How a Toxic Workplace Inspired Speakfully

I was on autopilot navigating through my daily commute when I realized I had no idea what was going on in my close friends’—or even family members’—lives. I started to cry.

It was the first time I’d faced the reality that the past six months had fundamentally changed my personality, and really every part of my life. I’d always been an involved friend and family member. Now, all of my time and energy was spent on getting myself through the workdays with as little turmoil as possible.

That in itself was an exhausting, full-time job.

The problems I faced at work started as it usually does in cases of emotional and psychological harassment: subtly and strangely. I accepted a new job and had been in the role for about three months before a comment from my boss first hinted at what was to come.

The message he’d sent me was troubling enough to trigger my discomfort, but not troubling enough to directly report to anyone—it existed in that “gray area”. It mainly gave me the idea that I should start documenting our conversations.

That day, I opened a Google Doc and inserted screenshots of that first alarm-raising correspondence. I’d wished there was somewhere or someone I could turn to for assurance that what was happening was truly inappropriate, before escalating to HR. With so much happening in this gray area, I could’ve really used guidance in knowing how and what I should be documenting.

The next few months were a cyclical rollercoaster of provocation, stress, and disruption. I dreaded going into the office every day because I could never predict what my boss might say or do that would require mental acrobatics to respond professionally and manage the situation. I desperately needed someone who truly understood what I was going through to reassure me that I wasn’t bringing this on myself, and that it was really happening the way it seemed to me.

I tried my hardest to act like my normal, blunt, bubbly self, even though I felt nothing like that person. It was important for me to behave like nothing was bothering me, because if I didn’t, my boss would single me out and ask what was wrong, creating an even more uncomfortable situation.

I found myself safeguarding against his erratic behavior by constantly asking for tangible examples. It was the only way to ground myself in reality and keep the gaslighting to a minimum.

Even after asking for examples, I had a hard time assessing if what I was experiencing was definitely harassment. I spent hours at home each night talking to my friends and family and trying to understand what was going on. Over and over, I rehashed what I possibly could have done to evoke this sort of behavior.

My parents’ advice went from encouragement at first (“Stick to focusing on your role. You’ll be able to get through it.”) to helplessness when my distress only got worse. They encouraged me to see a therapist, knowing there were limits to how they could help.

And I did. But, the therapist couldn’t change anything about my boss or the power he had over me at work.

Ultimately, I left the company. When I printed out the Google Doc I’d been using to document the way my boss talked and interacted with me, it was 30 pages long.

After I left, I was disheartened that I hadn’t known how to address the problems I was facing until I’d reached a breaking point. I was bogged down by the knowledge that this wasn’t the first time the culture of a workplace had impacted my career and personal life.

The more I reflected on how I’d felt isolated, helpless, and sorely uneducated during the ordeal, the more I realized my experiences in workplaces throughout my career had been more complicated than necessary. There were many times I needed a guide to support and empower me in working with HR to create a safer and more comfortable work environment.

This reflection sparked the desire to build the tool I so badly needed, and to help others to feel supported going forward. I created Speakfully to address these challenges.

I needed a place to turn to for validation that what I was experiencing was indeed workplace mistreatment, especially for those seemingly small incidents within the gray areas we’re all too familiar with.

Speakfully walks its users through their unique situations to help them understand that workplace mistreatment takes many different forms and is worth documenting.

I wished there was a way to know whether I could be causing the behavior I was experiencing.

Speakfully is designed to educate its users so that they know they aren’t to blame for others’ behavior. 

Because I couldn’t find an accessible, secure way to document the harassment I faced, I resorted to creating a thirty-page Google Doc with anything I could think of that might have been relevant.

Speakfully streamlines the documentation process so users can have an organized, structured place to collect their experiences and eventually share with HR if they choose to do so. 

But, Speakfully is not solely a documentation platform for workplace harassment. It is everything that I needed while trudging through my own experience with little to no guidance. Speakfully shows users how to think about what they’re experiencing—whether that is workplace discrimination, gender bias, racism, harassment, or a toxic work environment. It gives users the tools to better navigate their situation and illuminates possible next steps. It also provides HR teams and company leadership with data and increased visibility into underlying cultural issues at the workplace. It is an unbiased third party, something I desperately wish I’d had.

My experience would have been so different if I’d had educated, impartial validation, which is exactly what Speakfully will provide. Our mission is to change the narrative of workplace culture and remove the self-doubt and shame associated with documenting and reporting incidents. Nobody should feel as alone and unsure as I did while experiencing mistreatment, and my hope is that with Speakfully, no one will.