How To Deal With a Corrosive Work Environment
Unfortunately not everyone can work in a perfect office, with a strong culture and a positive working environment. Some of us have to put up with bad bosses, grumpy colleagues and negative working environments at some point in our career. If you feel a looming sense of dread every evening just thinking about having to go to work the next day, or if you suffer from a particularly bad case of the “Sunday Blues” every week, read on to learn how to deal with a corrosive work environment.
Find the the source of negativity
One of the most important steps in starting to improve your work environment is being able to figure out the source of the problem. If you are able to isolate the problem, and you can give it a name/label, you can start to work on improving the situation, or at the very least, avoiding the problem. There are a number of different sources for negativity at work, but some of the most common can include:
1. Poor Mentor
If you are currently on an early stage of your career, where learning and development are crucial for your long term advancement you need strong guidance and mentorship. Having a bad mentor can be frustrating, confusing and leave you with an increasing number of doubts about your career choice.
On my first corporate job out of University, I had a pretty poor mentor, who we will call “Francis”. Francis was great at liaising with Senior Management and assigning work to people. However, I never knew what he actually did at work. As such, he was never great in giving me advice, teaching me on the job, or explaining why the different moving parts of our team moved the way they did.
Solution: Find someone who you can connect with, that has experience, and you can learn from quickly. I reached out to another senior person in the team, as well as another director and tried to shadow them as much as possible, asking questions and trying to learn why and how things worked. This made work a little more pleasant as I started to see some purpose in my assignments.
2. Bad Boss
There are many colours and shades to what can fall under the “bad boss” label. Perhaps they are just mean? Perhaps they are too controlling and take micro-managing to a new level? Perhaps they give you some advice but then act in a complete opposite way? Perhaps they seem incapable and you wonder how they got to be your boss in the first place?Whatever their approach is, unfortunately, all of us have had to deal with a bad boss at some point.
I had a boss, lets call him “Tony”, who was clearly punching beyond his weight. His advice was very contradictory to what he would present in monthly meetings, he didn’t have an understanding of our business model, company strategy, or marketing approach. As a result, the team was often a little lost and frustrated, and eventually the team just started to ignore him and work as a unit without a head. This is far from ideal, as you often need someone to look at the big picture and the road ahead.
Solution: Try to have regular face-to-face updates where you can try to to politely bring up things that you don’t agree with. In these meetings you can ask for direction, and I suggest writing a summary or recap email immediately after. Send it to your boss and CC yourself in it. This way you are forcing some transparency, and if there are any issues, you can always refer back to this. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to go to their superior to discuss a ‘high level strategy’.
3. The Terrible Co-worker
It seems every office has that aggressive, troublemaker and just generally annoying co-worker. It seems their only mission at work is to make everyone’s life a little more difficult. You know the type: they are always going against the grain, try to reverse or second-guess every decision after every meeting, tend to send passive-aggressive emails, and seem to be always plotting something negative. In my head, they’re called “Frank”, and frankly, every office would be better off without them.
Solution: The best way to deal with these terrible co-workers is with kindness. These are people that tend to crave attention and have an urge to feel important. In their eyes they seem important to other people when they create hurdles. Try disarming them with simple things like a smile, friendly demeanour, and by every once asking for advice. If they continue to make your life difficult, tell them that you wish you had their experience, and that when you need advice, you will come to them. You will be surprised how quickly you can make these people switch to your side and stop them from being a thorn on your side.
Create a routine
If the problem at work is not just a bad boss, an annoying co-worker or the lack of a mentor, but the office culture or the nature of your current tasks, there are other things you need to do to improve your situation.
Everyone has a a number of tasks that are not that glamorous and unfortunately need to get done. These tend to get annoying and drain your motivation to work. I recommend creating a routine. Set a time before lunch to get them all done, after you’ve started to tackle your most important issues, but before it’s too late in the day so that you think about them too much. I’ve talked about the importance on an early morning routine before, but a routine could look like this:
- 8am: Create your to-do list, and mark the most important things you want to accomplish that day. No email yet!
- 9am-10am: Get started on 1-2 of your most important tasks
- 10am: Check email, and reply to the urgent ones
- 11am-12pm: BORING TASKS. Get the routine tasks out of the way, like reporting, daily tasks, etc
- 12pm: Lunch
- 1pm-3pm: Continue on your important tasks
- 3pm-5pm: All your adhoc tasks
- End of day: Check your to-do list, and try to plan what you need to do tomorrow/day after/next week
Focus on your deliverables
Other than trying to remove the negative impact of the boring work, it’s important to do things well. Taking pride on your larger projects is really important. I recommend tackling each bigger task thinking that it might be the project that gets you one step closer to your dream job. Once you change your mindset from “just another project” to “this is the project that will make our company market leaders”, you will start to slowly enjoy them a little more, and you will in turn, put more effort into them, creating a really positive feedback loop.
After all, if you work in a negative office, you need to find ways to stay positive.
Unfortunately, there are times that no matter how hard you try, there are corrosive work environments that cannot be fixed. The negative work culture is too engrained and the people in charge are not willing to change their ways. It is important to remember that no office is perfect, however, that doesn’t mean you should just accept a bad environment. If you have tried to improve your situation to no avail, know that the grass might be greener elsewhere.
You need to accept that there is a point where you should pack up your talent, and take it somewhere else. Don’t look at it as giving up. On the contrary, you owe it to yourself! You deserve to be happy at the office, after all, you spend the majority of your time awake working.
Go on, look for a better environment and be happy, you deserve it![This article is part of a series I am currently working on. For more, sign up to the newsletter]