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Protecting your joy in a toxic workplace

At some point in our lives we will all experience a job which makes every Sunday feel like Blue Monday. A cloud of creeping, sickening dread triggered by the thought of the coming morning. It's exhausting. But there are small ways to make the weeks more bearable *while you frantically hunt for another employer.*

When I graduated university way back in 2017, I was eager to join the corporate world and start making some real money. Instead of doing a ski season with one of my closest friends, I jumped at the opportunity to work for the Ministry of Justice. OK, so I was only doing admin. And the "real money" was barely minimum pay. But I was certain that I'd be making a difference and that my recently acquired (and expensive) talents would set me apart from my colleagues. Oh young, foolish 2017 me.

The work was monotonous but high-pressured as we were timed and had strict targets to hit. It was overwhelming and my desk quickly became a white mountain of paperwork. While I was fortunate to work with a few lovely ladies, I was also bullied by one bitter woman and her sheepish followers. Every day I could hear my name rise above whispers and snickering, eventually culminating in being called a b*tch to my face.

So, amidst all of this toxicity how did I maintain my sanity? (or at least some of it!) A few little things saw me through this harsh introduction to working life: 1) Finding small, rebellious acts of joy

When working in an environment built around maintaining stern conformity and emotional numbness, even laughter feels oh-so rebellious. I am not a troublemaker, never have been, but if a giggle here and there makes me a maverick then sign me up for a mugshot.

Side note: I do understand the importance of the work we were doing, and the sensitive data we were handling. However, I also believe that it is possible to take your job seriously, and have fun while you're doing it. If you do not allow your employees to talk at their desk - at all - and still expect productive and fulfilled workers, I strongly suggest a rethink.

So how did I find joy in this environment? I made it my mission. As mentioned before, I was lucky enough to work with some lovely ladies who I was able to share this mission with. Aside from jokes and friendly chit-chat, I also initiated phonetic Fridays. I was often required to speak to solicitors and other courts over the phone, and needed to spell out certain information such as case numbers and post codes. The phonetic alphabet is great and all, but who can remember every single letter? (Unless, of course, you are an over-achieving Girl Guide, Scout or Brownie) So I would ask my colleagues for a theme and word suggestions to use for particular letters. My favourite conversation was definitely the one in which I was able to utilise"U for u bend", closely followed by an animal theme which had me saying " eagle eagle walrus" to a bemused legal secretary. Obviously this may not be workable in every job. But I hope it serves as an example that it is possible to create merriment in gloomy surroundings, for the benefit of you and your colleagues. Laughter is by far the greatest medicine.

3) Enjoy your commute

OK so this one may be overly ambitious. The dreaded commute. How is it possible to find pleasure in being jostled between sweaty bodies on public transport, or sitting bumper to bumper in standstill traffic? Headphones, my friend. My escape during this time was music and I carefully crafted playlists which would lift my mood (as much as humanly possible). Sitting on the bus before the sun was up, I'd be sipping coffee from my reusable cup, flicking through a good book and using the Song Radio option on Spotify to discover new music. Multitasking. Thanks to the internet there is no limit to the things you can learn in 30-40 minutes. So find a good podcast (preferably one that makes you laugh), create a fun playlist, download an audio book or simply scroll through videos of cats speaking like humans. Find something that distracts and amuses you instead of scowling out the window at passing fields or other commuters.

2) Hobbies and friends outside of work

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a life outside of work. This is true for everyone but especially crucial when you hate your job. In this respect I was lucky enough to have a very good friend living nearby who I played badminton with every Wednesday. I love playing sports (hi competitive Aries) and found this was a great way to let off steam and get some exercise in. Plus I was able to moan and laugh with someone who cared about me, instead of how long it took me to file my paperwork. Find something you look forward to and book it into your week. It doesn't have to be a sport, it could be reading graphic novels or perfecting your macaron recipe. But make sure it fits into your schedule.

3) Planning things to look forward to

When you're stuck in a rut it's easy to lose sight of the wider world and feel a bit lost. Having something to look forward to, whether that's travelling somewhere new or catching up with a loved one, will give you a beacon of hope for the most challenging of days. Put a date in the diary in pen. Add another for the following month. As soon as one has ended, make sure you plan another experience, activity or get together that fills your heart with eager anticipation. Sure, being present can bring contentment, and I am all about finding the little things in life. But scheduling something to get excited about, weeks in advance, stretches out the joy and can increase your happiness.

4) Getting out!

It is never worth sacrificing your mental health to demonstrate stickability on your CV. I know that everyone's situation is different. You might have people depending on you, a mortgage to consider, rent and bills that won't pay themselves. But we all have choices. If you hate your job, know that you have the option to leave. It might not be immediate. You may need to build up some savings or spend time working out how you actually want to earn your money. But it is possible. If I could go back in time, I wouldn't have stayed in that toxic environment for as long as I did. Eight months is a long time when you feel trapped and miserable most of the time. When I did eventually leave, I didn't have another job lined up. I just knew that I needed to get out. It did all work out for the best in the end, despite being made redundant from my next job within 6 months, but that's a post for another time!

Best of luck out there, fellow wage-earners. I hope you find a job that makes every Sunday feel like a Saturday.

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