Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our weekly column to give you career and workplace advice/coaching. Please write in and tell me about a career challenge or frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
Dear Dana, I loved your article on why my dream job isn’t a dream! It sums up how I’ve been feeling lately in terms of my dream job. As you know I have had some pretty tough work environments and I am wondering if it is possible to change a bad work culture. Is it better to stay and try to help improve it, or is it better to search for the right job? — Wondering in Washington
Glad you liked the article about dream jobs. Your question is an important one, can we change a toxic corporate culture or should we just give up and leave? I think I’ve had that question on my mind in every job I’ve ever had – especially at the end when I’m getting tired of the extra “stuff” I have to deal with as a result of that particular job.
I don’t mean to sound wishy-washy but the answer is yes and yes. Here are three things to consider when thinking about how to handle a toxic corporate culture.
1: Get what you can
Every job has some gifts to give you, whether it’s learning a new skill, new ways of handling challenges or how to survive and work to shift a tough corporate culture for the better. You owe it to yourself not to throw the baby (i.e., career experience and knowledge) out with the bathwater (leaving a toxic culture). That said, there comes a point in every position where it’s taking more from you than it’s giving. That’s when it’s time to go. The trick is to be aware of this throughout your tenure there and stay conscious about (a) getting the experience and knowledge you can while also (b) staying attuned to what might be a good next move and planting the seeds to get you there when the time is right. You want to stay aware of noticing “when the time is right,” so you can start making your exit before the toxicity has really gotten to you because if you’re not careful, you’ll carry it with you to your next job. The last thing you want to do is to “hate your job” all the way through, feel “stuck” in a toxic environment and then have it “stick” to you when you leave. Ick.
2: Shift the parts of the culture you can
You also owe it to yourself, and the people you work with, to do what you can to shift a bad corporate culture in the ways you can. Why is it your responsibility? Because organizational cultures are made up of people and a crappy culture can’t change unless the crappy attitudes of the people do. Of course you’re not the only one who’s part of the problem (i.e., by contributing to or tolerating a bad culture), and you’re also not the only one who’s part of the solution. So you have to do your part.So you have to do your part. First, you can learn to detrigger to release the toxic feelings that contribute to your own toxic attitudes, such as frustration, anger, bitterness. When you can reliably stay clear of the emotional food fight* flying around the office, you can let the toxicity slide right off you. A non-toxic attitude polishes up your personal brand and gives you executive presence so that even in a toxic culture, people want to work with you and the leadership sees that you’re able to stay steady even when things are tough. This can open new doors, and behind some of them there will be less toxicity.
* An office food fight is what I always imagine when I see a toxic business culture because the emotional active/passive aggressiveness, insensitivity and outright betrayals are like invisible things flying through the air and even though you can’t see them, they make a serious mess.
3: Learn to create “culture bubbles”
Another reason to build your personal brand to include “managing yourself well in a bad corporate culture” is when you demonstrate that you can withstand the stresses of toxic corporate cultures, you’re also demonstrating leadership that can help you protect your team from some of the toxicity, making them more effective. Happy people are productive people and genuinely not letting the food fight land on you or your team builds their loyalty and your reputation. Sometimes this means you spend a bit more energy helping them ward off the toxicity but to some degree that’s part of your job. Even in good corporate cultures leaders should be mentoring and helping run interference with other parts of the organization to help their teams get things done. In a toxic culture this becomes even more important.
One other thing to remember about a toxic corporate culture is that its not necessarily equally toxic for everyone there. Everyone has a different experience and even though “all your colleagues” are complaining, there are people there who are using it to their advantage. Be the latter and when it’s taking more than it’s giving you, leave with a clear conscious and good experience under your belt.
Good luck and when you’re exploring other opportunities, be sure to check out The InPower Coaching Career Center for good resources.
Good luck and let us know how your career search goes!
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!