Perspective Series: Feeling Safe at Work

The Background: Why I’m Writing This Post

I recently applied for and interviewed for a new job.  Yesterday, I received the notification that the job had been offered to someone else.  In the past, this situation usually brought up feelings of rejection, sadness, and unworthiness.  I am so happy to realize that I didn’t feel any of these feelings.  Instead, I felt a confidence that everything would be OK and all I had to do was to continue to pay attention for other aligned opportunities.

What Was Different?

  1. I was actively seeking an increase in pay as well as something that would feel joyful.  Only rarely have I sought an increase in pay.  Asking if the job would feel joyful is something I have never done. 
  2. I asked my boss for a reference, and I told him about what was happening in the process.
  3. The whole interview process felt really good, even fun. I felt confident, and I showed up very authentically; I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

What these things boil down to is that I feel very secure and safe right now, both in my work and in my life.  I have never felt so safe and supported in a job.  Previously, I have always done job searching in stealth mode.  I have come to realize that some feelings of shame and guilt attached to the process when I did it that way. 

Red Flags I’ve Experienced in Work Environments: What Didn’t Feel Safe

  1. Conflicts or a lack of empathy between shifts. I’ve experienced this as a dialogue that looks like: “The closers are so lazy…” and “If only the openers did…”
  2. Threats of being fired/disciplined.
  3. Retribution by having my hours cut. It seems like a conversation might have been a better route.
  4. Time off requests not being honored.
  5. Management and other employees trying to make me feel guilty for calling in sick.
  6. Management trying to make me feel guilty for not picking up extra shifts.
  7. A supervisor once stood in front of the door to the walk-in cooler, trapping me inside.
  8. My boss’ husband once yelled at me in front of customers. My boss did not defend me, and she would not even meet my eyes.
  9. One boss I had seemed to pick a random person to act hostile towards. This happened 2-3 times a week, and the subject of the hostility changed.  Other coworkers had different phrases for when this happened: “being in the pot” and “going out to the woodshed.”

When these things happened to me, I didn’t feel safe.  In fact, I felt trapped.  I would often launch a stealth job search, but it would usually take me 1-2 years before I was offered another job and felt able to leave the situation. 

What Feeling Safe at Work Looks Like for Me

The good news is that it is absolutely possible to feel safe at work.  Here is what that looks like for me currently.

  1. My boss supports me. It feels safe to talk to him, even about other opportunities I am interested in pursuing.  I feel safe to bring up topics that are bothering me.
  2. I belong to a union.  This means that if a problem arises that I am unable to resolve with my boss’ help, I have someone else to turn to.
  3. My boss and coworkers say, “I hope you feel better” when I call in sick.
  4. I am generally allowed to use my paid time off when I want to. I always respectfully ask when I want to take time off, and I consider the needs of my department.
  5. My coworkers and boss treat me with kindness and respect. Everyone usually speaks in an even tone of voice.
  6. I am able to joke around with my coworkers and boss.

Some Next Steps for You

I have laid out some possibilities for safe working environments, and I have laid out some possibilities for working environments that may be unsafe or toxic.  The key to remember here is that if you feel uncomfortable, there may be a problem.  It may be helpful to keep track of how often you feel uncomfortable (i.e., daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) as well as your level of discomfort (low, medium, or high).

If you do not feel safe in your work environment, I encourage you to reach out to someone that you trust to talk about it.  There may be good ways to advocate for yourself or remove yourself from an unsafe or toxic situation.  I welcome you to reach out to me at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *