Fight or Flight: Ways to Cope With a Volatile Workplace if You Work in One
Whether you are a fresh graduate new to the workforce or someone who has been working for many years, there’s bound to be a point in time where you’ve worked in a toxic workplace before.
Toxic workplaces can come in many types and forms. However, there are some types of toxic workplaces that are more common than others. You can even find these kinds of workplaces in Malaysia too.
1. A lot of anger (or general negative emotions) in the office
Ever stepped into an office and get hit by a wall of negative emotions? Well, yeah this is a common trait of a toxic workplace. Every morning you walk into the office, you will be greeted by demotivated colleagues.
The cause of a negative workplace can be of many reasons. Perhaps there has been a lot of in-fighting among managers and subordinates. Or perhaps the managers are the kinds that play politics, which causes rifts between 2 parties. Generally, the idea is that the atmosphere in the office is so negative it is hard for the employees to “breathe” in peace.
2. Confusion over projects
Confusion in projects and the workplace is common. They exist and you can’t get rid of them. However, in a toxic workplace, confusion in projects is usually higher than it is acceptable and bearable. There are no clear goals that even managers have no idea how to execute the project in a passable manner.
The projects tend to be passed around from one manager to another. There is no head nor tail in the projects. In all honesty, sometimes passing the project around can cause more confusion.
3. High turnover rate
When I say “high turnover rate”, I really mean a very high turnover rate. You can see new employees coming in every week only to leave after a few days or few weeks. They get replaced by a new hire and the same cycle happens again.
Having worked in these kinds of companies before, I can safely say it does affect staffs’ mentality. It’s mostly because staffs have to keep witnessing people come and go, which translates into nothing ever lasts in the company.
At one point, in one of my previous companies, I remembered witnessing up to 25+ employees coming in to work for 1-2 weeks and then leave after that. Every time they leave, it’s always preceded by these employees having some sort of heated argument with the management. Talk about volatile!
What happens in a workplace when it lacks leadership, has a lot of disorganization and has no clear goals, and is filled with a lot of aggressiveness? Absenteeism of employees and staff. Absenteeism is only made worst when the management and HR do not launch an investigation into the employee who does not show up to work for a valid reason. Not only that, the very same absent employee can easily take advantage of the management’s carelessness and ignorance and continue to abuse it.
What happens when a company has repeated and unaddressed absenteeism? Fellow colleagues and employees can follow suit and one day, there will be nobody checking into the office to work. Since that the management doesn’t care and they seem to be ok with it. It’s as if Thanos has made a comeback with his bejeweled gloves and made a snap.
Coping With a Toxic Workplace
Having said all of that, here are some ways you can cope with working in a toxic office environment.
1. Don’t react to the aggressiveness
Whether if it is aggression in terms of colleagues and managers showing anger in the workplace, you absolutely do not react to it. Put on a neutral body language and facial expression. Do not be in such a way that your body language is “asking for retaliation”.
I have previously covered in one of my previous articles: if you are faced with a difficult boss (in this case you can include difficult colleagues too), do not react! Choose your words carefully as what you say may cost you your job and your reputation.
You may not know who your boss and colleagues are related to. They may be related to some powerful people who may also join the fray and destroy your career. It’s good to say less, and it’s good to remain neutral at all times.
2. Find a new job while dealing with your toxic workplace
I know this part is difficult and contestable for some people who read this. However, there are times where you simply cannot change a toxic workplace. It drains your energy and morale a lot faster than you can even say your name sometimes.
While holding on to your current job in a toxic workplace, try to look for a new job. As soon as you have found one, seal the deal and make your jump. Make sure in the midst of looking for a job, do it discreetly. Don’t do it in a way that everyone can see. If someone in the company sees you applying out actively, who knows if they will sabotage your opportunities? Work smart.
Make sure you don’t quit before you land a new job. The only time when you are allowed to “quit” is when your company went bankrupt. You didn’t exactly quit anyway…and it wasn’t by your own hands too. Your company went under before you had the chance to find a new job.
3. Find your allies
Working in a venomous and volatile workplace means you will be unable to work with everyone in the office. Having said that, find friends and like-minded people in the company and be friends with them. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Lessen your interactions outside of the workplace with toxic colleagues. However, when you are in the office it’s quite likely you will have to work with these toxic people. You don’t have a choice. But what you can do is to focus on the outcome and results of the projects you are working on with these disagreeable people. If they are looking for people to sabotage the project and pin it on you, make sure you are ready to take a stand. Be firm, but don’t react to it.
4. Can you control everything?
The answer is no, and this also applies to you working in a toxic workplace. Some office problems you just simply cannot help resolve. This is because the entire situation is simply out of your hands.
However, you are paid to do your job. You should at least try to do your best with the ongoing project. Whether if your boss or managers are happy with it or not, sorry then. You can’t control your boss’s emotions and you are not paid to be their psychiatrist or babysitter. You are paid only to do whatever you are paid to do in the company. And you should focus on that.
5. Document everything
This one gets a bit tedious at times. It’s becoming more and more normal to witness bosses, managers, and colleagues throwing their staff under the bus. Ever heard your manager telling you to do the project a certain way? And then later on when you have submitted the same project the way they wanted it, they did a 180 degrees flip and said they didn’t want it that way? Yeah, it happens.
What you can do here is to send them an email (in some cases a WhatsApp text in a company WhatsApp group) and repeat back what they have said in the earlier meeting. If they don’t reply, you can take it as a yes and proceed with the project. If they say no and make a scene, then professionally let them know this was what you were told to do. You did it according to how they wanted.
Make sure that while working on the projects, you should let your managers have a periodical review of how it’s coming along. If they told you to not bother them, then never mind. Just stick to the plan and go with it. If they still make a scene, then there is absolutely nothing you can do.
Toxic workplaces exist everywhere in every country. It is not limited to just one country or one city. Having said that, we hope that this article can provide some insights and advice on how to deal with a toxic workplace.
Lydia is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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