Stop enduring toxic workplaces
The article Keep winding up in a toxic workplace? by David M. Taffet caught my attention because it brings up a discussion that I sometimes have with my clients as well as with myself, having lived and endured some pretty toxic leaders in my career. There is a general tendency to say that we should just put up with toxic workplaces and people, which to me is just unrealistic.
Have you ever lived with a toxic boss, colleague or workplace? Share your experiences with me, I’d like to hear what you lived and how you addressed it.
Now before I go any further, I do want to clarify my point of view: I am not saying we should just jump and avoid what we are living. I am not saying that we should expect others to make all the changes and not us. I am not saying that we should expect others to resolve our challenges. The intent of this post is to state that sometimes the pattern may come from us and we, as individuals, have to notice this, understand it in ourselves and address it personally as well as with others. We also have the responsibility to share our discomfort with what we are living to help others become aware of their own actions (surprisingly, most are not). Ok, back to the post and the article.
Toxic people and workplaces have an impact on work performance and productivity. It has an impact on your workplace well-being. It also has an impact on your personal well-being. But people need a paycheque. They need to be employed. They need to belong. They need to avoid failure. All of these are some of the reasons we work and endure toxic workplaces. Another reason I have seen people unconsciously find the same types of toxic cultures, leaders and colleagues is because they are familiar to them.
Unfortunately, most people do not recognize what they are living. They have not been informed and even less, trained to understand how to change your current reality or what to look for when exploring new work opportunities. This has to change.
And to add to that, what’s even more interesting is what people say and react to when you realize it and bring it up with them. Often, the sharing of toxic realities is dismissed. Have you ever heard any of these responses?
* Oh, that’s just the way they are. You’ll get used to it…
* Oh, don’t worry too much, it’s not that bad…
* You should see my own workplace and you’ll feel better...
* You should spend a day with my own colleagues, then you’ll appreciate yours...
In other words, what they are living is not really all that bad. We need to modify this type of reaction. And the first step is getting to know yourself and where you are at your best. The more you know you, the more you understand what impacts you and how you can find solutions.
My favorite quote from the article “Enduring toxicity isn’t bragging rights; choosing not to is.”
It is time for us to go beyond the title, job description and mission of an organization/team and start to really explore what has an impact on our workplace satisfaction: boss, culture, colleagues, environment. We need to know how to influence our current realities as well as know how to look for these key elements in future opportunities.
It’s time that as individuals and members of a team, we start identifying and seeing those unhealthy workplaces. We need to see them and address them faster. We need to change our own cycles and patterns. Finally, we also need to recognize and celebrate people who are doing this for themselves and stop diminishing them/minimizing their experiences.
If you’d like some help in order to accelerate your own self-discovery, reach out. I’ll be glad to setup a quick conversation to better understand you.
Here’s the link to the article: Keep winding up in a toxic workplace? Here’s how to break the cycle
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Keep winding up in a toxic workplace? Here’s how to break the cycle
You may have subconsciously built up a tolerance for bad bosses and toxic colleagues, this executive coach says. It’s time for healthy change.
BY DAVID M. M. TAFFET
posted on fastcompany.com May 8th, 2023
Have you ever left a toxic workplace only to have the “bad luck” of finding yourself in the same situation shortly thereafter? Do you constantly make bad hires that end up sabotaging your company? Ever wonder why this keeps happening to you? Ever consider that the common denominator is you? I don’t mean that you’re the toxic one (though, that’s possible). I mean that you might be choosing toxic environments without realizing it. Per the title of the famous self-help book by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are. Or in the words of Sharon Martin, “we repeat what we don’t repair.”
Apple TV’s psychological thriller Severance explores a dystopian fantasy in which people enter the workplace wholly unaffected by their personal histories. After the severance medical procedure, employees who step into the lobby elevator undergo a tabula rasa transformation, enabling them to perform their jobs without the hindrance of personal baggage. Severance pokes fun at the illusion that we can be different people at work than we are elsewhere.
WE ARE OUR EXPERIENCES
We talk a lot about the effects of work on life, but rarely do we examine the inverse: how our personal lives affect us at work. I’m talking specifically about the way that toxic relationships in our personal lives dictate our tolerance for toxicity at work. Our environments shape who we are and how we perceive the world. For some, this environment is loving and supportive; for others it is marked by trauma, neglect, and abuse.
My early life was shaped, in part, by my dad’s career as an Air Force fighter pilot and the rigid, hierarchical culture that he imposed on us. Moving from one military base to another and being the only Jew at school (aside from my brother), made it difficult to escape violence and bullying. Of course, my dad didn’t want to hear it. “Toughen up!” he would growl. Even when the violence got extreme, the onus was on me to keep enduring.
When I began practicing law, I woke up to how much these early experiences informed my career choices. With law, I found myself in an ugly, cutthroat environment, surrounded by the same bullies that I’d met before. Every boss I had was my dad. Almost every colleague fed off of intimidating others. Jumping from one law firm to the next, I encountered the same culture and the same people. My life was one big Sisyphean curse. It wasn’t until I gathered the courage to quit law that I was able to break the cycle. I set out on an entrepreneurial path and never looked back.
But, what kept landing me in the same toxic environments? It took me a long time to realize that the answer was me all along, and in your case, the answer might be you. We tend to reenact our past experiences. Why? Because it’s familiar. Just as my upbringing influenced me to seek out tyranny later in life, our past prevents us from noticing certain forms of toxicity.
WHY YOU CAN’T JUST GET OVER IT
Research has identified two types of trauma reenactments: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive reenactments involve controlled exposure to situations reminiscent of the original trauma, allowing for progressive healing. Maladaptive reenactments involve compulsive and defensive exposure to past situations, perpetuating cycles of re-traumatization and destructive behavior.
I was subconsciously drawn to toxic, command-and-control environments, because their discomforting affect on me was familiar. Why didn’t I just leave as soon as I realized where I was? Because changing the dance of anger is even more uncomfortable than maladaptive reenactment.
It’s extremely difficult to stop tolerating toxic behavior once you’ve become desensitized to it. We even fight to maintain toxic relationships that are making us depressed and anxious. We justify these relationships by assessing their relative toxicity to others we’ve experienced. We say things like, “He’s not that bad. You should meet my former boss.” We force ourselves to adapt to insanity, which is truly insane.
IT’S TIME FOR A DETOX
If this resonates with you, you may be seeking toxicity at work without realizing it. So, how can you detox your work life? Start by developing intolerance for the intolerable. As I’ve written before, toxicity cannot be killed with kindness unless it’s directed at oneself. Deciding that you deserve to be treated with kindness enables you to construct healthy boundaries.
Commit to practices like therapy, meditation, journaling, and other forms of self-care that encourage reflection and strengthen self-awareness (e.g. exercise, reading, various art forms). Many workplaces even offer third-party coaches who can help you reflect on your thoughts and actions. Take the time to pause and assess whether you’re kind to yourself. If you were your own loving parent, would you allow yourself to be treated this way by yourself or others?
Analyze your surroundings. Are you happy? Are your peers happy? What energy do you bring to the workplace environment? What energy do your coworkers bring? At the end of a workday, do you feel physically tired from using your brain to solve problems, or soulless and depressed from dealing with ugliness and unnecessary BS? Do you work closely with a “crazymaker” as described in Julia Cameron’s wildly popular The Artist’s Way? Crazymakers expect the world to cater to them, blame others, create drama, and love making chaos, among other toxic traits.
Enduring toxicity isn’t bragging rights; choosing not to is. It’s time to flip the switch; decide that you deserve better, and let that decision fuel healthy growth. You’ll soon find that what was once familiar becomes repugnant. Because it’s easy to embrace toxicity if you’re numb, work to become fully present in your life. When you recognize that embracing toxicity is a choice, you won’t magically be in a different place, but you will miraculously be on a different path.
As the season progresses, the characters in Severance become obsessed with uncovering who they are outside of work—warts and all. Devoid of individual histories, their daily life at Lumen (the fictional multinational that employs them) feels meaningless and incomplete.
Choosing to dissociate from life or work can be a helpful short-term coping mechanism, but in the end it’s just kicking the can down the road. To truly detox your life, it’s essential to examine the interplay between your personal history and the choices you make at work.
We cannot change our past, but we can take control of our present and future by recognizing our patterns, challenging ourselves to grow, and knowing that we deserve better. Break the Sisyphean curse by distancing yourself from the familiar and embracing the discomforting realization that you’re worthy of kindness.
David M. M. Taffet is a parallel entrepreneur, turnaround specialist, and the cofounder and venture builder at JukeStrat, a purpose-driven venture studio and consulting group. He serves as an executive whisperer, fractional C-level advisor, and coach for several of its clients, drawing on his 30-plus years of experience building companies, orchestrating turnarounds, leading successful teams, raising capital, and developing cross-sector partnerships for commercial and public gain.