Many years ago, I worked for a short time at an organization who slowly tapped my energy, subsumed my enthusiasm, and drained my confidence. I’ve worked for many companies — large, small, corporate and family-owned. This organization was a real winner to experience. In retrospect, there were many reasons why it was such a huge sucking force of negativity:
- Management had no clue what they were doing (inept).
- All levels of management changed hands frequently.
- Middle management (my peers) ran around like chickens without their heads.
I can go on for hours.
Bottom line — it was a dysfunctional atmosphere. But it paid well — so like an idiot, I stuck around. I think there are many people today who do the same thing — put up with a highly abnormal environment, try to stay normal, and slowly get dragged down by the insanity. They start to question their own abilities.
It’s like being the only sane person in an insane asylum.
So here are three major clues you can use to diagnose your 'toxic' situation:
Every man/woman for themselves.
This is a natural by-product of a toxic workplace. You feel that you have to justify every decision multiple times because everyone is questioning where to go and what to do. Instead of declaring a single destination and developing a plan to get there, everyone is spinning off in multiple directions.
Your boss can never give you a straight answer — they might give you clues, but will never commit to a rational line of attack. Meetings are so fun to attend/host, because there will be one (or more) attendees who will attempt to sabotage the proceeding for their own ends.
Power is held in abnormal areas.
In a normal organization, authority flows from the top down. And the top gets their marching orders from the marketplace. Toxic workplaces tend to have power centers in areas that try to guide the direction of the company that best suits them, not the company; it’s kidnapped and along for the ride.
Upper management might feel that they have the reins, but they really don’t. It might be the manufacturing arm (the people that make the stuff) that runs the show. It’s like the manufacturing arm of GM or Ford delivering what they felt the marketplace needed without consulting with Marketing, Customer Service, the Dealers, or Finance. They just pumped out what they thought the cars should look like.
The problem is that these power centers direct and position the company to suit their goals — and it might not be in the best interest of the rest of the company. If you are trying to run your department and division, you'll constantly run into their abnormal decisions because you expect the company to run normally.
Black is white — up is down.
This is a big one — no real adherence to a strategic direction. They might decide on an overall plan of attack — but halfway through the charge down the hill, they radically change course, veering left and right and even contradicting what they said a number of months ago. The kicker — they give no reason — they just do it.
And if you get caught in the crossfire — protesting that the vision was to go in a certain direction, you get ridiculed for going that way. It’s as if everyone was wearing Ugg Boots one day and when you purchased them and wore them to work, everyone said they were passé.
There are so many more — but these three clearly exhibit a toxic and dysfunctional organization. If you have one, you might be able to still stay sane. Two or three, I would suggest looking for a new home.
It’s not worth damaging your career, confidence just for the money.
What other areas contribute to a toxic workplace?