Save Your Receipts: Keeping Notes in a Hostile Workplace

Minorities In Media Connect
Minorities In Media Connect

By: Alexis Taylor

On May 9th, James Comey, Director of the FBI was fired in a surprise announcement that resonated around Washington D.C. and the world. Immediately, several conflicting reports from the White House were given as reasons for dismissal. Had it not been for memos Comey kept with details of his calls and meetings, this incident would have been just one more inane occurrence. Now, these memos may be used as evidence to expose much deeper issues. Yes, this administration is among the most dysfunctional in modern history, but you don’t have to have connections to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to find yourself in a similar instance: protecting your professional reputation against a hostile boss or toxic workplace. Here are three reasons why keeping notes, or saving your receipts, is worth it in these situations:

1) It validates your experiences

First and foremost, writing down issues that arise at work helps you to reflect and know you’re not crazy. Toxic environments can be disorienting.  You may not understand why it is difficult to advance or why it seems like you’re the only one ignored in meetings. You may find yourself having your ideas stolen or even being bullied. According to the latest study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 20 percent of all employees in the U.S. have been bullied in the past. Based on that same study, overwhelmingly, the targets of bullying are women and people of minority backgrounds. Jotting a quick memo right after receiving a rude comment or being asked to do something out of pocket helps you to separate yourself from your job. You know you’re not lazy or inadequate and your notes are tangible evidence that something is wrong at the place you work. A colleague of mine once framed it like this:

“Making immediate notes and emails is closer to truth than your memory. Time adds a filter to both sides of the story.”

2) It takes your blinders off

Imagine you’re a circus performer and your boss is the ringleader. She tells you to jump through a ten-foot tall hoop of fire. You know this is not what you signed up to do when you accepted the position, but the spotlight is on and you’re up. Your vision narrows and you tune out everyone and everything around as you zero in on one goal: get to the other side. Such is life when you’re dealing with a bully-like boss. All of your energy and focus goes to doing everything to be more productive to the point you may lose sight of the bigger goals in your career. Documenting negative interactions is one way to stay focused. It’s like old slogan ‘Set it and forget it.’ Instead of dwelling, you write the wrong and then you have more mental space to focus on other things — like getting out of there.

3) You’ll have evidence should you need to seek outside help or legal counsel

It is not enough to just talk about how miserable your job is making you. Tweeting may feel cathartic in the moment, but it’s not a real solution to your problem and could even make a situation worse (depending on who’s reading your timeline.) Save complaints for happy hours and the group chat. If you decide to seek professional help in the form of therapy or coaching, a paper trail will help you get your thoughts together. If seeking legal counsel or filing a formal complaint with HR or the EEOC, it’s essential. Without documentation, it’s just hearsay and means nothing should there be a need to investigate things further.

There is never harm in keeping personal notes, but it’s probably not worth the energy if you simply despise your co-workers or job. That just means you should get another job. But toxic work environments do exist and saving receipts can protect against unjust treatment or smear campaigns which may impact your finances, mental health, or future standing in an industry.


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