When the COVID pandemic hit, most non-essential employees were asked to work from home.

This shift took a lot of creativity and adjustment but was not entirely without benefit.

For those willing to lean into the initial discomfort, many were able to identify plusses to this new arrangement. Some of the benefits anecdotally reported, were increased flexibility in schedule and productivity, improved self-care practices and a greater focus on the things that matter in life.

For some, working from home brought unexpected respite from a toxic work environment. Behavior such as bullying, an over-demanding boss, micromanaging or office gossip. Now, with infection rates decreasing, many organizations are making the decision to return employees to the office. This has caused anxiety for some. But does returning to the office have to mean returning to the old way of doing things?

You have been away from the office for quite some time. You’ve established new patterns of behavior, you have changed. You made these changes because you had to.  

Now, make changes returning to the office because you choose to! The only difference is that you are choosing to activate change rather than changing because of an outside force.

Most people crave a greater sense of control in their work environment. Why not seize this for yourself? The truth is, if you keep doing the same thing, you should continue to expect the same outcome. If you select to engage differently with your environment, your environment will likely respond differently to you.  

Here are some ways to engage differently with your work environment.

First, you can choose to be a mindful observer of what is happening. By this I mean, observe the other person’s behavior as if you are watching it on a television screen, like watching a movie. Often toxic people will engage with you in such a fashion that they are attempting to trigger a certain response or emotion in you. It may be an attempt at intimidation or inciting fear.

If you take the bait, you have effectively handed over your control in the situation. By engaging mindfully, and without an emotional reaction, with your environment, you are simply observing what is happening. This is taking back your control.

Next, you want to identify the behavior your tormentor is engaging in using objective terms. Write it down as a way of objective record keeping. Avoid name calling or emotional responses. Remember, you are an objective observer watching a movie.

Examples may include, “He raised his voice while leaning over my desk,” “She ignores all my comments during meetings,” or “He tells me to take the lead in a project but then tells me how I should do it differently at each check-in.”

Run your observation past objective supporters. Check your perception and see if others perceive the behavior as inappropriate. This will provide the emotional support you need and could prevent you from reacting to a misunderstanding. After all, our lived experience can taint the way we perceive our world.     

The hardest step is probably the next one. Now that you have clearly defined the toxic behavior, tell the person to stop that behavior. If appropriate, you may suggest an agreeable alternative.

This needs to be a non-emotional, non-threatening, clear statement. Often this is enough for the toxic behavior to stop. If, however, they try to pull you into an argument, simply restate and walk away. If they are not willing to make a change you will have to take your record of the stated behaviors to HR to report.

Alternatively, now could be a good time to find a different job. There are many companies hungry to recruit fresh talent.