It’s been a year since I left my previous workplace, a government organization that I had worked in for thirty-five years. The more time that goes by, the easier it is becoming for me to come to terms with the damage done to my own sense of self-worth and self-esteem. These aspects of my personhood were attacked daily for several years at the hands of a workplace bully, allowed to run rough shod over the employees like a steam roller. I no longer need to speak in whispers about the injustice of working in this toxic work environment out of fear of retribution. I made it to the finish line, to the retirement that I had worked for so hard for so long. And yet, I realize that in the process, I sacrificed much of my sense of self worth and security, vital components for wholeness and wellness
It has been established that working in a toxic work environment can contribute to mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. In addition to bringing down employee morale, bullying can be the cause of daily distress for employees. In fact, in May, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an information worksheet titled Mental Health in the Workplace. This worksheet states: “Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.” Toxic work environments not only harm the employees, it can affect the overall productivity of the organization. The WHO worksheet also states: “A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.”
I consider myself lucky. I now work in a wonderfully collegial, creative, and affirming work environment. It is everything that I ever could have hoped for, and more. And yet, I am still haunted by the bullying that I endured, in an environment where even the slightest mistake meant that you got called to the boss’s office, to be screamed at and berated. I can still feel fear run through me when I make a mistake or say the wrong thing. I find myself going over and over projects I am working on to try and catch any errors before someone else sees them. And when the inevitable happens, and a mistake slips through, I still wait for the screaming to start.
I am still making the adjustment to a workplace where mistakes are taken in stride as an inevitable part of growth and learning. My whole work outlook has changed, and I no longer dread getting out of bed in the morning. I have a lot of work to do, but I am more productive now, more energetic. I am also less stressed and anxious now, able to concentrate more on the task at hand. I no longer feel the weight of someone crushing my head. Instead, I feel the freedom of encouragement and nurturing. Isn’t this the type of environment that all workplaces should strive to create?
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.