So… you have found yourself in a toxic work environment. Now what do you do? You are NOT powerless. You do NOT have to accept bullying, harassment, or difficult working conditions. You have options. All too often people remain silent, keep their head down and do nothing, thinking they must hold their tongue to keep their job. While each workplace and situation is different based on multiple factors, here are 5 simple steps you can take to better your work environment for yourself and everyone around you.

Step 1: Speak Up

When the event occurs, don’t stay silent. Let the offending person know they have crossed a line. “It’s not ok to speak to me like that,” “That behavior is uncalled for,” delivered clearly, professionally, and succinctly calls attention to the behavior without blaming. The idea here is not to shame the other person, lowering you to their level, it’s to call out the behavior, stand up for yourself, and make them aware they crossed a line. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up if you witness poor behavior directed at someone else. Be their ally. Sometimes all it takes is someone speaking up to let others know they aren’t alone and give them the license to speak up too.

Step 2: Avoid One-on-One Situations

Bullies likely wait until you are alone, or until they are surrounded by other bullies. I am not saying run from the situation, I am saying don’t put yourself in the position in the first place. There is truth to the saying “safety in numbers”. Form alliances with co-workers who also feel the pinch of the bully and stick together.

Step 3: Ask for a Meeting

If this is repeated behavior from a co-worker, ask for a sit down with your supervisor. Get it out on the table. Again, the idea is not to blame. The idea is to call attention to the behavior and why it is unproductive. Often, supervisors don’t know what’s going on because they aren’t in the trenches so to speak. If it’s your supervisor, and you feel comfortable, ask for a one-on-one meeting to discuss it or go right to Step 4.

Step 4: Go to Human Resources

These folks are here to help you, it’s their job. They have a vested interest in keeping turn over low, keeping employees satisfied and happy, and creating a safe space for all. Frequently HR is not aware of everything going on in all departments. If they don’t know there is a problem, they can’t address it.

Step 5: Get Out

This is the last resort. If you love the company you work with, but are unhappy with your department or division, ask for a transfer. If you are working for a small company and have exhausted all the above, it may be time to start seeking other employment. If you have spoken up, talked with HR or your supervisor, and the situation remains toxic, it is clear to me that they company doesn’t value YOU. A job search is never easy, but what is worse – looking for a new job again, or sticking it out? Only you can make that call.

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