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As we wind down the year, what are your thoughts about all that happened in 2020? How have you coped with the challenges of the year and how is the state of your mental health?

With working professionals spending almost half of our waking hours at work, accompanied with the changing work situations in this pandemic, and with recent news of workplaces getting into the spotlight for the wrong reasons, The Pride asked our 7,400 followers on Instagram to weigh in on toxic work culture.

The signs of a toxic work environment may not be as obvious as verbal abuse or unfair staff treatment but there are subtle unhealthy actions by colleagues and bosses that can take a toll on our mental health.

Avoid Toxic Workplace Behaviour
Image source: @kindnesssg/ Pride Roars

In our poll, we asked our followers to decide which is worse between two different types of workplace toxic behaviours and explore how these can be avoided to create a kinder workplace.

Late night work texts vs. Top-down communication

Avoid Toxic Workplace Behaviour
Image source: @kindnesssg/ Pride Roars

Our poll was almost evenly split between dealing with top-down communication and receiving late-night work texts.

Top-down communication can be a turnoff, but it seems that more dread receiving work-related texts after working hours.

This isn’t just something that employees in Singapore are upset with though. In fact, Portugal has banned bosses from text messaging and emailing staff after working hours as part of changes being introduced to improve work-life balance as more people start working from home during Covid.

Truth is, no one likes to be disturbed after work hours and such texts can create anxiety as employees feel pressured to give a reply.

The thought of having an unfinished business to deal with or even the fear of offending your superiors inevitably puts an employee under unnecessary pressure.

If you are a manager and you must send that piece of information because you’re worried that you might forget about it later, preface it with a “you don’t have to reply to this right now, I’m sharing it for a future discussion”.

And before you do that, ask yourself two questions: “Is this issue urgent?” and “is this information crucial to be sent right now?”

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, click that send button the next day during office hours!

Grouchy expressions vs. Constant criticism

Avoid Toxic Workplace Behaviour
Image source: @kindnesssg/ Pride Roars

This was a no-brainer: 4 in 5 respondents said that they would take a grouchy-faced boss over a constant stream of criticism.

Negativity breeds negativity. The more anyone is exposed to a constant flow of negativity, the more it affects the person’s mood and morale. And that person is in turn more likely to pass on that negativity with a harsh word or an unkind remark.

This isn’t to say that criticism is bad.

It is always good to be given feedback on how to improve but how we put across an opinion matters too.

Always ask yourself (and this is true in all relationships, not just work situations), is this comment bringing value to the conversation?

When giving advice, try to keep it constructive.

Don’t tear down others without considering how to build them up again. Consider using the sandwich method of giving feedback — start with pointing out what your colleague or employee has done well, then add on how they can improve, and follow up with a closing compliment.

Lack of guidance vs. Micro-management

Avoid Toxic Workplace Behaviour
Image source: @kindnesssg/ Pride Roars

Somewhat oddly, about two-thirds of the respondents said they resented micro-management more than a lack of guidance.

I recall my experiences when I first entered the workforce. I was understandably given more junior tasks specific to my job. However, I was not told how my roles and responsibilities fit into the entire workflow. I didn’t see how my work was contributing to the company as a whole and this lack of guidance left me frustrated and drained from the tedium.

Nevertheless, having a manager constantly asking for work progress updates or figuratively (or literally) hovering behind your shoulder as you work can be very annoying too.

It signals a lack of trust in an employee’s abilities and worse, it tells them that they are not ready to operate independently. Very soon, such employees will also lose motivation and start to phone in their work.

I believe that when we first join a company, we take pride in our work and have our own personal expectations of how we can achieve work satisfaction. However, an ineffective leadership style can easily take away this joy and cause work to be a chore instead.

Managers need to understand that there should be a healthy balance between guiding and micromanaging. The key to this is to have a clear line of communication between yourself and your staff.

Which brings us to the final question:

Snide comments vs Getting talked over

Avoid Toxic Workplace Behaviour
Image source: @kindnesssg/ Pride Roars

Seven in 10 of respondents said they dreaded sarcastic or snide remarks from colleagues or supervisors more than getting talked over.

Regardless of either scenario, it doesn’t bode well for your company if everyone doesn’t give each the space and respect to be heard.

Having people pay attention to what you’re saying is an important part of the human experience. No one wishes to feel like their views are trivial or that their points are being misunderstood.

Respecting the opinions of others is an important aspect of kindness.

A colleague who previously worked in the service line told me: “Good employees will tend to understand their colleagues’ challenges and struggles while performing a certain task.”

She added that offering a helping hand with their workload and a listening ear to their struggles can be good for their mental health.

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However, she said as a caveat that being kind can sometimes leave you vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

She explained that she had her fair share of bad experiences in the service industry, but those were balanced by personal encounters with good bosses and colleagues who were willing to lend a helping hand when she was in need.

She told me: “These are the people who essentially crafted and shaped me to who I am today. They have taught me multiple life lessons, morals and values that have gone a long way. It is heartwarming to be understood and heard, and to know that someone shares similar values and outlook as you do.”

Additional reporting by Zenevieve Tan

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