By Weaam Hassan Published in Journal, Product Design Journal


I think original courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
– Winston Churchil

People don’t leave companies. They leave leaders. You would think the top reason is because of money but it’s not.

People leave because of how they are treated – they felt unappreciated, their ideas not heard and the environment is dysfunctional.

We’ve all felt trapped and afraid to quit jobs that weren’t healthy for us in any shape or form.

Unfortunately, our mind narrates to us many stories on different outcomes that can harm us if we leave the job and it’s toxic environment. All you hear is:

I don’t like your idea
Whining and Complaining
Frowning and Negative Body Gestures

Once is enough to rattle your emotions but imagine this happening every day, 5 days a week at your workplace?

So here are the 5 signs that I recognised as a toxic work environment and what you can do about it.


When I began working at my first job as a Junior Recruiter after graduating, I was enthusiastic, confident, and eager to become part of the company’s team.

Sadly, three months down the line things began to feel strange.

Everything was going down hill. To an extent that I felt demotivated and didn’t want to attend work whatsoever. I constantly devalued, and at times felt that I didn’t exist at all within the company team.

I felt like I lost my voice and lost myself.

Each day passed by and things got worse. So worse that by the month that I left the company, the negative vibe rubbed on me.

I didn’t expect this from my first job, nor was I ready for it.

As many product design graduates, I took on this job to avoid places like the Job Centre, and to financially support my product design career by investing on my own website to showcase my work – and use online advertising.

Instead of enjoying the job I found myself feeling fear.

Fear of losing the job. Fear of going back to the Job Centre and being jobless. Fear of what people would think of me as this 1st class honours degree graduate who hadn’t yet landing a permanent job.

I feared the future than embracing it.

That’s why many of us stick to the first job that comes our way. We’re thinking about the bills and what people might say.

From my experience, I’ve seen many friends that have been drawn into a routine (9 till 5 job), and have created a comfort zone for themselves, which in the long term leads to unhappiness.

It can also lead us to bring the toxic right back home.

The sad thing is most people will be day dreaming about their passion and love for design during work and feel unsatisfied like I did.

It’s important to share these steps that Adam Taha shared with me in what to look for in a company…

  • Make sure you spend time after the interview to get to speak to other staff privately. Walk around the company and different departments. Observe how people work and are treated.

  • If you can find some on Facebook or email to talk to them privately and not in their working environment do so. Reassure them that this is private and is going nowhere. Just between you and the person.

  • Ask about how they feel working there and if their voice is heard. Ask about the culture of the company to see if the values they lead have on the plaque are lived and not just words.

  • Ask if the company spends time in having team building that’s fun, real and what these activities are. Find out as much as you can from people who work there so you get a real sense of the idea of the leaders.

  • Search for previous employees who have written reviews about working in the company. See what they are saying and see if it’s consistent to what other previous employees are saying.

  • Look at their website and see if the company really does care about their staff. Are they giving credit to them, mentioning them or is it all about the company, the leaders and boasting how they are the best company.


Feeling demotivated and stressed out all the time when you’re at work isn’t normal.

By surrounding yourself with negative employees all the time and extending your contract, feeling negative will gradually feel normal to you as months pass by as well.

As much as we want it to be true…It isn’t normal.

Unfortunately many of us find ourselves demotivated, which then leads to feeling discouraged and depressed in our workplace.

The reason can be:

  • You don’t have a voice in the company
  • No one is listening to you
  • Fear of making mistakes and getting fired by your manager
  • Bullying tactics; abusive managers and evaluation meetings
  • No one understanding the way you think

I can remember feeling demotivated all the time at my first job as a Junior Recruiter. Letting minor issues that normally would have been easy to brush off get to me.

I was always trying to force myself to liking the job.

I was emotionally, mentally, and to a certain degree physically in a bad state. All I gained from forcing myself and afraid to stand my ground was:

  • Going to work every morning with a negative attitude
  • Feeling nervous about the day ahead
  • Feeling trapped and suffocated and got bored of the same routine
  • And losing focus because I was daydreaming a lot about my design career

I no longer saw my job as a challenge.

As a product designer who loves a challenge and who loves to design, it was really difficult and emotional to sit back and do the job without really much effort.


You may find that you always panic about going to work. It’s like you don’t want to go because of the drama from leaders, whether it’s the owner or one of the managers.

Here are some examples of different types…

  • Managers shouting at you for anything that goes wrong
  • Managers paranoid that you’re intentionally sabotaging them
  • Managers who are ignoring your achievements.
  • And finally there are managers whose intentions are well, but unfortunately aren’t great leaders.

They know how of an asset you are to the company yet create so much drama over anything that it makes your work stressful.

I shared my frustrations with my mentor…


What my mentor told me to do felt impossible at the time, because I was still working with him on my self-confidence and how to value myself as a person and as a product designer.


For months I felt like a fish out of water, believing the lies and doubts until one day I couldn’t take it much longer and asked myself…

‘Is this job worth fighting for?’

That’s when the penny drop!

You see, nothing is worth losing yourself for. Even if you know that standing up for yourself may make your situation even worse than before.

But nothing is worse than… holding back your personality, experience and skill.

Hiding your talent and letting others overshadow you when you know for sure that you have the experience and skill to do a better job.

Don’t let co-workers and your manager devalue you just because they can do so due to their position. I’m not saying to disrespect them, but stand up for yourself in a professional and respectful manner.

Devaluation can be discreet at times and hard to spot in the early days.

It can be spotted in different ways. Whichever you experience, don’t keep quiet and believe that you deserve it.

For example devaluation can emerge from situations where managers or manager assistants…

  • Don’t recognise skills that you’ve practiced for years i.e. design skills
  • Undervalue your ideas even when you believe they work
  • Make you feel like you’re an outsider and don’t exist in the company
  • Make you feel insecure, nervous, and full of fear at all times


For months I kept bottling things inside and people who cared about me noticed that there was something not right with me.

One of the people who helped me realise that the workplace that I was at wasn’t right for me was my mentor.

As the great mentor he is, he noticed that I didn’t talk about my job like I used to…


Instead of using my design abilities to be a unique asset to the company, my energy was on improving the communication between the co-workers and me.

Communicating fresh ideas to co-workers who are demotivated and all they thought about was when it will turn 5 o’clock was difficult.

For example, I’d share my ideas with a co-worker, and no matter how much effort I put in, the feedback was the same. I knew that no one would really understand the way I thought.

Everyone tried to challenge and defeat the other person. There was no unity as a great company should be.

I came to realise that the lack of teamwork and trust played a huge impact on the communication between co-workers.

I tried everything that was possible at the time to follow what my manager wanted me to achieve. But all I got in return was…

“Weaam I don’t want you to use your creativity, just follow the rules…!!!”

I did follow the rules. And when I did, I was told to use my ‘design talent.’ To be creative. To use my initiative. To think out the box.

But by the end of my journey as a junior recruiter, I came to realise that no matter what I did… it wouldn’t be good enough let alone valued.

Trying to follow the company’s VALUES

On the last month that I was there, the only value that I had to stand by was…

Respect myself.

And when I did, I had the confidence to stand up for myself with the slightness fear in me.

The Final Meeting With My Manager…

I decided to book an appointment with my manager and tell her how I really felt about my role.

In the early days I wouldn’t have dared to stand up for myself, but after thorough mentorship on values with Adam Taha, I found courage.

“Step in Weaam, right what’s the important thing you wanted to say to me…”

My heart was racing, my hands were sweating, and I had no idea how to say ‘I quit’ to her in a respectful/ professional manner. I stayed all night practicing what I was going to say… but being on the spot was a whole different ball game.

My body was filled with adrenalin and ready to say what was on my mind…

But I froze. My mind turned blank!



Whilst waiting for the manager to settle, something strange happened. I had a quick moment (looking at my future kind of moment).

I saw myself starring at the same computer that I used for the work as a junior recruiter.

I looked unhappy, sitting behind my desk with a slouchy body position, and eating a boring sandwich.

Then boom it was a wakeup call.

I snapped out of this weird flash back of the future and immediately this came out of my mouth…

“I’m sorry to say this, but I’m a product designer who wants to grow in the design industry and this role isn’t developing me in any way. How you said this company is your baby… well product design is my talent, my life, and my baby…”

(Intense awkward silence)

What a surprise, after that awkward moment my manager offered me a full time position.

You see, if I hadn’t stood up for myself she wouldn’t have considered this opportunity in the first place. I respectfully turned it down, and walked out of my workplace with my head held high.

(Well I had to hand in my notice and do the remaining time)

This gave me the chance to focus on my product design career.

I had more time to work on my design work, my website with Adam Taha and I continued to grow in confidence through his mentorship and coaching.

Each day went by and I felt the words that my mentor lives by…

Guts. Win. Play.

If you don’t respect, value, and trust yourself then everyone around you will do the same.

Adam Taha’s words meant something.

I’ve lived a small part of what they mean.

Guts. Play. Win. There is no plan b.

It’s on his logo and it’s on his website and it’s been on his note pad for 20 years. It’s painted on his guitar. He lives by these words – and I learnt the hard way like he did.

You got to have the guts to stand out and be counted no matter what. The world will try to make you feel the fear on how you’ll lose out.

It will try to paint the consequences in your mind.

It will try to back you in a corner.

It will try to crush you if you let it.

You’ll think about your wages, the bills and debts. You’ll think about what people might think of you. But you got to have guts to play if you want to win.

You are happiest when you are sincere to the values you believe and when we let fear come in the way – we are unhappy.

We feel stuck.

We feel helpless.

Don’t be helpless. Move on.


Weaam Hassan, passion in product design is focused on the human perception of beauty and interaction with the consumer. So not only must the product be pleasing to the eye, feel, smell, touch but also comfortable in the daily life of the user. She documents her journey in finding a job with an agency, while sharing the process of her product design work on her website.

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