Episode 29 – Working in Toxic


If you work in a coal mine, you expect to be exposed to a physically toxic environment. If you work in an office, you do not. Yet, sick buildings are so persistent that you may be exposed to harmful air and surroundings that impact your health. With poor health it is an uphill battle to offer up the best your mind has to offer and perform your best work. Don’t put up with it. Take care of yourself. And, if you can, help take care of others.


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Episode 29 Show Notes


Episode 29 Transcript

This is Rebecca Clark. Episode 29. Working in Toxic This’ll Podcast is for anyone that knows they haven’t yet found and offered up their best work but are compelled to seek it out and do it. Are you ready to move your desk? As I’ve mentioned in some episodes recently and you can probably hear in my voice I have been sick, sicker than average, and I’ve had a virus. I’ve had pneumonia, I’ve had Sinus issues, and this has drastically impacted my ability to do anything, especially when there are a couple weeks there.

Where’s 24? Seven coughing and everything that goes along with that. And I am someone that when I am sick, I don’t snuggle up on the couch and watch fun videos on Netflix. I do nothing. I stare out the window kind of zone out, and then I go through this period where I start a lot of reflection because I can’t really sleep. I can’t really think I don’t like toe learn during that time. It’s like I can’t accept any new information, and maybe that’s strange. Or maybe you’re like that, too.

And so I’m alone with my thoughts because I’m not adding new information to them, and I start thinking about the purpose of my life. Like, What would I do if I have this illness long term and actually get immense gratitude for those times when I have had good health? Because I realized how much it impacts your ability to offer up your best work, offer your best in relationships and get anything done? And so I’ve had a lot of insights this time around because it’s been over a month of constant illnesses.

So what does this have to do with work? Well, when you deal with these kinds of sickness is you start to realize that health matters. It’s everything. If you don’t have your health, it’s really hard to function. And this has become very important to me because of some experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years, but especially because I am someone who was pretty much healthy until eyes about 40 right? I didn’t think about my health at all. Once in a while, you get a sniffle or an occasional sickness.

Mine was somehow tied to the Christmas time frame. I don’t know if I ate too much candy and got excited and hand anxiety. But I’d get sick around that time when I was young, but for the most part is very healthy. We were lucky to live in a neighborhood where we were right in the city, but a neighbor a few blocks away made honey, and so we had extremely local honey for many years, and I think that warded off a lot of illnesses in our house. And I don’t remember ever missing school for being sick.

Now, of course, in the eighties, maybe with her seventies and eighties, maybe we were less concerned about germs and her, like, you’re going to go to school no matter what kind of thing. But I don’t remember sickness being a part of my growing up, and I did not have a lot of accidents, either. I think I stepped on a hole when I was maybe eight or nine. I also twisted my knee and a volleyball game. I’ve gotten hit on the head a few times in basketball games because I was like a center or a forward size under that net and exposed to those people jumping.

And then I’ve had some Sinus issues, but nothing really that ever made me think about my health, and so I didn’t really appreciate it. And when you have your health, you don’t really recognize how you are able to physically and mentally perform basic work at home or actually at work or school or anywhere else. And I truly did not recognize this until I went through experiences in the workplace where we had actual toxic buildings. And I think it took a while for me because I had such great health that it was a very slow process of having the toxic buildings impact my help.

But there are people coming to the environment that already have pre existing conditions and challenges with their health, and those people have an immediate reaction in toxic work environments. Now I am actually talking right now about physically toxic, and it is surprising how many buildings in the United States alone are thought to be toxic to the workers because there’s mold and they’re different things going on with the air and the chemicals being used in that kind of thing that are contributing to air. That is actually not good for people to breathe.

And it’s really odd because the mind has to come to grasp with this because we aren’t coal miners, right? If you work in a coal mine, you actually fill out paperwork and acknowledge that you are going into an A situation that’s dangerous for your health and well being. But when you were a knowledge worker, when you’re working with, like, technology and training and management and sales are teaching and these kinds of jobs that air in day to day business and government, this is not something that most of us think about.

We think we’re going to go into this air condition building, have a nice computer that we can take to different places, and it’s generally clean. And your biggest concern is that you might have to wear a sweater when it’s 95 degrees outside because the office is cold. But there are some riel issues out there with buildings. I brought this up in the first episode of the Move your desk podcast, but I wanted to bring up this story again as a reminder. I worked on a campus for a few years, and I worked in at least 12 different locations on that campus because there are various renovations going on or departments would change or whatever.

And we move around to different basements to different top floors, two different offices into different cube farms in each of the buildings that were different issues and people would bring these issues up to the highest levels of leadership. And they may acknowledge some of the things that were brought up, like if they’re strange, smells like Okay, let’s go make sure they fix it or everyone is experiencing a headache. Okay, maybe there was some kind of chemical used that day that needed to be addressed, but most of the time, it was thought of as complaining when these issues were brought forward and people’s opinions and thoughts were disregarded when it can, it’s not that bad.

Oh, you must be a canary in a coal mine And people were made to feel poorly because they spoke the truth about what they were feeling, and they honestly wanted to stay and do good work. Most recently, in one particular building, there were a lot of illness is coming up, and everyone was looking at it as their own personal problem, like Okay, I must have gotten sick because I got a bug from someone or my kids brought home something and I got it. Or I got this strange skin reaction because I’m stressed.

And I remember I got this years ago when I was stressed and each person, including myself, justified why they felt the way they felt. And we started talking, you know, especially if you’re a supervisor, you start noticing different people coming to you, telling you different things that you talked to another supervisor and they’re mentioning some people are having some issues and you put two and two together and go Wait a second. This is not highly personal. There is a root cause going on, and the root cause is in our air is in our building, and you start to see that people are suffering.

And part of this was a brain fog that would come over us, and then we could not offer up our best work to the organization. And the repeated pleas to maintenance and to the highest levels of leadership kind of came back with these little checks, you know, and they go walk to the building and say Everything’s fine. We don’t see this. We don’t see that we don’t smell the smells. We don’t have brain fog, and so ultimately, not a lot was done. What was crazy to me and all of this, and I’ve mentioned this before is that when people were given an option to tell a work or to have meetings and other buildings or go work in conference rooms and other buildings, they often didn’t take it.

They didn’t take the opportunity. They wanted to stay at their desk because that’s where they had the monitors. That’s where they had the phone. They felt like they could ask questions. The piers there were around them, maybe, and felt like in an environment where you needed to be seen. It was important for them to occupy their spot, no matter how toxic so that people would know they were working. Even though if you are sitting in toxic, you are not getting a lot of work done because you’ve got the brain fog.

You’ve got the headache. You’ve got the fatigue. You’ve got watery eyes, Cifelli noses like all of these things. And when that’s going on, we all know we are not offering up our best work now. In the midst of all of this. One day we had a meeting with our president of our organization. He was giving us a status of different projects and everything. And he mentioned in his comments that a building that some of us were supposed to move into would not be ready to be moved into as soon as they thought, because they had uncovered way more than they had expected.

In this renovation, there’s gonna take longer. And they were just glad that they had uncovered all of these things that were terrible about the building and were able to fix them. And this president was not aware because he hadn’t been there very long that many of us sitting in the audience had worked in that building before and had said there was a problem that there was something impacting our health in that particular building. This isn’t even the building I was talking about previously. This is another building, so there are some systemic building problems on this particular campus, right?

And I’m sitting in the audience and it’s one of those moments where you get a feeling come over you, like this is not acceptable. The leadership really doesn’t understand what just happened in this moment. They expose the truth to us that we already knew. But no one else had accepted and didn’t realize that the people sitting there had been exposed to that in the past, had didn’t disregarded, and now that building was being fixed. But these people were now in another toxic building in dealing with the same situation again and weren’t getting the respect they should receive as a human being when they say my office is toxic.

So what do you do in that situation? Well, a lot of people felt bothered by it, but we’re scared to come forward and scared to say what they’d said before because they fear getting the same reaction or getting the reaction of Hey, GIs. Wait a few months and you’ll be in a newly renovated building. But as I sat there, I realized in that moment that I had to do something that it was me. I had to do something that I was bothered. I knew that other people were bothered but didn’t feel empowered to do anything about it.

I was in a leadership position and I needed to step forward and say something. And so I did. I went to my leadership who directly reported to the president, and I said, Listen, it’s not our president’s fault. He does not know the history, but what was just shared in that meeting showed that what we had shared in the past was true. The building was toxic, and all of us that were in that building are now in this other toxic building. And we are now saying this building is toxic, We cannot work in it.

And so I need you to know that we need to really create other options for people because they’re suffering. And luckily, leadership responded very quickly and set up a room in another building with all the monitors. You could use space for conference calls and sent a message out to everyone saying, Hey, these people may be sitting in different locations on campus to do their work, and here we were again, where options were offered and people still felt tied to their desk. Now, in these environments where people feel this way, this signal something else the toxic air or the toxic building is just one part of the toxicity when people react like this and are highly intelligent, highly educated, highly experienced, emotionally intelligent.

People choose to sit in a place that it’s unhealthy for them when they have other options shows that there’s another layer of toxicity going on in the environment. The culture has done something, and the actual toxic air has done something to the way people are able to process information and think and make good decisions. And can you imagine any brilliant work coming from this kind of situation? I can’t I know that during that time it was all I could do to get to work each day. And like many others, it took the entire weekend to feel like I was human again.

And then I’d be going back into the environment. And so I took care of myself, even though I was a supervisor. Listen, I’m not hanging out in this building, so why are you so that people could see the supervisor is willing to leave the leaderships willing to go to other buildings because it’s that bad and hoping that everyone else would follow and some did, and some did not. But I wanted to bring this up because as individuals we need our help in order to do well at work.

And if we don’t have our health, we cannot offer up our best work. And if our work environment is a detriment to our help, it’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we can offer up our best. It’s up to us to open our mouths and share if there’s something wrong with the environment, and when you do that, you find out what kind of leadership you’re dealing with and how much they care about the employees or do not right. And there’s a wonderful quote.

At least this is how I remember it. And I can’t find out if it’s from Tony Robbins or from Burn A Brown. Either way, it’s you get what you put up with, and when I first heard that quote, when we were going through this toxic building stuff, it kind of floored me. For some reason, it just hit me in the right way, where it’s like Wait a second. I’m a grown adult that has the ability to make choices. This is not the only spot on Earth for me to be living and operating in and I can choose whether to put up with this kind of toxicity or move on.

I have a choice, and if I’m here, it’s because I’ve chosen to be here. And sometimes we can forget that we can say I’ve got to be here because I finally got this stable job. I’ve got to be here because I finally obtained this title or this salary or this is the location we wanted to live. So I have to put up with it, really, why it’s killing you. So why are you doing this to yourself? And unfortunately, when we are so busy trying to keep up with work and so tired out because of things that are very real in the work environment, like toxic buildings at times we aren’t in the right state of mind to make these choices for ourselves.

And we really do become a very slow hamster on that wheel that keeps turning. And unfortunately, some of us have to get really sick to stop and realize Wait a second. Something’s wrong here, and it’s up to me to take care of myself because your employer certainly is not most the time. They’re not going to take care of you. In that way, there’s someone else that can come in that is going to feel healthy enough for a couple of years before they start complaining about it. And so, if you’re viewed as a complainer in this kind of situation, then you know that there’s not gonna be a lot of change that happens now.

That’s from an individual perspective. But what if you’re a leader in this kind of organization? What if you’re a supervisor? What if you are managing teams? Well, you also get what you put up with, but what are you gonna put up with? This is a great time to use your leadership skills and your influence to convince those that need convincing that the environment is not working for the people. And if the people are your greatest asset, Thio, offering up your products and service is in your value propositions to the world than why aren’t you taking care of their basic needs?

I know that during this time I wanted to make sure I wasn’t coming forward from ah, highly emotional state. And so I sent out an anonymous survey to everyone in the building and asked them to gestate what all of their symptoms were and what their experiences were. And it was incredible because it pretty much came back. Is 100% match there like 10 to 12 symptoms that were the same for everyone, and others offered up thes personal journals they had kept about how they felt every few days and the experiences they had and the requests they had sent for help, like for maintenance and that kind of thing.

And who’s super interesting to realize that we were all living at the very basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I know when I turned in, a report about it actually drew a layer at the bottom of the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and put air that was even below basic physical needs of food, water, shelter by default air because that was killing us and added that, too. And here we are, focused on air. So how are we supposed to self actualize in this environment?

How are we supposed to offer up our best work? We’re sitting here worried about the air, and even if you open the windows, it wasn’t enough to offset the power of bad air. And, oh, by the way, we had wireless, so you can easily step outside and work. Isn’t that crazy that there’s okay, air just outside the door and we’re still choosing to sit in the toxicity. So if you are a leader in this situation, if you want to help people in the best way possible, even at the expense of your own job, it’s time to go share how this is impacting everyone’s morale.

Everyone’s ability to produce and believe me when they aren’t the watercooler. Those visits air a lot longer, and there’s a lot more back and forth being shared about how the organization doesn’t care. Why don’t they listen to us? Why don’t they trust us? Are they gonna fire me if I say something negative? Even though everyone’s coming forward from a place of going, I just want to offer my best work, and I can’t do it in this environment. So all of this to say how important it is to take care of our basic health, and if people bring up health concerns a lot to err, err on the side of empathy and making adjustments to assist them before automatically assuming they’re trying to get out of work or they’re trying to find other excuses.

And this plays into self care for some of us taking that time to make sure that in our daily habits we are doing those small actions that help us stay healthy and strong. And if we keep our bodies healthy and strong, our minds can be clear and active and offer up what they need to offer up. And that’s the beauty of being sick is to realize suddenly how the mind is impacted in such a way that it can’t operate effectively. And you could see the difference between when you are fully operational and when you’re incapacitated.

And I have tremendous empathy for those who have a constant illness, because that is a daily struggle to figure out how to focus the mind and offer up your best above all else. Because you are someone that is constantly trying to improve and become your best self, I would remind you again of that quote. You get what you put up with and if the building’s air toxic, if the culture is toxic, honor yourself enough to take care of yourself. and learn from those of us who didn’t do it for periods of time and had to get really sick in order to finally realize, Wait a second.

I don’t need to put up with this. I need to seek out and find away to do my best work. And if this organization or of this building doesn’t work for me, that it’s my job to move on, and I am fully capable of finding somewhere else or something else to do while simultaneously acting, if you have that feeling like I did acting to help inform those in power. And that can make decisions of how desperate a situation really is and demanding that people have options so that they can offer up their best work and feel safe doing so.

These air just some thoughts about health and toxic work environments, and I know I will have more. And part of this journey of being sick and working in toxic buildings was actually good because it forced you if you chose into researching more about it, and getting connected to people in resource is that could help you through. And I know that one of my friends, Deborah introduced me to the bulletproof podcast and there’s so much good information, it’s kind of overwhelming. But check it out because they’re always sharing insights on how to get healthier and stronger in mind and body.

And the man started his whole company because he was having allergic reactions to mold in buildings and other surroundings and didn’t know how he went from a regular, thriving adult to an incapacitated person that had such poor health. And it took him years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to explore and work through how to get his health back and look at where it got him. There was goodness in his health problem because he now shares with world ways to work through mold poisoning and other kinds of health issues that come up from our environment and from what we put in our bodies.

And I also, I’m lucky that I had Barbara Christiansen, who’s a health coach helping me through this, telling me of little tips and products along the way to help me get my health back in order. And I’m not there yet and I know I’m not there yet because I know I’ve felt better before But the journey, however difficult, can introduce you into new aspects of life and caring about yourself and others that you may not have otherwise had empathy for understanding off unless you went through this kind of experience.

So even though I say hey, get yourself out of the environment, take care of yourself. Stand for something. If the’s come up, remember that it’s all part of your journey. And so if you are experiencing any of the sickness from your work or from any other kind of health issue, there’s so much to learn from it. And when you learn Maur and improve yourself from it, you can then share that with others because there’s a constant need right now for people to get healthier and to remove themselves from toxic, and two continue to offer up their best work.

I feel completely comfortable sharing this. I haven’t mentioned the organization, but a few of you can figure it out. And I’m not scared because I’m sharing a truth. People got sick over and over. They weren’t listened to, and then when they were listened to, they didn’t believe it, and so they still sat on the toxicity and very few people took care of themselves, and that’s extremely sad, and I hope that changes, and this is in no way trying to harm an organization. But true’s need to be shared like this honestly and openly so that things can change.

And I’m hopeful that I’m sharing this in a way that promotes improvement and change for individuals and for organizations, because I believe both individuals and organizations can change any day. They decide to do so. I don’t have to trust that that will happen. So get your health and order. I know I am, but it is important for me to record this with my gravelly voice. And while I’m in the midst of sickness, because it is a great reminder to me to practice what I preach and that is to take care of myself and get healthy so that I can offer up my best work.

You have a great week and take care of yourself. Thank you again for listening to the move your desk show. Take a minute and go to move your desk dot com and sign up for the weekly email. And remember, it’s not spam that it may show up in that part of your inbox. I talk to you next Monday

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