I rushed to the parking meter ahead of my car. I didn’t know how long this would take, and had already used most of my ticket time down the street from my workplace talking on the phone. I had called my old university coordinator – just to talk. I needed some cheering up, and wanted to talk to someone who I knew believed in me before going back inside. I waited at the crosswalk, stomped my boots in the lobby, and went up the elevator. Slow, deep breaths. I was nervous. As I walked into the office, a colleague mentioned that my boss was looking for me.
My boss came in just then, asking to review a project and then discuss the email I had sent earlier that morning detailing some concerns about my work experience. Stumbling over my words – a tendency my boss would sometimes mimic me for – I reached into my backpack and pulled out an envelope. “I’m handing in my two weeks’ notice.”
Impacts of Workplace Relationships
Thinking about a job’s tasks and responsibilities, and wondering if you are equipped to meet workplace expectations, can already be stressful enough. The complexity of professional relationships can also add stress to the work experience. In the same way that friendships impact our personal lives, work relationships can enrich our professional lives, or deplete them. They affect the process of settling into a new position and our level of comfort in asking for clarification or more time to complete a project. The level of trust in those relationships affects our ability to admit mistakes, express when we feel that a process is not effective, or when we believe that we are not being treated fairly.
We spend much of our days in a physical or virtual workplace, so it’s not surprising that our work experience is connected to our overall well-being. Healthy relationships can help us to navigate the stressors that naturally arise. Poor or unhealthy working relationships can cause issues even when things should run smoothly, and negative experiences that are serious enough to impact our mental health can also lead to problems with our physical health. 1|2
Weighing My Options
Handing in my two weeks’ notice was a tough decision professionally and financially. It meant relocating for the third time in three months, but I knew in my gut that I could not stay for much longer. I was watching my mental health decline, and experiencing chest pains triggered by the thought of returning to work each day. Staying in that unhealthy situation meant accepting all the unhealthy behaviours, reactions and coping mechanisms that it was bringing out of me.
Recognizing the Expiration Date
In that situation, I was becoming stronger, more strategic, and building resilience – I knew. But I could tell those benefits had an expiration date. If I didn’t leave soon, I was going to leave with more negatives rather than the positive growth I had achieved. It took a while to move past the uncertainty and disappointment of that experience. My confidence was definitely shaken. Looking back, though, I’m glad I had the courage to explain my reasons in writing and leave an unhealthy environment. In order to confront and remove myself from that situation, I had to believe in myself and my decisions, fully aware that I might face serious regret later. I followed my gut, trusted my judgement, and incorporated the advice of a few trusted confidants. In doing all this, I showed myself that I believed in me.
Where to next?
As with any type of relationship, signs of an unhealthy work relationship can be obvious or subtle. Throw hierarchy in the mix and it becomes even more confusing. In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about ways to recognize healthy and unhealthy workplace relationships, and some steps you can take if you believe that the situation is negative.
Until then I wish you all the best in navigating your workplace experiences. If you can, seek support, inside or outside of the workplace, and confide in trusted people about any difficulties you are facing.