Stepping Back From a Toxic Environment

Throughout my life, I have been told that a job is a job and that if you work hard then you will eventually get to where you need to be. I should be grateful to have a job, right? I can’t afford to not have a job and that was a large part of my drive to work and to work hard. Working hard meant making more money….right? I have recently placed my two-weeks notice at a company that I worked at for an average of 20-25 hours a week. It was part-time, of course, and it was somewhat catered to my schedule which I was very much grateful for since I am a full-time college student that is involved in organizations and events outside of normal class periods. It seemed like a fine job, like a job many college students endure when they need the money to ya know...live life and pay bills. Turns out, not every college student simply endures their job.

    This company I worked for was one that I was very unhappy at. The problem that held me back from quitting the position and moving on was the fact that me and many others have given and grown with the mindset that “a job is a job” and that, of course, it isn’t permanent and that I am happy to be making money, but the line was crossed when I wasn’t not only being paid fairly, but my male co-workers were being paid more for the same position and the start time at the company. I didn’t find out this information until about a month and a half ago and I wanted to go straight to the manager and question the reasoning behind the unfair pay. I was given none and a simple shrug of their shoulders. Before the realization that I and two other females working there were being paid less than the males, I knew what the environment of the place was like behind doors. It was the women in the front, taking orders and waiting on tables while the men were in the back in the kitchen doing the cooking. It was the people of color in the back, out of sight doing dishes or taking deliveries. There was no doubt in my mind that the owner or manager had a sexist and racist history with workers and people in general, but a job is a job, right?

    By now you know it was one where there was food and waiting on tables and by this, you would think that tips are involved in my shifts, but they were not. I would wait on people, taking orders and serving them drink at the bar. When I am handed the $5 tip, I smile and thank them and then proceed to place that tip in the tip jar at the front counter. I have had experience where this is the case, but at the end of the shift most times the employees usually split the tips and take their share for the time they worked or they take the tips they are handed when the money is given to them. Neither of these was the case for the position I resigned from. When I or anyone else was handed a tip, we place it in the jar at the front counter and then if you closed, which not everyone closes at the end of the night, then you get the tip that is then shared between you and two other closing employees. If you closed at 10 pm and you left at 9:30, you did not get tips because you did not close. I was told multiple times when I asked about this absurd rule that promotes the want for people to close. Not only is this an unethical way of running a business and treating employees, but it is also essentially stealing from the people that do the hard work that earn those tips. But a job is a job, right?

    While I have given you background on a situation I have gone through, this is only brushing the toxic environment that I worked in longer than I should have. There were other events, other instances where I should have quit on the spot because of the position I was put in, but the one thing they don’t teach you when growing up is that it is okay to quit. It is easier said than done, obviously, but why? Why did I not quit after the first or second or fifth instance? Why did I put myself through the panic and anxiety before shifts when I would sit in my room and cry in my uniform because I couldn’t stand the thought of stepping a foot into that building? The reason is darker than I have admitted and I was scared. My heartbeat would be beating a million miles a minute and as I was writing my two-week notice, I thought I would faint from the black dots that scattered my vision and trembling of my hands. But I wrote it and even though it sat tucked neatly in my bag for a month, I finally was able to set the letter on the manager's desk and walk away.

    The nerves I had leading up to my moment of quitting and after did not fade quickly. I went throughout the first few hours of my shift always looking over my shoulders, stumbling over words as I spoke with customers, but it eventually subsided and a wave of relief washed over me knowing I only had a few hours of left of this shift and a few more scheduled days to get through before I would be free from the toxic environment I pushed through for months because a job is a job, right?