The CEO shouts at everyone. Prior to the annual review meetings everyone is scared as hell. Good people leave, replaced by mediocre ones, replaced by truly bad ones.
Yes- you are now officially working in a toxic environment.
Perhaps it’s you to blame- the signs were there, but you chose to pick behind the curtain anyway… you know- lots of people saying it’s a bad place, some rumors about senior executives from hell.. but you were offered a decent paycheck, and the Lady at HR was really nice.
Perhaps it wasn’t always like that- when you started working there it was a smallish company, and it felt like home. Five years forward, 200 employees in the door and all the original C-Suite replaces by class A assholes, and suddenly it’s not so nice anymore. Regardless, the first step of dealing with such environment is to identify it.
The first part is fairly easy- simply look around and smell the air. That’s right, you can sniff fear, anxiety and evil from afar. Second is to consult with your (trusted only) colleagues- do they feel this way too? Chances are you won’t be the only one feeling this.
So you wait. Maybe things will change for the better? (they won’t, they never do. Only for the worst). But once you’ve waited long enough, you need to act to control the situation.
Many people want to know how to handle working in a toxic work environment. It is a question repeatedly asked in forums and Quora-like websites. It resonates all over the corporate world, meaning that many suffer from this ugly phenomena.
So how do you deal with it?
In three step: acknowledge it game over, mitigate and depart.
Wait. Did you say depart? I did. From my experience (not exclusive to work environment, but in general) toxic environments don’t change. They don’t change without a fundamental change, one that is almost impossible for most companies. Consider this- if the executives are ok but the majority of the established employees are useless, than in all likelihood the company will fail, sending the execs home to be replaces by more aggressive one, which will in turn drive the decent employees away, spiraling ever down. Or the opposite case- where the majority of employees are cool but all the top brass (or just the founder/ CEO) are worthless- the same result- good people (especially in mid- management positons) being pushed away, second tier people brought in or promoted, average people leave, etc.
So the very first step in acknowledging the place is toxic- is also the last- acknowledging you will not work there long before being corrupted yourself.
Once this is behind you (leave the blame game behind – at this it doesn’t matter why and what brought you here- like the Titanic, you are only interested in finding your way out safely.
But in the meantime- you need to create a “safe Zone” for yourself. A place (physical or metaphorical) where you can avoid the daily dosages of poison. It could be a coffee club, a running group, or ideally, a group of close colleagues working together on a project. These will serve as your “buffer” from the environment, provide support and help in need. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking this safe haven can keep you safe for long. Even if you’ve amassed several people who help (or even follow you), and even if you have some senior executive is grooming you to be a future VP- don’t stop looking for way to get out. And this is really your goal- to find a better place for you to work. Not only an “Ok” place, a genuinely BETTER one. Who wants to go from a bad to a mediocre company? And this may mean you will have to settle (for salary, location, position). But don’t despair. These are all temporary setback, and a small price to pay for “cleansing” your environment. I can tell you from my own experience it’s worth it- I’ve left a secured, high paying position in which I could have done pretty much everything I liked (my Boss was located in a different continent and cared little about me and my whereabouts – oh, the wonders of the multinational corporate!), for a less secured one, which paid less in a much smaller company. Why? My first daughter was just born and I didn’t want to spend my days working is such environment- I knew this would reflect on my behavior at home and I was not going to let my company have such negative effect on my little one. Two and a half years later I can say it was worth it and I would done it again given the same circumstances.
And so should you. Don’t be a quixotic hero trying to fix what cannot be fixed. If you’ve identified the toxic vapors in the air, get a grip and evacuate.