Toxic workplace

What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Working for a bad boss or company

“When a workplace becomes toxic, its poison spreads beyond its walls and into the lives of its workers and their families.”

My daughter called me the other day to ask for some advice. A friend of hers had just lost her job along with about 100 others, just after Thanksgiving. They were told that all was good and their jobs were not in danger only to then be let go.

The company that let them go had merged with another company and was now apparently downsizing or as they call it right sizing. As a business consultant and former company executive, I never thought eliminating people unless they were truly bad workers was the right thing to do. To just arbitrarily let people go, especially at holiday time is to me the height of corporate incompetence.

I told her that she should tell her friend that they may have done her and the others a favor. If a company so disregards its employees like that, they never cared about them in the first place. So leaving them should be a relief because there are good, decent, non-toxic other places to work. Her friend already has some nibbles as good people always will.

“A toxic workplace isn’t only toxic for the people who work there, but also toxic for the company’s success” — Unknown

For ages people have worked in sometimes literally toxic workplaces. Jobs were hard to come by and there was a thing called “company loyalty” where people worked for companies their entire working lives whether they really wanted to or not.

That has dramatically changed in the past few decades. Not so much the toxic workplaces, but people’s tolerance towards them. The average time at a company is now about 5 years, not enough to get them into the 25 or 40 year clubs for sure.

But in spite of the less tolerant attitudes towards poor working companies and their conditions, many are still worried about losing their jobs. In spite of their dislikes, that fear of change thing keeps rearing its ugly head and so people stay on until their fear is realized and they are summarily discharged.

While the company itself may be fine, it still amazes me that there are an incredible number of bad managers. In having dealt with 300+ companies in my career, I can honestly say that most had at least one if not more poor ones. Why this is tolerated, escapes me, but it does. And why people put up with it is equally puzzling to me.

“A bad boss is like a disease of the soul.” — Chetan Bhagat

Why are there so many bad bosses? There are probably a million reasons, but I think it is because many are promoted based on the wrong reasons. A good engineer does not necessarily make a good engineering manager. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you can teach or manage it. But yet people are promoted because they are good at what they currently do, not how they will be in a new role.

They then continue doing the same in their new position. Wrong. If you want to be an engineer, be one. If you want to manage other engineers, you need a whole new skill set.

Rarely are good sports figures good managers. While they themselves can perform at high levels, they have trouble getting others to do so. The average or maybe even lower level players seem to have the ability to coach and get the best out of players. Ted Williams batted .400 yet could not instruct others how to do so. Bill Russell won 12 championships, but was a disaster as a head coach.

Workers such as yourself are then subjected to these poor choices on managers, made by others. I had an extremely bad Director I reported to. He was the 7th choice for the position and gladly took it. He had no clue what he was doing.

I had a great relationship with his boss, the Vice President of Operations. He told me I had to take care of Bob. I asked why. I thought Bob was supposed to take care of me just as I was taking care of those under me. He told me sometimes we have to live with our mistakes. Bob was one of those and I now had to live with that.

Bob and I tangled a lot. At one point we stopped talking to each other. That actually was a relief. I learned what not to do as a Director which helped me later on as I moved ultimately into that position.

That may not be you. I didn’t tolerate nonsense and I graduated from Bob to other positions. But you may not be like me. You don’t want confrontation even when it is needed. So you suffer with the bad boss and let him or her make your life miserable.

“Having a bad boss isn’t your fault. Staying with one is.” — Nora Denzel

At some point you have to decide how much pain you are willing to endure. When it becomes too much, you need to move on. Actually you should do so before then. You are not an indentured servant. Stop acting like one.

In both cases, you may be unhappy, either with you boss, your company, or even both. There are things you can do to mitigate or get rid of these things.  If it is the boss, look to move within the company. If not possible, like my first job, then find a new company and move away.

If it is the company, it is definitely time to move on. There are millions of companies in the world. Find the one right for you and go there.

But do not lose sleep over either or both. You have control to make a change. I did, twice and ultimately started my own company. Never thought I would, but life has funny surprises. Best move I ever made and I never have looked back.

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