Waste barrels

“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.” ~H. Jackson Brown Jr.

In the unfortunate instance where you have found yourself working in a toxic environment, chaos is reigning.  You have some choices about what you can do…and not a single one of them is easy to do…

However, neither is it easy to try to work day in and day out in an environment that is eating you up.

  1. Get out. Leave. Find a different job or a different place to work. This is ALWAYS an option. It may not be the easiest option, but unless you spend your days in prison (as a prisoner, that is), you can leave.
  2. If you CHOOSE to stay, consider every possible professional way to alert management about the problems that exist. If management is the problem (and I know this is often the case) then you may have to go higher. It depends on how bad you consider the situation to be.
  3. One of my favorite quotes (and the basis for a workshop I do entitled “Conciliating the Tiger: Do You Have a Choice?) is this one by Konrad Adenauer: “An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.”
  4. Identify the source of the toxicity.

    ** Is it the work itself? For example, I knew a physicist who stopped working at a plant that created nuclear weapons because it went against his core beliefs.

    ** Is it a person with whom you work?

    ** Is it the language that is used in your work environment?

    ** Is it the politics, back-biting, or gossiping? I don’t know what it is for you, but if you’ve identified your place of work as a toxic environment, you first need to figure out what the source is.

  5. Once you identify the source of the toxicity, determine if you can have any effect on eliminating that toxin. For example, if the people around you constantly tell racist jokes or make unconscionable statements, is there a way to get them to stop or will it take something from a legal standpoint to eliminate the toxic situation?
  6. If the toxin can/should be removed, take steps to make that happen. If you know it can be, then take action. It’s scary and uncomfortable, but I go back to my original statement–it’s unbearable to spend 8 – 10 hours each day in a setting that you find intolerable. Do something about it.
  7. Draw attention, in a professional and assertive manner, to what is happening–to you and to others in the organization. The cost of losing great employees is usually (although not always) of concern for a manager, CEO, or other person with a vested interest in the success of an organization. Think through carefully what you want to say to someone in this role and then bravely present your thoughts.
  8. Read books that will help you.  For example, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. There is no better book anywhere to help you think through how to have honest, direct, meaningful conversations–as well as to consider the cost when you don’t. It’s in paperback and is a bargain. Also, be sure to check out The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton. It’s fabulous!
  9. Boldly deal with the toxic situation head on. A bad day or week at work is not a toxic situation. It’s a bad day or week. Something doesn’t become identified as toxic until it has been continuing for weeks, months….years. When it’s taking a toll on your health, productivity, relationships outside of work, and so forth, then you need to do something about it.
  10. Here’s a question: Are you adding to the toxic environment? If so, take immediate measures to communicate more professionally on the job. Most of us can look at ourselves and realize that we have a few areas of our lives where we can improve, too. Just check it out with yourself and see if, by any chance, you are contributing to or exacerbating the toxic situation.

Note: For the purposes of this week’s Keys to Keeping Chaos at Bay, I am referring to a psychologically toxic environment vs. a physically toxic one, i.e., one filled with hazardous chemicals and the like. If you are in that type of environment, you need to be calling OSHA or some other agency.  I hope these ideas help you if you’re in this situation.

I’ve been there…and I needed a kick in the ____ to get moving on making changes.

If you, thankfully, aren’t in this situation, but have a friend or colleague who is, forward this week’s email along to him or her.

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