Dealing with a Toxic Work Environment
Have you ever woken up in the morning, the birds are signing outside your window, the sun is shining through the blinds, and you can’t help but smile because you slept well or because you can smell freshly made coffee from the kitchen. Then it comes crashing down because you have to go to work today. Your work environment has become so toxic that you would rather go to a dentist appointment than into the job you used to love. Most of us have been there at some point, and those who haven’t it may be a matter of time.
It doesn’t always last forever, and sometimes it is just a bad mood, or a passing situation causing stress, but everyone at one time or another has had to deal with dreading the office. What do you do when that happens? Well there are a lot of answers, and sometimes it depends on you, your personality, your position, your background and experiences. But since I don’t have time to address every problem individually and this isn’t a Dear Abby column, I’ll go over some basics to preventing conflict in the office, and then handling it when it’s already an issue.
How To Prevent Conflict In The Office
1 – Keep Work and Home Life Separate
On average we spend 9+ hours at the office each and every day, however many of us can spend much more than that. For most that’s more time than we spend asleep, and more time consecutively than we spend with friends or family at a time during the week. It’s only natural to get to know those you work with since you’re spending so much time in the same room. There is a line you should draw for yourself between work and home, consider:
- Taking personal calls outside of the office, or in a location where you won’t be bothered or bother other people.
- Keep personal anecdotes and stories short and to the point.
- Talk about kids, family, outside experiences but keep it basic, otherwise you’ll share too much of yourself that you won’t be able to get back.
Be conscious of what you share and how often you share it. A good rule of thumb, don’t share anything that you would feel uncomfortable if someone shared with you.
2 – Understand the Company Culture
Company culture is a big deal in hiring today, we’ve written several blogs about what it is and how companies make sure they are outlining and living up to their culture. But what does it mean for you as an employee? It means that you are entering a workforce where there are universally accepted standards of behavior that people follow and have come to accept. So take some time and get to know what that is, and how people interact and what is acceptable. If people spend 9 hours a day staring at a computer with headphones in and email questions when they sit right next to you instead of walking around a cubicle to ask you, that gives you a good sense of how people interact. Whether you view it as good or bad isn’t relevant, but you must exist within it. Knowing the rules and expectations of any civilized society or group will help you navigate the waters.
Tip: If the company culture is not right for you perhaps its time to move on since that is not likely to change.
3 – Be Yourself
No matter what the company culture or the people you are working with are like you have to be true to yourself. This is an idea that has become more popular the last few years. Knowing it can lead to happiness. But if you are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole something is bound to go wrong. So make sure when you are in the midst of your job search that you find the right position and company for you, that allows you to be you. That will look different for everyone so it is important to sit down and determine what is important to you.
How to Deal with Existing Conflict in the Office
1 – Self Reflection
As an INTJ on the Meyers Briggs test I would naturally do this without being instructed to but I realize that it’s not natural for everyone. If you notice tension or strained relationships in the office with people take a few minutes and think about your recent interactions with them. You don’t have to recall every single detail but think about the last time you spoke to them and how they interacted, where things normal? Did they seem stressed? Did they have a facial reaction to something that you said that you didn’t notice at the time?
They key here is don’t overthink things, but ask yourself what in the recent past might be able to explain current feelings. It could be a negative review that they received, some office gossip that got around, or even a personal situation. It will allow you to gain an idea or different perspective on what might be going on. You always want to think before you act and never “assume”.
2 – Speak to the Person Privately
Obviously every company has different policies on how employees should deal with conflict but unless the situation is worthy to report to the HR department, it’s always a good idea to start by addressing issues directly with the person. There are A LOT of factors that go into this, so I would suggest taking your time to decide how to “confront” them and what you want to say. The goal is to bring peace, not more strife.
Remember everyone has a different personality, experiences, and worldview. So the way that you wish to address the situation might seem very calm and peaceful to you, but they could take it as an attack on their character. You can’t control how they react but you can be sensitive and honest you want peaceful resolution and hopefully you can create a situation where that resolution is possible.
I would recommend not having this conversation in a public place rather someplace where they are away from the normal stresses of their job and can focus on the conversation. You can even consider going outside for a walk.
3 – Last result: Get HR involved
Every company has a differently policy when it comes to HR and what issues should be brought to their attention. All of that information should be in the paperwork or offer letter you received when you started. Take a look at it and see what the procedures are for your situation. If you have a situation with one of your peers or superiors and all the other methods that you have tried have failed, take it to Human Resources. They are trained to handle these situations; they can look at it from a third party perspective and create a map to resolution. It’s important to view your office and as a safe place. Remember, they have a job specifically to make sure that your life at work is safe and the best it can be, they want the best for you.
There are many things you can do to prevent conflict in the office environment. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what matters is how you handle the situations in front of you at the moment and in the future.
If you follow these simple tips to avoid conflict at work then life will be that much easier in the place where you spend the majority of your waking hours!