I’m sitting at my desk watching two colleagues whisper nearby. Another one joins in. The ‘whispering’ gets louder and they look increasingly self-righteous. They shoot not-so-covert looks at a few people around the office. Then they look at me.
Are they talking about me?
I’m embarrassed that I even care. Why is this so triggering? I feel like a pre-teen worrying if I’m part of the ‘in’ crowd or not.
Normally I’m a confident person, but in that moment I felt like an awkward 13-year-old. Alienated, insecure and totally self-conscious.
I’m not the only working woman who’s wondered if she’s part of the right clique at work. In dysfunctional work environments, people form groups and bond over bitching. They feel incensed about some perceived slight, unite in their ‘struggle’ and egg each other on. I’ve seen it a thousand times in my career and now I know to steer clear.
Toxic workplaces can drain your energy, de-motivate you and rob you of your job satisfaction. It’s a tough place to be. Spending eight hours a day in a dysfunctional environment will wear down even the most committed person.
How does one rise above these schoolyard antics? By making a clear and conscious decision to detach from the drama. I realized that what other people thought of me was none of my business and I would be better off focusing on how I could contribute positively. I also sensed it was time to start looking for a more supportive work environment…
Like a frog swimming in slowly boiling water, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening before it’s too late. So how do you tell if your work environment is toxic or it’s just a bad patch?
5 tell-tale signs your office should have a skull-and-crossbones sign on the door:
- Everyone’s on sick or stress leave. When your team are an oddly sickly bunch, you can bet something’s not right with the culture.
- Gossipy ‘cliques’ too close for comfort. It’s like high school all over again and highly unpleasant for anyone on the outer.
- Dictators walking the halls. An unsupportive micro-management style prevails where there’s no such thing as autonomy.
- Silo operators. People act cagey and are reluctant to share information. Collaboration? That’s a dirty word.
- No motivation. People don’t feel appreciated or valued, so think ‘Why bother?’ and start doubting their abilities/work ethic.
Higher-ups, take note: it’s not just employees who suffer from toxic work environments – it’s bad news for a company’s bottom line. A recent Harvard Business Review report found that: “Avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as hiring a star performer.” Unsurprising when you think how hard it is for people to thrive in these situations.
If you do find yourself in this sort of office, you can choose to rise above it and catapult your career in the process. My advice is: don’t engage, don’t take it personally, do expose the issues and always conduct yourself with courteous, caring professionalism.
You can focus on the task at hand and detach with love. Think of this period in your career as a platform for learning how to approach difficult conversations and deal with disgruntled stakeholders.
If it’s all too much and there really is no end in sight, start looking for other opportunities. Sometimes it’s just time to go.
Remember who you are: an amazing, worthwhile individual with so much to contribute. Your self-worth and what you offer personally and professionally IS of value in this world regardless of whether your current workplace recognizes it.
I know this like I know my own name.
Let’s all do what we can to detoxify our workplaces this week,