Let’s be honest: Some jobs sap the life out of you. You know what I’m talking about: incredibly mind-numbing work. The constant pinging of gossip on Slack. Round-the-clock emails. Or heaven forbid, micro-managing CEOs, verbally abusive supervisors, back-stabbing coworkers, or mean-girl cliques. It’s enough to make you wake up every day and want to hide under the covers, forever. Or charge right up to your boss and quit Jennifer-Aniston-in-Office-Space style.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury to do either—because, well, food. And shelter. And health insurance. Also, the inconvenient truth is that—fair or not—you’ll seem more desirable to hiring managers when you’re job-searching with a job than without one. So while you’re hatching your escape plan, you’ll also need to keep showing up at said toxic workplace.
It sucks. I know. And you’re not alone. A 2015 Rand Corporation study (https://bit.ly/2wIQQNV) discovered that a whopping 51 percent of people surveyed described their job “unpleasant and hazardous”; and almost 1 in 5 reported a “hostile or threatening social environment at work.” I’ve been there myself, and this is a big reason why I became a career coach. When I eventually found a way to thrive, I also realized I wanted to help others improve their work environment and find a job they love, too
My Personal Toxic Workplace Tale
A few years ago, I made a job switch. I had been very successful where I was, progressing year after year. It seemed like a good move at the time. The new position was at a Top-10 agency, where I’d have the opportunity to work with recognized talent. It didn’t take long, though, before I realized I was wrong. No matter what I did, it was never good enough for my boss. If I said something was white, he’d call it black. If I changed it to black, he’d insist it was grey. He micro-managed and belittled my co-workers and me—to make us “tougher and try harder,” he said— but I was putting in 70-hour weeks without making progress. My confidence plummeted, while my health issues soared. I had headaches and eye twitches and my blood pressure went through the roof.
The absolute worst part? I was convinced I was the problem. I was so willing to turn myself inside out instead of standing up for myself and believing in my own abilities that I missed the real issue. My workplace was toxic. When I finally I took a step back and got a fresh perspective, I noticed that it wasn’t just me who felt that way. People were constantly complaining and quitting, and morale was low. I realized then that it didn’t matter how much I tried—things were just going to get worse. I needed to take care of myself and get out.
It was this realization that drew me into coaching. Since then, I’ve advised hundreds of clients who’ve been there, too. Luckily, we all managed not only to survive, but also come out flourishing. The first step is to recognize a toxic environment when you’re in one—so you know that you’re not crazy and so that you can create an action plan to get out.
7 Signs of a Toxic Workplace
Toxic workplaces can completely undo a company and drive talented people out—and I’ve seen this over and over again. The place morphs into one big revolving door. Colleagues (and clients) would eventually leave and heaps of money would be spent hunting for new recruits and new business. Here are some top characteristics.
- You constantly want to call in sick, even if you’re not. Sometimes you actually do—and so do your colleagues. While there is nothing wrong with a mental health day, if you end up constantly trying to talk yourself into going to work, it’s time to rethink things.
- You feel stuck. There’s little or no training, and never any recognition for a job well done. Opportunities for advancement? Forget about it.
- You aren’t encouraged to take risks. There’s no sign of innovation and no interest in new ideas.
- You’re expected to be on call 24/7— texts at 11PM; “urgent” emails in the middle of your kid’s Saturday soccer practice.
- Everything is political. You’re forced to compete with your colleagues as opposed to collaborate with them, which can lead to unkind, or downright unscrupulous, behavior all around you.
- You don’t know what your boss wants. Instructions are vague, or, worse, always changing.
- You and your co-workers aren’t encouraged to bond. No breaks. No “how are you’s.” Don’t even think of ever attending the occasional bridal shower party in the conference room. It’s a cold, unfriendly place.
Any of these sound familiar? Share your story in the comments section below and make sure you stay tuned for our next post when I will share five essential strategies for surviving your toxic workplace as you plot out your escape.
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