Is Your Work Environment Toxic?

Is Your Work Environment Toxic?

Part of being a career coach involves listening to people explain why they are dissatisfied or unhappy with their jobs. Most of the time, the reasons are valid and I can absolutely see why they need an exit strategy. Sometimes, however, I have to tell a client that they may just need the tools to better manage their boss, set boundaries with colleagues or learn the art of speaking up without reactive emotion. Let’s start with what constitutes a toxic workplace and not just “tough work.” 

Procedural ping pong

If the nature of your work goes through so many procedural loopholes that it’s hard to see a project through to completion, that is not a well-run business and it can really stop motivation in its’ tracks. The right amount of policies, procedures and protocols are there to improve upon an idea, catch mistakes and create a systematic way of doing things. If it just feels like a sneeze in a wind storm, chances are you’ll begin to feel like showing initiative is a waste of time.

Bad boss

About one in ten people have all the necessary traits to be an effective manager and people tend to leave a bad boss, more than they leave a bad job. “Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it.” (Harvard Business Reivew. https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-good-managers-are-so-rare). This is problematic because someone in a leadership position without any natural talent or training for how to lead a team can foster favoritism, pervasive negativity or a fear-based culture. 

[Not-so-]Great Expectations

Being unclear in your role fluctuating job requirements is a reactive strategy that generally means a company is spending a lot of time putting out fires. A new business or smaller think-tank may also require some fluctuation and flexibility but that’s to be expected. This is about a company that lost its’ way and doesn’t know how to effectively utilize its’ employees.

Workload Overload

Working hard and working long hours might be unavoidable or “part of the gig.” There are plenty of industries that are seasonally frantic but that’s the expectation from the outset. But when you have zero work life balance due to any of the above factors, that’s going to contribute to a toxic work environment.

Turn-over (and not the tasty kind)

Rapid turnover is a good indicator that something is wrong. It’s a sign that the stress to income ratio is way off or that they don’t offer opportunities for advancement. It can also signify an attitude that people are replaceable so they can be used up until they find something else.

Recognizing your role

I want to be clear. I’m not recommending that you indefinitely remain at a job with a toxic culture. It is wise to have an exit strategy in place when you can bear it (we can help you with that) but sometimes a job is just “ok” and you have to dust off the tools to make it better – even if it’s just to help you remain positive while you look for something better.

When any relationship goes south or a conflict arises, our response plays a huge role in the outcome. If your boss asks something of you that you don’t agree with, do you tend to be emotionally reactive as opposed to calm and strategic? How well do you manage your manager? It may not be in your written job description but it is to your benefit to know how to stack the deck in your favor. It’s good practice to ask him/her, how you can meet their goals and offer support. It is also essential to learn to depersonalize before you respond and learn to advocate for yourself. For example, “I fully understand how frustrating it is that the client was unhappy with this solution. I’m on your team and I want to support you/our department in a better strategy. But the way you’re speaking to me right now is not something I can accept. I’d like to use our time troubleshooting. Here are my ideas. . .”

Take a bit of time to assess the health of your boundaries with colleagues and managers. Ask yourself if there are any patterns or habits that don’t serve you. And please please please, don’t take to Facebook to vent about how awful your boss is to vent. Grab a buddy and talk their ear off over coffee instead. If you’d like help teasing out what you might have inadvertently brought to your work life vs a rotten company culture, feel free to reach out for a consultation chat with us.

About the Author: Tava Auslan, MSEd, ACRW
Senior Coach, Certified Resume Writer

Tava Auslan is a career counselor, certified resume writer and dancer. She received her BA in Psychology from SUNY Purchase and a Counseling Masters from Fordham University. Since 2002 she has partnered with her clients to give them clarity, confidence and concrete strategies for job search. Tava is known for her ability to help people assess their challenges, determine where they are stuck and offer tangible solutions to get them back on track. An astute writer, Tava earned her ACRW credential from Resume Writing Academy and crafts resumes that tell a compelling story for job seekers of all ages and stages. Tava has worked with a broad array of clients ranging from entrepreneurs, project managers, recent grads and engineers.


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