You can’t leave it at the door: Work behaviours affect your personal life
By Mina Movasseli
What is it about the top employers that everyone wants to work for – is it the ping pong tables? The beer days? Something else?
As a behaviour analyst, I was really interested in answering this question. One of the reasons people aspire to work at great companies is often the culture. But I’ve learned that, while there is often an illusion or assumption the culture of an award-winning organization is healthy, the reality can be quite different.
And working in a toxic environment can take a severe toll. It happened to me once, and – in hindsight – the first sign there was an issue was my decision to start eating lunch at my desk.
If you were spotted heading out for lunch at this organization, you were not taken as seriously or perhaps even viewed as a slacker.
Just by going along with this norm at the office, I was actually going against my values. You should be allowed to do whatever you want on your lunch break, period. Simple, right?
The next red flag was watching volunteers at the organization working on long weekends, without pay, in the hope they would end up with a paying job at the end of it.
Just by not saying a word, I was contributing. I knew it wasn’t right, and yet I did nothing.
This started to have a compound affect on me, far beyond the 9 to 5. We may think we’re able to separate our personal life from our work life, but the brain really can’t – there are no separate compartments.
Creating a ‘new normal’
Over time, your mind picks up your new behaviours and creates an automatic response. When it notices you are silent in situations where someone is being taken advantage of, that might become your new normal response – creating a sense of ease and comfort in being silent.
When I started to be silent in the workplace, I realized I was also becoming more of a push-over with friends. I was allowing them to be the decision-makers for everything we did. I didn’t realize it was related to my work-life, but that’s how subtle it can be.
As the famous saying goes, “You are the five people you surround yourself with.” By allowing myself to continue to work in that environment, I was subject to becoming the people around me. I saw them weekly, for hours, hearing them make decisions that went against my values. After a few months, I started hearing my word choices change – I sounded just like the people I did not want to turn into.
Why? Again, our mind does not have compartments. It simply understands that you are constantly hearing these words – and you’ve chosen to accept them.
Now let’s dig deeper – what else could be happening in our personal lives that we may not be fully aware of?
First, when you find yourself in a toxic environment, you are more likely to feel drained or worn down. Second, you can also start taking in the wrong advice. When we feel overwhelmed, we often ask others what they think.
For example, when you are drained and are constantly dealing with toxic situations you might start to think that what is happening at your work is normal – so you seek the advice of friends or your spouse.
But what if their advice is not good or it pushes you to stay in an unhealthy situation? You will be less likely to realize this and more likely to blindly follow their advice, given your new reality.
It all leads to confusion about who you truly are – if you don’t remember your values, or what you stand for, you are going to feel inconsistent. This confusion shows up both at work and in your personal life. Your mind does this so it can feel consistent and, therefore, less overwhelmed.
Steps to take
So what should you do? In one word, speak.
Don’t put your position in the workplace hierarchy ahead of your human self. Someone being treated unfairly outside of work is just as bad as inside the office.
If the environment is truly toxic, and you have no control over it, it may be time to change departments – or even employers. While that may sound extreme, think about the toll it is taking on you on a subconscious level. Perhaps then you will begin to realize the severity of the situation.
If you’re in a senior leadership position, there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening at your organization. One tactic is to hold a meeting where employees can practice saying “no” to each other.
It creates a safe space and reinforces the message that they don’t have to say yes to everything simply because they are employees. Over time, this can change the culture of the organization.
Allowing others to be their authentic self is one of the best gifts an employer can give to its employees.
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