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How to stay safe in a toxic work environment

I have been a retired executive for many years now, but I keep in touch with professionals in many diverse fields.

I am finding it alarming that toxic and vindictive workplaces are becoming more and more prevalent.

We did have our fair share of entitled staff turning against coworkers over the decades that I served as leader. But today, with more stress in people’s lives, more technology, more litigious environments, more feelings of entitlement and a horde of media headliners who have made bad behaviour the norm, I think that toxicity in the workplace has become dangerous.

I remember over decades telling my team members that they must always speak and act in an ethical manner and always as if they are being taped even if they are not.

And today we are seeing, splashed across newspapers, examples of unethical taping of confidential professional conversations.

So, what can workers, regardless of rank, do to survive in these toxic working environments?

First and foremost, workers need to behave ethically.

Do not indulge in gossip, rumour, innuendos and temper tantrums.

Go to work, do your honest day’s work, be polite, serve the client with dignity and go home to family.

There is no need for too much of socializing at work because often socializing, drinking, gossiping leads to misunderstandings that fester.

Do not listen to coworkers who constantly gripe.

If you think the person has a genuine concern or if they are confiding in you that they are being subjected to a human rights violation then point them to human resources and stay out of the conflict.

It is a good idea to carry a notebook at work.

Date the start on the outside cover and date each page so the notebook becomes a chronicle of all your meetings and encounters.

Store these completed notebooks in a filing cabinet preferably at home.

Make brief notes at meetings, writing down who said what and what decisions are made, what tasks are assigned and what follow-up needs to occur.

Do not ever go back and edit these notes and change what you have written days and weeks later. 

This compromises your integrity and looks as though you are making up falsities.

In the event of a workplace investigation of anyone in the office, you may be interviewed and asked what you remember.

If you are a unionized worker always inform your union and follow their advice.

Your notes will serve as your reminders.

Occasionally you may be asked to show your notes to an investigator.

Again, follow the advice of your union.

If you are a manager you will need to make that decision on your own.

As a person of integrity your notes would be clean and you may decide to share it openly with the investigator, but as a caution, especially if it is a serious investigation, you may wish to get legal advice.

With regards to taping conversations, this is a very serious step.

If a meeting, conversation, teleconference or telephone call is being taped, the person(s) in the conversation must be informed that they are being taped. 

If you are a member in that conversation you must be an active speaking participant.

Secret tapings are regarded as entrapment and breach of trust. Even though Canadian law permits recordings in certain circumstances, there are serious consequences.

A search on Google Scholar of “secret tapings of meetings” will give you detailed advice on how, when and why taping is allowed.

It is a path of last resort after all collegial approaches have been tried.

I know that there are many workplaces that are caring and healthy where managers and coworkers treat one another with respect, dignity and integrity.

But it seems that as more and more workplaces become exponentially larger and more competitive, negativity creeps in from all directions.

It is best for workers to know policies and procedures well and keep themselves informed and safe.

                                                                                                                                                       – Dr Vicki Bismilla


• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer.

Posted: Aug 1, 2019

November 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

© CanadaBound Immigrant 2016