Your Toxic Workplace

Executives at a company decided to outsource a technical department, but didn’t want to incur the cost of severance pay. Managers were instructed to give their staff poor performance reviews in the hope that they would resign. Several people did leave their jobs, some in tears, immediately after their annual review. Other toxic workplace experiences are subtler but equally powerful, like your boss marking you down for a lack of teamwork because you didn’t participate in after work get-togethers. Being denied time off when you’ve earned a break, and not being given the full responsibility of your job because your boss is threatened by your talent are other examples.

If you yourself are currently experiencing workplace toxicity, how would you define your version? How is your ability to do your job and do it well interfered with by the cultural dynamic in your workplace? The goal of this blog is to raise awareness of this problem and hopefully begin a dialogue as readers – you? – write in about your own experiences and post them with us.

In my experience as a personal and career counselor for over 30 years I have heard a variety of stories. As I’ve listened and reflected, several themes have emerged that also reveal trends in a changing workplace:

  • The company no longer feels like a family.
  • Managers are increasingly farther apart and more detached from those they supervise.
  • Bad managers can inflict emotional harm and lead to attrition.

A common theme is that of the company that used to feel like a family and then, sometimes quickly, the feeling faded as people became numbers and were now responsible for other numbers. Enter the bean counters. Beginning in the late 70’s and early 80’s, MBA’s began to infiltrate the business scene in unprecedented numbers, counting and measuring things they thought related to generating short-term profits for corporate stockholders.

The mantra became, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This trend marched across health care, manufacturing, the music industry and all sectors of corporate America. While wide gains in productivity are a clear result, employees in every industry now express feeling pushed, harried, stressed and not sleeping along with out-right anxiety, hopelessness and depression over some aspect of their job.

Another theme – now that everything important is defined by a number – is the distance between managers and workers on the ground. Top management may be located across the country without being able to put a face to the names of many of their employees, including supervisors and low-level managers. A higher level of detachment or objectification is now possible, even inevitable, given that everyone is so far apart.

Management jobs on the ground have become highly demanding, complex and potentially stressful, as a response to the demand for leaner local management structures. Management styles and attitudes have become more objectified than in my grandfather’s time (remember those numbers). They now tend to be promoted to their positions because of their technical ability and business savvy, not necessarily their people skills.

As a result, corporate America is losing its way, says Daniel Goleman in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. My clients agree that the best managers are those that can effectively balance people skills and the technical portion of their job. They do come along once in a while and when they do, a good manager and management is often a major factor in a person deciding to stay in their job.

Back to our toxic workplace, another top narrative is the story of the bad manager. People don’t leave bad jobs they leave bad bosses. Technical folks that get promoted, without training in how to manage people, (bless your heart if you are one) can create messes. This perpetuates the growing frustration and alienation of their peers and those they are responsible for managing.

Poor decision-making, communication and disorganization, extreme rudeness and hostility – does this sound like your work environment? If so, let us hear your story. The first step toward healthy change is building awareness; then it’s time to decide if you want to and can adapt, or need to get out.

Across the spectrum, people tolerating toxic workplace experiences from workplace bullying to eating alone in the lunchroom for some weird reason, number in the hundreds of thousands in the US and globally. Where are the healthy places to work?

There are alternatives, healthier corporations, small and medium sized businesses, non-profits, individual and social entrepreneurs looking to grow and measure multiple lines of business including profit, although adding an emphasis on measuring long-term profits. Other measures seen today show organizations interested not only in their clients and customers, but also in their employees and facilities, the broader community and our natural world. Family friendly and flextime policies as well as work from home options are a growing trend. An increasing number of people working in the US now work from home and report getting more done due to fewer workplace disruptions.

Toxic workplaces have our attention and are being monitored. Check out somebody you’re thinking of working for at, a website with the inside scoop on a company’s culture from employees who’ve worked there. And send us your story; we’d love to hear from you.  


Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job