably upset or that your problem may only be a problem in your head because it doesn’t acknowledge the situation.

    4. socks*

      I think the intention behind that kind of phrasing is good. A lot of arguments are caused/worsened by people talking past each other, arguing with something the other person didn’t say, etc. Being able to step out of your own perspective for a second to make sure you’re actually hearing what they’re trying to say is good!

      …but that said, that particular phrasing is so well known as a Technique that it’s likely to get people’s backs up regardless, and also it’s not a magic wand that makes the person saying it actually capable of listening to what the other person is saying.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I think that’s why it irks me too– I know it’s A Technique and I feel like they’re not engaging with me person-to-person anymore.

        I’ve also experienced the situation where somebody has said that they’re hearing me, which is nice, but they’re not at all engaging with the issue at hand. Like, “I hear you saying that it’s unacceptable that your hotel room is ridden with bed bugs. I can give you a complimentary dry bagel without cream cheese or any toppings.” Or from a manager, “I hear you’re upset you just found out your male coworker with fewer qualifications is making twice your salary. Have you considered being less angry?”

    5. KGD*

      This is a common script recommended for both parenting and teaching (my field), and I’ve been noticing it in customer service situations too. I agree that it feels patronizing once people are out of the toddler stage. My 3-year-old still likes it because often people have no idea what she is saying – so she says, “I no keen up! No no!” and I say, “I hear you. You don’t want to clean up. Let’s do it together” and ideally she feels heard (although not necessarily willing to clean up lol).

      With older kids and adults, it’s obviously more effective to ACTUALLY empathize. I think these scripts are designed to sort of fake empathy when you don’t feel it or at least to get someone to stop repeating themself. Sometimes people keep saying the same thing again and again because they don’t feel heard, so the goal is to let them know that you’ve received the message, even if it isn’t going to give them what they want. But it often lands in a really annoying and condescending way. (“I hear you. Your internet is down and you wish it was working” is not going to make anyone feel better)

      My go-to with my six-year-old and with my older students, when I can’t muster genuine empathy, is to ask questions about how they feel to make sure I really understand and then validate the feeling (“That makes sense. I’d be mad too if my friend did that”), and I bet that would work better in customer service as well.

    6. not nice, don't care*

      “I hear you” and ” I appreciate that” are stock mockery phrases in my household’s conversations.

    7. Pajamas on Bananas*

      “but it feels… condescending? Patronizing? Infantalizing?”

      Positive parenting uses this phrasing when validating toddler emotions, so that makes sense. It came across that way to me as well.

      I have been known to use “Let me make sure I’m understanding x,y,z.”

    8. Mill Miker*

      For me, I’ve heard it too many times from people who think the point is to “make your employee feel heard” but not to ever actually listen to anyone.

      Like, I’d say “I can’t complete both X and Y before tomorrow, so I need you to tell me which is more important.” and I’d get back a “I hear you’re struggling to manage your time, but they’re both important and need to be done. Maybe after I can give you some time management tips”

      And then I’d say “Okay, but I still need to know which is more important” and get a “I told you I hear you on this issue, but now it’s been addressed, and you need to stop dwelling on it”

      So this kind of performative active listening stuff sets off my (admittedly over-sensitive) “you’re being manipulated” alarms.

    9. Lenora Rose*

      I don’t like the “I hear you” phrasing specifically, but I do find some version of “Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly” actually does seem to work for me – because I’m trying to find the actual problem and the nuggets of information most relevant to the problem in what is often a lot of highly charged, emotional language.

      And remember, these are the things being said to people who came in purely to yell abuse at the people using the “I hear…” language. I’m not sure, but I think a bit of condescension towards a person who can’t control toxic abuse might be a valid response.

    10. LW*

      Ha, yeah, your right- I didn’t actually use those words…but also, it’s super hard not to be a little condescending when an adult is having a tantrum about you asking them which session of a mandatory meeting they are going to attend. It was literally a legal requirement of their position to attend or, if they were right and they didn’t need to, well, that was a conversation they needed to have with their boss.

      But your right, I tried to be more tactful in person

  22. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I don’t think you have to worry about normalizing bad jobs. I think bad jobs are already the norm and healthy environments the exceptions.

  23. kiki*

    I think one thing to remember is that as you rise through the ranks, offering coping mechanisms and workarounds to unacceptable treatment of your employees and staff becomes more morally questionable. As you rise through the ranks, the onus to actually change things falls on you.

    When you’re the entry-level person who has been in your role for a year, giving survival tips to the new hire makes sense. You cannot actually change the environment, but you can help your peers.

    When you’re at the director-level and advising your direct report to sit when they’re being yelled at by your boss because you know it helps them calm down… there’s an issue! It’s your job to actually protect your employees.

    I’ve seen a lot of folks get beaten down by and habituated to unacceptable behavior for so long that they don’t realize they’ve actually gained the power to do something about the problem. It’s importabt to stay aware and not fall into that boat.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      This is a great point! There’s a huge difference between a manager telling an employee “Oh, that’s just how Fergus is. If you want to deal with him, here’s a tip…” and someone telling a peer “Just to warn you, Fergus has a temper and sometimes yells. It really sucks, but I’ve found it’s helpful if you do this…”

  24. H.Regalis*

    Don’t beat yourself up for not quitting on the spot. We live in a capitalist society: 99.999999% of people need to work to survive. Many of those people are living paycheck to paycheck. Very few people are in a position to just quit and walk out the door without having to worry about being able to afford food and shelter. People do what they need to do to survive, and sadly far too often that is going to involve putting up with shitty behavior at work because in the short-term, you have no other choice.

    In the long-term, I would say work on getting out of the situation, but in the short-term, you need coping strategies to deal with it. Sharing those with other people is going to helpful to them, and I think it’s good to flag abusive behavior for newer employees to make sure they know this isn’t normal. Your first jobs can really warp your perspective. I worked at a place where we got thrown to the wolves as far as dealing with abusive customers, and that really messed with my ability to stand up for myself for many years afterwards.

  25. Lobsterman*

    Capitalism is so much worse than a person can understand if they grew up remotely sane. Don’t beat yourself up about it OP. We all have to see the thing for ourselves.

    1. Blackbeard*

      75% of workplaces in which I have worked were toxic/dysfunctional in varying degrees. I would have loved to have someone telling me how to defuse bad situations. OP, I think you managed to do pretty well, especially for your young age. Hats off to you!

  26. Goldenrod*

    “The key is to pair your advice with a clear and unequivocal statement that the thing your strategies seek to mitigate is Not Okay.”

    As usual, Alison’s advice is spot on. I’ve been in a lot of toxic workplaces – unfortunately – and the key is to leave, yes, but quitting on the spot was never an option for me. Not only was it financially impossible – but also, I always wanted to leave when I was good and ready, and when it worked best for me. I was too stubborn to put myself in a dire situation just because other people behaved in an abusive way.

    Survival strategies are useful! Like Alison suggests, the key is just to not drink the Kool Aid. I spent three years in a job where there was MASSIVE heavy gaslighting, and the crazy boss wanted everyone to worry about how to emotionally please her. Some people bought into it. I never did.

    Sometimes I fakely apologized or pretended like I agreed with her just to get through my day. I never, ever bought into her crazy version of events. I told my own version of events and kept that clear inside my head. I told my friends, I wrote it down, and I shared notes with the few people at work that I could trust. I believe sharing survival strategies is a kindness to others, as long as you are very, very clear that the toxic environment is wrong.

  27. SpecialSpecialist*

    Teaching new hires how to deal with toxicity and empowering them to not take crap can help change the culture. Doesn’t hurt to remind the people who’ve been around for a long time too.

    If you tell your new hires to walk away when someone starts yelling at them, then eventually enough people will walk away while someone is yelling at them and (hopefully) the people doing the yelling will see that it doesn’t work anymore.

  28. Problem!*

    My first job out of college was like this but not *quite* as bad. It’s totally not normal to have to have a signal for your closest male coworker to take their headphones off and keep an eye and ear out whenever the resident Creepy Old Man is lurking near the new 22 year old intern’s cube because HR won’t do anything because “there’s no proof”. But it happens, and with how long it takes to find a new job + the stigma of “job hopping” if you leave a new job too soon the victims are often stuck for much longer than they’d like to be and need to find a way to stay safe and sane in the meantime.

  29. KGD*

    This is a common script recommended for both parenting and teaching (my field), and I’ve been noticing it in customer service situations too. I agree that it feels patronizing once people are out of the toddler stage. My 3-year-old still likes it because often people have no idea what she is saying – so she says, “I no keen up! No no!” and I say, “I hear you. You don’t want to clean up. Let’s do it together” and ideally she feels heard (although not necessarily willing to clean up lol).

    With older kids and adults, it’s obviously more effective to ACTUALLY empathize. I think these scripts are designed to sort of fake empathy when you don’t feel it or at least to get someone to stop repeating themself. Sometimes people keep saying the same thing again and again because they don’t feel heard, so the goal is to let them know that you’ve received the message, even if it isn’t going to give them what they want. But it often lands in a really annoying and condescending way. (“I hear you. Your internet is down and you wish it was working” is not going to make anyone feel better)

    My go-to with my six-year-old and with my older students, when I can’t muster genuine empathy, is to ask questions about how they feel to make sure I really understand and then validate the feeling (“That makes sense. I’d be mad too if my friend did that”), and I bet that would work better in customer service as well.

    1. KGD*

      Oh no! I definitely put this in the wrong spot. Sorry… I’ll copy and paste it into the right thread.

  30. I guess I'm just too dense for this*

    Could someone please just “out” the industry OP is talking about here? Is it law?

    1. bamcheeks*

      There are unfortunately multiple industries it could be. Generally you get behaviour like this in industries which have some kind of “glamour” and more people wanting to work in the sector than there are jobs, because people are more likely to stay in toxic environments if they don’t feel there are other places they can go. But that means law, academia, film, fashion, media, theatre, politics, not-for-profit…

    2. Problem!*

      I’d put money on some sort of manufacturing job. Shop floor workers are often incredibly hostile to office workers, and the office workers are under some ridiculous deadlines and expectations where their compensation is based on the performance of people who actively dislike them and no one is happy and everyone is angry.

      1. pope suburban*

        Or construction. I worked for a specialty construction company with a lot of very wealthy clients and the environment was a f*cking nightmare. The shop staff looked down on all the inside staff as soft incompetents, while most of the office staff made no effort to understand the shop staff. Add to this verbal abuse from studio execs and VC millionaires, and the fact that our CEO was both a raging misogynist and absolutely terrified of conflict with anyone he couldn’t bully, and it was a Hellmouth. The casual racism/sexism of a lot of our clients didn’t help; I was often struck by the fact that I, a person who could not enter a country club, was scheduling a Hispanic technician, another person who could not enter a country club (except through the side door, for only as long as the job took), for people who looked at both of us as subhuman, while neither of us was being paid enough to live on. That place was The Worst.

    3. LW*

      It was a mining company (not in the us). The industry has cleaned itself up a lot and this was a particularly bad site…but the money was super good (management knew it was the only way to keep people). I guess that they paid so well that is part of the reason why I worry about normalising it- Yeah, for the first year or two quitting would have been difficult but after that I could have left for a different job or taken time off on my savings.

  31. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

    I think Allison’s advice is appropriate not only regarding toxic workplaces, but also other toxic situations that people have *some* ability to change or escape (varying by individual circumstances) but not *complete* ability to change or escape.

    Romantic relationship with an abusive partner, family-of-origin with a horrible family member, house-share with a toxic roommate, education with a cruel mentor or teacher, religion with a dodgy spiritual leader, medical or psych care with a bad provider. Ongoing interactions with law enforcement or compliance-based social services…

    Any time you’re stuck in a dependent position in relationship to an entrenched bad actor, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not okay (a) for the individual to act that way and (b) for society/the system to enable a bad actor/ conditions that keep people trapped with one, and (c) that it’s something for to work on changing or escaping when you can.
    And it’s important to have strategies that will allow you to survive as unharmed as possible while accumulating the means to change the situation, remove the bad actor, or escape.

  32. Dawn*

    You especially can’t afford to quit on the spot if, if I’m understanding you right, you were on an isolated job site far from home; I’m hearing something like an oil rig here and that’s not the type of situation you can simply walk away from whenever you please.

    1. LW*

      Yeah, probably a bit of hyperbole suggesting I would actually quit on the spot- it wasn’t US so 4 weeks is minimum notice. But I stayed longer than 3 years which was ample time to look for a new job if i actually wanted out. And the money was good enough that I did have savings after the first year so could have coped with some unemployment. I justified it that my team was pushing back and I knew I could cope with being yelled at without taking it home. I think Alison was right that there was a bit of boiling the frog going on- I definitely internalised more than I realised

      1. Dawn*

        There’s always some of both sides on that for sure; the thing about the money being THAT good enough is that there’s a lot more you can accomplish coming out the other end with a fair bit of savings.

        I’d really really love if I owned a house already and wasn’t trying to buy my first in the middle of everything going down nowadays.

  33. Kelly*

    I couldn’t just quit my last toxic job because I needed to pay rent and live, I lived paycheck to paycheck because of our very predatory commission structure (paid once per year which I realized was to avoid paying 25% of our pay if we quit before the end of the year) and to top it off a 25 mile non-compete agreement.

    I quickly learned that I made myself cry when our POS boss was yelling he would back off really quickly and apologize. It was literally the only thing that stopped his tirades about ridiculous customer complaints. The first time I used it he was yelling at me on no sleep (up all night with an emergency) because a client lied and said I never called her during the HALF HOUR window she gave me for two days that week. I did in fact call her during her required time, left a VM and documented the call. Anything the client complained about was automatically me needing to work on my communication. I was so sick of the abuse I just made myself burst into tears. The meeting ended one minute later and I walked back to my desk smiling to myself.

    I did eventually find a new job that doesn’t scream at me or make me work 12+ hour days because the owner is mad he’s still working or holds my paycheck hostage until I thank him for it. I make almost twice as much to boot.

  34. el l*

    Don’t beat yourself up about not quitting on the spot, or back-talk, or any of those “Oh, I would’ve TOTALLY done this” fantasies.

    Real life doesn’t work that way – especially when the trouble comes out of nowhere and/or the other side has some leg to stand on. Much less when you have to protect your income until you can get someplace healthier. You’re just trying to be professional and deal with the problem at hand, and somebody completely loses their mind, and frequently you’re so stunned that someone went there that…you stop.

    People telling you to quit on the spot have so many privileges when doing so. Not their income.
    They weren’t there. Wasn’t their work product. And so on. Social media in particular gives this “I woulda” notion.

    Just learn from the toxic experience now – and tell a younger person who may not appreciate when a line has been crossed.

  35. NotBatman*

    Captain Awkward has the metaphor of the “missing stair”, where awful behavior that shouldn’t be normalized gets normalized within a group. I think what’s really key there is that people who fall through the hole in the staircase get blamed, as if they should’ve known all along the staircase was a death trap.

    If, however, you’re standing at the top of the basement steps warning people about the gap and handing them tools to get over it more safely, and if you’re aware that the staircase must be replaced as soon as you can afford it, then that’s not a true missing stair.

  36. OMG, Bees!*

    Also known as the Broken Stair scenario, warning new employees about problems they will face that ideally should be fixed but aren’t or can’t (I highly doubt LW’s team had the power to fire senior management who yell)

  37. Anonymous was already taken*

    I currently work in a toxic environment because I need the money. Admittedly it’s not as bad as this one but bullying is rife. I read an article on LinkedIn about the prolonged effects on the person who has spent a long time in a toxic workplace and I see that in myself. Lack of self esteem, not trusting my own judgement, feeling like I’m in trouble every time my manager wants to talk to me (due to continually being treated like a child). I hope I can overcome these issues when I do get out.

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