Toxic Boss = Big Loss
A friend of mine and I were talking recently and she started to tell me a story about one of her clients. The client has been a great referral source for her in the past, yet she is starting to become aware of strange happenings lately. Things that feel… uneasy, upsetting.
· Misunderstandings despite written expectations.
· Outbursts of frustration.
· Disgust toward submitted work.
· And plain old blame.
Knowing my friend and her work ethic, after listening for a bit, it hit me. “They’ve got a rat in their company! That person is creating a toxic workplace and even working on contract basis, you are getting spillover from their company culture,” I said.
In this situation she started to notice that what they were doing in her work life, was negatively impacting her home life. She was impatient with her family, unhappy the time spent on her work for them and even sick to her stomach in anticipation of each of their meetings. She began to question if she should keep working with them at all.
After our conversation I couldn’t help but think about how common this scenario and those like it must be in the world of work. Whether you’re an employee, a freelancer or an entrepreneur we’ve all have had to deal with toxic behavior at work. In true writer form, I had to look it up. I found an article from 2018 reporting that, “A toxic boss exists in nearly every work environment in corporate America.”
Whoa. Let’s just pause right there. Nearly every work environment? My immediate thought process goes, why is this acceptable? What kind of impact is it having on people, not to mention businesses? And, how can we change it?
I too, have a toxic boss story. In fact, this boss (I’ll call her Ms. X) was called a “nuclear bomb” for her actions in her department. Long after my experience with her, I heard that some of her staff had to seek counseling for PTSD after working for her!
But before I knew any of that, when I first learned about the opportunity to work with Ms. X as my boss, I had been in a job for three years but didn’t see a clear path to growth. And I had always wished I could work for the organization where Ms. X was hiring. In fact, it was my dream employer. I thought that opportunity was really going to be “it” for me. I told friends and family with excitement, “I can see myself working the rest of my career here!”
So, I tried to do my due diligence to ensure it was a good fit. I knew myself and shared who I was with my future boss, Ms. X. I shared that I am an independent worker, that I had autonomy in my previous role managing creative campaigns, a committee, a budget and outside vendors. I was coming from a leadership position so that was what I was seeking.
Then I looked to my network. I asked people who knew both my soon-to-be boss and me, their thoughts. When someone said, “yes, I think you’ll work great together!” I felt good about making the move to change jobs. In the multiple interviews I had there, I even asked my future colleagues, what they thought of this soon-to-be boss. It’s a sticky situation however, and I understand. What can they say? How do they say it? They didn’t know me, and they didn’t want the wrath of her should she find out.
Once I became part of the team, it didn’t take but a week for things to start to unravel. As I started to build a network with my colleagues, inside and outside of my department, I quickly became aware of some of their experiences.
Those experiences included tell-tale signs of a toxic culture:
· Micromanaging – upon review of a project she assigned she would ask for it to be redone again and again, until she would redo it herself.
· Blaming – Great leaders take responsibility. She didn’t. She found fault and assigned it regularly.
· Favoritism – there was one clear favorite in the office who seemed to be in a safe zone.
· Aggressive bullying behavior – public humiliation in team meetings was her special past time. Every week someone on the team found themselves in her crosshairs.
· Gossip – On the rare occasion some light heartedness entered the department, she often inserted negative gossip about others in leadership within the organization.
· High turnover – I found out much later that the whole department of 22 people had turned over under her leadership.
The worst part was it wasn’t just a miserable job. It was impacting my life and my health too. I found myself unhappy and physically feeling at my worst – no energy, anxious and bummed out. I now know, “nearly 40 percent of people targeted by a bully experience stress-related health problems including debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and clinical depression.”
It was just three months into this job when I had to come to terms with the fact that it was time to leave. I did all I could to change things and then realized; it wasn’t going to work. What followed was a grieving period. I was mourning a loss. The loss of losing the happiness I once saw me having in this role. The loss of my vision for my future. The loss of not getting a chance to make the impact there, inside the walls of my dream employer.
Losses are high when a toxic workplace culture runs rampant. Revenue, dreams, potential, creativity, innovation, health, opportunities – all are lost when no action is taken to replace a toxic boss.
I’m grateful for that experience now because it can only help me to help others avoid such situations. Is it any wonder that I now help teams enhance communication at work? I now have the tools to help leaders be better leaders, managers to manage better and to make conflict productive at work.
If you're reading this, chances are you can relate. Let’s figure out how you can avoid a big loss. Check in with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.