Is It Actually Possible to Fix a Toxic Workplace? This Opinion May Surprise You

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
May 28, 2024 at 8:28AM UTC
We have a classic "the chicken or the egg" question for you: Who is responsible for making workplaces toxic? Is it the management that allows it, or is it the employees who perpetuate it and don't hold each other accountable? FGB'ers are unpacking the question in the FGB Community.
One FGB'er kicked off the conversation by asking if workplace abuse is an HR problem or an employee problem.
"I am curious to see what my fellow FGB'ers think about this matter," she wrote. "Have you experienced workplace abuse? Bullying? Inappropriate behavior/words? Have you talked to your manager? Have you escalated to HR? Have you shared via employee engagement surveys? Am I the problem for allowing the behavior? Am I the problem for staying all these years?"
Other FGB'ers seem to think the end of workplace abuse is something to which we can all contribute, but can't necessarily control. In other words: We can each do our part, but management should take action when we do voice our concerns. Unfortunately, too often, issues aren't taken seriously — and we have job responsibilities to which we have to tend. Who has time to be fixing a company's culture problem when they have a job to do?
FGB'ers overwhelmingly advocate for leaving toxic work cultures instead of sticking around to try to fix things.
"Report it but be prepared to leave," one says. "Retaliation is real but hard to prove. And the company will always defend the offender, unfortunately."
After all, many of the women who did speak up to HR or take legal action didn't get very far anyway.
"I worked in HR and was targeted by my own team so I don’t know how well you can trust your own HR dept.," another FGB'er, MyOwnBoss, writes. "I was seeing unethical decisions being made and asking questions like, why and how did we make this decision? I was told to get on board and written up for not being a team player. Next thing I know, I was terminated. I have never been in this place in my entire career. These people should be ashamed of themselves and I hope karma bites them hard! If I knew without a doubt I could win a lawsuit I would go after them in a heartbeat, but they know enough to cover their bases. I have never felt such shame and defeat in my life, even though it’s completely irrational and I know I didn’t deserve what happened, it still hurts like hell."
Another adds to "never trust HR." It seems that many fear that HR's priority is the people for whom they work, not the people who make up the company.
"Unfortunately, I have found HR is there to support management (was actually told this by an HR representative), not employees," says one FGB'er. "I have never had any resolutions to any management difficulties when I engaged HR.  Sad, but true.  Am in a bullying, discriminatory situation right now and don't where or whom to turn to."
Of course, HR isn't the enemy. One FGB'er admits that she knew her HR person wanted to help her but, unfortunately, couldn't.
"My HR rep was powerless, and could not help with a bullying, threatening supervisor," she explains. "She wanted to help but was in fear of her job and had no support to get anything done. It was pointless."
So where do you turn if you can't talk to HR? Even the EEOC hasn't seemed to help much for some FGB'ers.
"I filed an EEOC complaint once [and] all they did was issue me a 'right to sue' letter, which was at least better than the outright dismissal of my complaint that the company was asking for," Barbg writes. "My understanding is that a 'right to sue' letter is the normal outcome for most complaints, but if you don't have deep enough pockets to interest a lawyer, it ends there."
Even if you can lawyer up, FGB'ers advise you to still leave.
"Bullying and workplace abuse is a management and leadership problem," an anonymous FGBer says. "Poor management and leadership allows these behaviors to become pervasive in any organization ... They are the ones to blame. My advice: Hit it where it hurts. Their pockets. Lawyer up, settle the case for a nice amount of cash, and move on!  Give yourself time to heal, before jumping into the next job."
In other words: Do your part to create the change you want to see — but, also, seriously consider other, better opportunities out there for you. This may not be a fair battle, and it shouldn't be your burden to bear. Do you agree with this take? Have you ever left a toxic workplace, or have you tried to stick it out to fix the situation? I'd love to hear your stories — and advice for women in the same boat. 
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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