Mojo Confidence. Clarity. Success


How to avoid a toxic workplace


If you’ve ever worked in a toxic work environment, you’ll probably remember the exact moment you asked yourself ‘how did I get here?’ or finally got to the stage where you’ve realised that you’ve made a terrible mistake. You’re not alone; unfortunately, it’s all too common.

According to a recent survey of 4800 Australians, conducted by Survey Sampling International on behalf of SEEK Learning, half of Aussie workers were unhappy at work. A key factor is the tendency to accept a job without critically evaluating the position, staff and company. Many of us have been stuck in jobs we don’t like. In fact, if you’re reading this, you may be in one right now!

I can relate after having made a couple of bad career choices. In fact, I once worked for a manager who turned out to be a bully who managed by fear and intimidation rather than inspiring, adding value and building a functional team.

Let’s explore the ‘How did I get here’ part.

It’s natural to get caught up in the flattery of a job offer and the fantasy of the perfect work environment. Like my clients (and even myself!) you can talk yourself into accepting a new job offer based on ‘flattery’ and ‘fantasy’. Sometimes, it works out just fine, sometimes, not so much.

You want to choose wisely, as staying in a job you loath can drastically impact your health. I’ve seen clients develop work stress related symptoms such as; weight gain, low self-esteem, damaged personal relationships and lack of sleep.

The upside is there are a few remarkably simple actions available to you before you unknowingly step into a toxic work environment.

Whilst the behaviours exhibited during an interview are often reflective of an organisation’s culture and future performance, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, recognising toxic personalities is not easy. For instance, a toxic Manager who interviewed me, knew how to turn on the charm and show interest. Toxic people can be quite charismatic when they want to be and are skilful at managing perceptions.

In order to identify such people and environments, you must be incredibly attentive to all visual and audio cues. Pay close attention to body language, word choice, what is said and not said, and your general feelings.

Investigate– Many of us get so caught up in the hiring process, we don’t do much more than check the company’s website and ‘surface research’ (I’m looking at you, Google). Do an ‘advanced search’ on Linkedin to uncover staff who have previously worked there. Look at how long they spent with the company. If there is a high number of staff who worked there for less than 12 months, then it’s worth digging deeper. There’s a lot to say about patterns.

Investigate some more – If you’re moving within your industry, lean on your network and find out more about the organisation’s culture. Some innocent questions can unravel deep seeded cultural issues, or conversely, give you a thumbs- up on the team you’re about to join.

Meet the team- At the final stages of the recruitment process; ask to meet the team you will be working with. Dependant on the size and type of the organisation, this might be as simple as asking the question and can often reflect your sincerity in wanting to fit in with the culture.

This is an opportunity to evaluate whether employees seem enthusiastic and energised at work. If they don’t, this can signify an environment that drains energy and esteem. It’s also good to assess how you feel after meeting with various employees. Uneasiness can indicate a negative work environment and can also limit your ability to fully evaluate the company.

Do staff share candid comments about the organisation, their experiences, and the role? Lack of openness may suggest there is something being hidden.

Finally, combine all your information. Whilst these observations and reflections should be complemented with other sources of information, direct observation and candid self-reflection can dramatically reduce the risk of joining a toxic workplace. In turn, these steps should go a long way in preventing you from saying ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’.

Published in The Age, August 2016:

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