The Toxic Workplace: Designing Your Great Escape
Are you trapped in a toxic workplace? Do you know you’re not alone? According to Gallup, the U.S. drops anywhere from $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity every year, thanks to disconnected and dejected staff.
Tearing down the guiltless
Stella was six years into the perfect job when her firm merged with a much larger organization. Seemingly overnight, the company culture changed.
Her helpful manager, supportive colleagues and relative work freedom disappeared. Instead, strict controls and a micromanaging supervisor replaced the formerly relaxed ethos. In a few short weeks, her dream position had turned into a terrible nightmare!
Now, stuck in a dreadful job, the stress began causing Stella crippling anxiety attacks.
Toxic workplace, toxic people
Poisonous behavior is catching. Executive coach Ray Williams likens it to an infection, spreading from worker to worker.
Some of the warning signs of a toxic workplace aren’t easily identified. In his book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, Williams describes how increasingly, workplaces are becoming toxic environments.
Often a dysfunctional workplace only reveals itself when you are actually caught in it. These are some of the signs:
- Profits are paramount – ignoring any human cost – the bottom line is everything
- Tolerating or enabling bullies, either in management or the workforce
- Top heavy – discouraging innovation – emphasis is on micromanaging workers
- Management focuses on the negative – errors and mistakes – not encouragement or kudos
- Fostering in-house rivalry among workers, emphasizing individuals – not teams
- No employee work/life balance – Overly long workweeks, no down time, little personal life
- Bosses don’t display respect or care for staff. No concern for employee well-being
- No concern for the community or the greater good. No corporate conscience
Toxic work environments become that way for a number of reasons. Modifications in staff and management can cause negative changes.
In his latest study, Theo Veldsman, Head of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg, says, “There is a growing incidence of toxic leadership in organizations across the world.”
It’s no surprise that a toxic workplace produces ineffectual workers, trying to dodge the worst while doing just enough to keep the paycheck rolling in.
The gut reaction when a work environment becomes toxic is to run. Escaping the soul sucking reality is vital but you still need to eat. That paycheck every month is usually critical. What is needed is a plan for a graceful exit.
No worker should be forced to work in a situation that has the potential to be physically and mentally damaging. Suddenly, finding a new job becomes an essential step in surviving and thriving. You’ll need to be quietly seeking and networking for new jobs and don’t forget to update your resume and LinkedIn account.
But even with a new position lined up, the reality is handing in your letter of resignation and working out the resignation period. What no one tells you is how to handle the toxic people and situations causing the problem while you prepare to leave.
Changing your outlook
To successfully negotiate yourself out of a toxic environment and through the exit process, you have to develop a different perspective.
Your decision to leave means you have taken charge of the situation. You have drawn your line in the sand. You know you deserve better.
Having established your departure, you can focus on maximizing any long-term value during those last weeks and days. Here’s where you have to step outside of yourself and critically examine your position.
You will already be doing the bare minimum to fulfil the requirements of your job. View these last few months as time spent laying the groundwork for the next stage of your career.
The numerous negative changes, together with the fact that you know you are leaving, will be demotivating.
Going the extra mile – for a company you don’t believe in and will soon quit – is not going to happen. While natural, this attitude is counterproductive, lack of motivation will be apparent to others in the organization.
In Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment, the authors advise “Face your fears… confront them and ramp up courage by seeking resources that challenge and inspire you.”
Build up your future self
This job is not your reality any more but merely a platform you will be using to build skills to use in your next phase of life. Don’t discount all work; your strategy should be to maximize any long-term value for yourself. In the interlude before you leave, focus on this line of attack:
- Build relationships – specifically ones that can help you in the long-term
- Do the absolute minimum on tasks that won’t contribute to your long-term goals
- Give more concerted effort to actions that build skills you will use in the next phase
- Apply for training programs that make your future self a better worker
- Focus on tasks that exploit and strengthen the skills you’ll need later
- Establish healthy boundaries to safeguard your time
One resource you can use is visualization. Imagine six months from now – or whenever your final day comes – and picture yourself walking out the door for the last time. What can you do today to increase the value of your future self? What kind of job do you want to be walking into next?
When every choice you make is based on this new certainty, the whole picture changes. Your possibilities are endless. The stronger the image becomes in your mind, the more you will be inspired.
Your next adventure
Just a year later, Stella is thriving. Her job is challenging, her new boss sympathetic and she finds herself eager to get to work. She changed her viewpoint, cleverly planned her exit strategy and it paid off.
When you adopt this way of thinking, you effectively turn a corner. No longer stuck in the reality of a toxic workplace, you are developing skills to use in your new job.
If your workplace is bad for your health – an environment where people are poorly treated – it’s time for action. You need to plan and strategically execute the next big adventure! You owe it to the future you.