I've interviewed with many professional creative freelancers over the years and, sadly, most seem to have a story about an environment or assignment that they went into where things were 'not quite right' and turned into a horror story for them. Some stayed and later regretted it. Others decided that it was just not worth it and left as soon as someone raised their voice unnecessarily.
When they talk to me about their experience, the initial language they use is often soft and tentative to begin with however, as someone who has learned to read between the lines, their body language can often show how much the effects of the assignment still has an impact on them.
While you can’t always ensure that a workplace environment is going to be ‘fun’, you should always have an expectation that a workplace is going to be professional. You should expect that they are going to create an environment where you can feel safe and be able to focus on what it is that you need to do so that you can produce your best work.
Over the years, I've certainly heard of environments where the client has made that almost impossible for the freelance creative to be successful. Everything from a toxic culture with internal politics create conflicting briefs and deadlines through to aggressive and verbally abusive managers and business owners who are struggling to manage their stress and anxiety successfully and taking it out on the freelancer.
The fact is this; we can’t always control what happens around us however we do have the power to control how we respond.
If your assignment is through a recruitment agency, call your consultant immediately and let them know about the situation. Let them know what has been said, how it has been said and how it is a concern for you as your consultant will document this feedback. Every recruitment agency has a duty of care to their freelancers to ensure that they're safe as you are effectively an employee of the recruitment agency who is representing you. They may ask you to leave the workplace immediately while they resolve it with the client and this will be to ensure your safety. You need to consider that if this situation is causing you to feel unsafe, you're unlikely to be producing your best work for that client anyway.
If you’re in an assignment directly, you'll want to make a detailed note about what was said to you, at what time, and then you'll need to determine your own personal threshold that you're willing to tolerate around the treatment that you're receiving. If you're feeling unsafe, then you should consider removing yourself from the situation when it is appropriate and safe to do so. If there is a HR Manager, you may wish to let them know about your experience working there provided they're not the person who is the problem.
Ultimately, your safety and wellbeing is the most important thing and you’re going to be able to best gauge how comfortable you can continue to feel in that situation. As I mentioned before, you need to keep in mind that the more a situation robs you of your ability to focus, the greater the chance that you're not going to be able to produce your best work anyway. If you're unsure about how to react, perhaps consider what advice you would offer a friend if they were to approach you in a similar situation and determine if this should apply to you too. There is always plenty of work to go around for skilled creative freelancers and unless people are prepared to let a company know when the behaviour is unacceptable, it only increases the chances of that type of behaviour continuing.
You may also find these blogs I've written previously of value on this topic: