The past few years have given us collectively a great deal to think about in terms of problems with our workplace cultures. Big unionization drives across sectors have gotten us to think about exploitative workplace conditions, the mass shift to remote work and the haphazard move to hybrid work have encouraged us to think about communication norms and boundaries, the George Floyd uprisings showed in new relief how racism and white supremacy show up in our workplaces.
The word “toxic” has been having a big few years. It was chosen as the Oxford Word of the Year in 2018 and, honestly, it’s still going strong. It is applicable to personal relationships, environmental collapse, and, of course, workplaces. With the fallout from COVID, the rapid shift to remote working, and an unsteady implementation of hybrid working, everyone is thinking about their workplaces more and more. Are they especially brutal? Are they supportive? Do they let us live dignified lives? One framework for thinking through particularly bad workplaces is the concept of a toxic workplace. But what does that phrase really mean? And why does it matter to define it carefully?
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During the height of the pandemic, we saw exhortations to support frontline workers, to tip extravagantly, to be kind to the person providing phone support, and to remember that the person working behind the counter or on the delivery truck is potentially risking their life to get you what you are looking for. There was at least some understanding that the customer-facing workers are the people who actually keep the wheels running of our society.
The return of office life is on the horizon. For many, it’s already here. But it won’t be the way that it was in February 2020. As we reopen, many workplaces will be using a hybrid model between in-person office working and remote working. They will be doing this to reopen offices gradually and because the past year and a half have shown many of us that we can work from anywhere and that not commuting to an office has a number of benefits (not least of all getting our commuting time back).
At times, creative practices - the work of research, ideating, building, and crafting artwork - can feel at odds with the flow of capitalism that dictates that you always do more, go faster, and think about yourself in isolation. In this world of speed, money, and individualism at the forefront, what does it mean to slow down and think intentionally about where artists and the economic ecosystem generated by the arts industry fit in within the greater world? “Solidarity Not Charity - Arts & Culture Grantmaking in the Solidarity Economy: A Rapid Report” written by Nati Linares and Caroline Woolard presents one answer to this inquiry. This report covers how artists and culture bearers fit into the larger solidarity economy that is growing; organizations, individuals, and collectives who are transforming how we think about funding and wealth building; and numerous actions we can take to educate ourselves and enact change.
As you apply to jobs and interview for them, there are plenty of red flags that can let you know that a workplace isn’t healthy. I can start with just the ones I have personally experienced.
Right now, we are in the long process of starting to reopen the world after so much of it abruptly shut down in March of last year. There is a lot to be excited for and joyful about. People are increasingly able to safely see loved ones, hug one another, and gather together in meaningful ways. But reopening is also complicated. We’ve entered a new kind of gray area in terms of what is legally allowed, what feels ethical, what feels safe, what feels good, and what our responsibilities to one another look like.
It’s no surprise that people who have been working remotely this past year (or for longer) are sick of Zoom. I’ve been a remote worker for years but it is only this past year that the video face boxes fill me with a deep sense of exhaustion and boredom. For years, Zoom was what I used for work, but now it has to also be what I use to talk to my family and mentor, and to watch movies with my friends.
At Fractured Atlas, we think a lot about the structures that govern our interactions with one another; the structures that determine who gets decision-making power in a group, and who is accountable to whom.
Nobody stays at a job forever. If we’re interested in developing healthier work cultures, that has to encompass what it means to leave a workplace. We have to build work cultures that allow us to do better than politely pretending that we’ll all work somewhere until we retire and then out of the blue give our two weeks notice. We have to become more open about job hunting and interviewing.