“I Was Used to Being Silenced” — Nigerians on Life After Leaving Their Toxic Workplaces

March 22, 2022

If there’s anything recent conversations surrounding work culture in Nigeria has shown us, it’s that navigating and surviving a toxic workplace requires a lot of hard work. But what happens when you finally move on to greener pastures and a work culture that respects you as a human being? In this article, six Nigerians break down how they adjusted to their new work environment, and what they had to unlearn after leaving toxic workspaces that drained them physically and emotionally. 

1. “I had never worked in an office where salaries had a set date”

— Uchenna

My former boss was a financial and emotional tyrant. The first red flag I convinced myself was pink was when he asked me to start work without a contract. Two months into the job, I realised I got paid whenever he felt like paying his workers. My salary might come at the end of the month, middle or even the start. It made it very difficult to plan around my salary, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he would post Instagram stories of him popping bottles in the club even though he was owing me my salary. I remember leaving after a year of suffering and poverty. 

At my new job, the contract had a salary date and honestly, I just thought they were fucking around. So imagine my surprise when my salary showed up first thing on the 28th of my first month. I almost ran mad. Based on my last experience, I just assumed salaries were based on vibes and inshallah. I was so used to not knowing when my salary would come, that I found it hard to spend money or live my life. I had to unlearn this fear and breathe easy because I finally had a structure where I could save and make plans.

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2. “I’m finally in a work environment where I can speak up without fear of being fired”

— Kiitan

The CEO at my old job came in and turned our work culture into one built on fear and silence. Before he was hired, my co-workers and I were all very friendly and supportive of one another, but I’m not even joking when I say this guy came in and we all turned on one another. He would yell and force his ideas and opinions on the rest of us. It was so bad that I eventually pushed back at a meeting once, and he asked that my contract be terminated. 

The first thing I noticed at my new job was how everyone communicated in such an open and transparent way. There is public acknowledgment and reward for work done, and I don’t feel the toxicity of people calling me names or trying to pull me down. I’ve also had to unlearn the need to work on my own. I was used to handling tasks all by myself, but now I understand the concept of delegation. I don’t have to carry everything on my head. 

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3. “I’ve had to unlearn how I communicate with my co-workers.”

— Faridah

At my old job, the CEO’s wife ran things. She worked in the company too, and it was a case of “it’s my husband’s company, so I can do anything I like”. 

She made working there a horrible experience, and no one could challenge her. But the weird plot twist? Well, I found out her husband was the one asking her to say these things. He wanted to maintain his “good guy” personality, so he used her to pass his message across since she already had a fearless personality. 

The best part about my new job is the fact that there’s friendship here. There’s a sense of community, and the people here are kind and thoughtful. I also had to unlearn how I communicate with my co-workers. I used to speak with the fear of being shouted at or unnecessarily scolded like a child. Now I can talk freely and my opinion is encouraged. 

4. “My former co-worker was hooked to a hospital drip and still working”

— Chacha

My old boss masqueraded as a woke guy, but deep down, he was the most toxic person I ever worked with. He made me and the other interns in our organisation work for more than a year without public holidays, leave or salary reviews. Mind you, we were supposed to only work as interns for three months. There was the time my co-worker asked for permission to go to a wedding, only for the office to force her to work on her laptop at that wedding while everyone else was doing owambe. The place was so toxic it filtered into our WhatsApp platform where my boss was always dragging people. 

My new job is different. I remember asking our account officer if I’d be getting my full salary since I was on probation. She laughed and asked if I thought they were monsters. Then there was the time I fell ill and HR asked me to take all the time I needed. Coming from an organisation where someone once worked even though they were hooked to a hospital drip, all of this was surprising to me. I finally realised that the way I was treated at my old job was wrong and they were not invested in my physical or career growth.  

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5. “I don’t feel guilty about putting my health first anymore”

— IK

The company culture at my old workplace revolved around our CEO’s mood. One day we’re wearing t-shirts and jeans, and the next day they’re asking all of us to dress corporate. He also had a habit of sacking people by just deleting their emails and removing them from Slack. He was doing all of this but still maintaining a “you can tell me anything, I’m young like you” energy. He saw himself as this saviour we should all look up to. Working there really affected my self-esteem even though I was getting therapy. 

At my new job, even though we have a structural hierarchy, everyone is equal. It doesn’t feel like this person is that other person’s boss, it just feels like they’re in a particular role to contribute to the overall company. I’m also learning that I don’t have to overcompensate at work. If I’m not feeling good, I can take a break, and it’s fine. I don’t have to feel guilty because I’m putting my health first. 

6. “I’ve regained the confidence my old job stole from me”

— Tejiro

My old job hired me as a programmes assistant, but I got there and started taking the responsibilities of a programmes officer. I was hired to support the programme officer, but here I was basically serving as the team lead. I kept telling myself it was a learning experience, but they would belittle and silence me in meetings. My boss would come in, and I’d have to get him coffee or food. I was babying a full-grown adult. It took a lot from me and my confidence because I started doubting if it’d ever get better than this. It was really bad. 

I joined my new job and was still trapped in that feeling where I saw myself as less. It has taken a while, but now It feels good to be working in a space where I have a voice. I’m learning that I don’t have to always wait for validation because the people I work with trust my work. I listen to some people’s stories now and I’m like, “Damn, that used to be me”. 

CONTINUE READING: How My Abusive Boss Made Me Quit My Job

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