By Neil Patrick
Picking up my emails and messages today, I was struck by three in particular. Three very different stories, but one common aspect - a toxic employment situation.
A toxic employer
The first was a Twitter message in which a friend described talking to a senior manager. This boss was adamant that the way to ensure his team remained effective was to fire or demote his managers regularly. Promote 'fresh blood', squeeze them dry over a few years and then rehire newer, younger people whose eagerness and enthusiasm would inject new vigor into his operations. Ah yes. Burn and churn is alive and well...
A toxic industry
The second email which resonated was from a young man (well about 30) whom I’ve known since his youth. He was always smart and perceptive when we discussed business matters as we did many times. He is now a successful senior manager in the oil and gas industry. He asked me what he should be doing to develop his career in the future as the recent events in the oil market were causing him to worry about his long term career prospects..
A toxic boss
The third was a good friend in the legal profession who along with his colleagues has been so harangued and bullied by their control obsessed boss that several have quit and others are undergoing stress counselling.
Why these situations are career threatening
The first story above highlights the Attila the Hun approach to people management. Some organisations not only tolerate this, they demand it. If the culture is primitive, ie all we want is your maximum possible activity, then this type of behaviour is a fit with that ethos.
It’s often found in industries which require person to person contact and rapid and frequent interactions. In these businesses, it’s not quality of work that is paramount, it’s quantity and frequency of effort. Examples include call centres, contract catering, sales canvassing.
The oil and gas industries are on a slow but steady path to extinction as remaining fossil fuel reserves are consumed and renewable energies take their place (at least hopefully they will, or it’s curtains for the whole human race). Burning old brontosaurus skeletons is the way of the past not the future.
In the case of my lawyer friend, it was clear that the seniority of his bullying boss has provided her with an untouchable status within the organisation. Despite her behavior, the organisation is clearly not doing much to deal with it. Ironically, she's probably headed towards legal action against her from at least some of the people she has pushed over the edge.
In every case the solution is the same
So three very different cases, but for all of them, I think the answer is the same. It necessitates a planned approach to navigating your way from where you are today not just to your next job, but the job beyond that one.
The default for most people is to try and cling on as long possible to what we have. All the while hoping that somehow things will improve.
We all have power over our own actions, but little power to change the nature of our industry, employer or boss. So in this situation, all we can do is get away from the harmful environment we find ourselves in.
And this means accepting the reality and taking positive steps to get ourselves to safety as soon as we can. Ultimately this means finding another job in a non-toxic environment even if it takes more than one job change to do it.
And the point at which you start this planning process to transition yourself into in a healthy environment should be now, not several months or years from now, when you have been completely poisoned and are at your lowest ebb.
The first step for all these situations is acknowledging the reality that the situation you face will not change. The industry, employer or boss is not going to suddenly stop being toxic. So you must remove yourself. But do this in a planned way not a knee-jerk complaining resignation tantrum.
The second step is identifying your pathway away from the danger. It may be sideways or even a little downwards, but getting yourself away from the poison has to be the priority.
And the third step is making it happen. Not next month or next week. But starting right now.
Before it’s too late.