There’s a parable that’s stayed well with me – a widely applicable favorite.
A frog dropped in a pot of boiling water will immediately hop out, but a frog dropped in a pot of warm water set on a stove and brought to a boil will sit there as the temperature gradually rises around it – until it’s cooked to death.
Sometimes, we miss the signs we’re dealing with a toxic workplace – until it’s basically too late. Regrettably, we all know someone who’s endured something like this – or even experienced it first hand.
You’ve done everything right and your efforts have been rewarded. You’ve landed an interview with a company you’d be proud to work for. More than that you feel somehow flattered to even be considered – perhaps the job is a bit of a stretch and you are a long shot.
That could be the first indicator something is wrong. In the current environment of reasonably low unemployment, employers are struggling to fill vacancies. But if the target job is with a company with a good reputation there should still be plenty of applicants to consider before the long shots. Either their recruitment process isn’t working or things aren’t as sunny there as you believed. It could be you’re in the minority when it comes to knowing the score.
You arrive for your interview a few minutes early and are kept waiting for 20 minutes past the scheduled time. With no remark of acknowledgement, or apology, your interviewer arrives with a personal travel mug of coffee and escorts you into a conference room with simply a “Come in here.” You’re told another party will be joining the interview, but is running late.
Here’s your second clue there’s a problem. The other half of the interview team is already 20 minutes late when you’re brought in – clearly they’ve communicated with the staffer you’ve met and either something happened or someone forgot you were coming in to interview. Rather than apologize for the inconvenience, you’ve been inconvenienced further and the process is already flawed, with half of the team that will consider you missing the start of the interview you are at a competitive disadvantage. They’re going to be more than just a few minutes longer – otherwise you’d have been left in the waiting room for another five minutes.
Hired! You can hardly believe it, but you deserve it – and you wait eagerly for starting day. It’s a great opportunity and you’re looking forward to the chance to prove yourself. You’re welcomed from day one and treated immediately like a confidante.
Unfortunately, there’s too much to share. Your supervisor immediately ‘fills you in’ about the dysfunction in the workplace. You’re told about the infighting between teams. You’re told about the lack of communication between upper and middle management. You’re told about the culture conflicts between departments. You’re told not to worry, because you’re on the right team – or ‘side.’
Well, if the alarms aren’t going off yet they soon will be. All of this ‘information’ amounts to little more than office gossip and has no place in the on-boarding process. New employees need to be given the chance to learn the ropes, and reach their own conclusions. New hires should be encouraged to ask questions, and given the unbiased information needed to integrate into the environment. Choosing sides out of the gate should be left to pickup ball games at the park – never a professional workplace.
Many days, the place seems dead. The parking lot is nearly empty and there’s no outward sign the business is even open – even though its mission is to interact in positive ways with the community.
As it turns out, the public is seen as a nuisance. Exterior lights, an open sign or other indicators would only serve to attract unwelcome inquiries. Staff mostly resent having to deal with the public and make disparaging remarks behind their backs. Protocols are not being followed because they’re viewed as ‘inconvenient.’
If you coworkers fail to embrace the mission of the business, and constantly poison the air – they are creating a toxic soup that will engulf you. Nobody can maintain his or her optimism in an environment of pure negativity
Fired without warning – in an email, or a voicemail. “A letter will be mailed to you.’ There was no coaching, no conversations, no clear signs there was a problem – though something had been nagging at you. Until now, you couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Everything becomes crystal clear. A week later, you learn there’s someone new in your position.
Some folks make the wrong assumption that the recruiting and hiring process is too costly for companies to act recklessly. Once a hiring decision is made, they’re sort of stuck with it and efforts are made to develop the talent they’ve brought on.
Admittedly where high numbers of ‘warm bodies’ are needed, like retail, this is sometimes the case. Every worker has potential to be discovered or simply exploited.
But in toxic “professional” environments like the one you’ve encountered there’s no value placed on the individual. The lunatics are running the asylum in this case. Due to the breakdown in communication and operational dysfunction mentioned earlier, only the corrupt culture and not the needs and interests of the business are being served. Hiring and firing decisions are not always made based on what’s best for the company but rather based on what serves the misguided interests of the individuals making those decisions.
The good news? You’re out of the pot. You’re not dead and you’re better informed. You’ll recognize the signs next time. You’ll apply what you’ve learned to driving your own bus. Congratulations are in order.
It’s time to reclaim ownership of your work life – nearly snuffed out in the toxic soup. Find your next opportunity and seize it.