Guest blogger Samantha Stauf takes a deeper look at the darker side of office dynamics: less than ideal work environments and how to cope with them. For more of Samantha's advice, take a look at the blog she contributes for, Ms. Career Girl.
You landed a job. Time passes. You spend the first few weeks frantically trying to learn enough to flourish. The more you learn about the company, the more people you meet, the more of the culture you experience. Slowly, you begin to realize an unsettling truth: the company culture reminds you a little too much of George RR Martin’s hit book and television series "The Game of Thrones".
In the hit series, backstabbing, scheming, lying, cheating abound. And as fun as the show is to watch, you don’t want the company you work at to have a Game of Thrones inspired culture. Why? No one is happy for long, the manipulative people flourish, and the economic fortunes of all dwindle.
The unfortunate truth is that happiness is necessary for a productive company and a productive career. Happy employees are 31% more productive and unhappy employees are 10% less productive. A toxic company culture saps the happiness, the productivity, and the willingness to pursue personal professional growth. And at the end of the day, even the manipulative winners who contribute to the cut-throat culture aren’t truly winners. They’ve won, but the fallout from the culture can be crippling to the future success of the company they’ve initiated to reach a leadership position. Here are three signs, you’ve been hired by a company with the motto “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
School yard style bullies are the first sign of a toxic culture. Bullies, according to target an organization’s best employees, because it is precisely those employees who are the most threatening to bullies.”
Keep an eye out for individuals who spread gossip, send subtle jabs, and steal credit for work they didn’t complete. Once you have identified a bully, you might want to steer clear of them, report them to human resources, and encourage management to adopt an anti-bullying policy.
This is important: don’t be surprised if nothing happens to discourage or stop the bully. Bullies can be hard to identify, tend to adamantly claim innocence, and when caught, offer empty apologies. And once a bully has got the ear of a manager it can be difficult to remove his or her influence. All you can do is go take steps to resolve any conflict that discourages career development in the work place, and then when things get bad, seek a healthier work environment.
Chair fillers, moving and breathing props, are another sign of a faltering company culture. These individuals would be like if the Game of Thrones hiring manager takes a chair, gives it the same training and pay that they give the guest stars, and then just leave it in the background of a shot every once in a while.
The first day the staff might not notice the discrepancy between the effort they need to put in and the effort the chair needs to put in, but they will notice eventually. And when they do notice, a sense of injustice will set in. Why should the chair get paid as much, or more than, they do? Why should he get to spend all day on Facebook?
If too many chair fillers are acquired, then the lack of work ethic will spread like a virus. Slowly all employees, even you, will have begun to do less. And soon, you might even feel your own career goals begin to falter. If you notice the quality of in-coming employees falter, you might want to take that concern to management. In order to turn this slow descent into a toxic culture around, the hiring manager will need to start making better hiring decisions. If nothing changes, you should set and uphold personal goals, and begin looking for a job where a strong work ethic is encouraged.
Incompetent leaders can cause colossal blows to company culture. Game of Thrones King of the North lost his throne, his wife, his dire-wolf, and his head after breaking an alliance with another lord. Rest assured, if your manager blunders his way through one bad decision after another, the results will not be as dire, but it can severely detract from your own happiness and productivity.
“Bad” managers are the sum of a variety of different decisions and personality traits. Often, the root of a bad manager is inexperience. This is the best type of bad manager. New managers will make mistakes that could make your life harder and your work more stressful, but an open dialogue about your reactions to his or her decisions and a little patience should hopefully eliminate most of the issues.
Managers with low emotional intelligence (EI) are more predisposed to make little and big mistakes that will make their work relationships difficult. If your manager has a low EI, he or she might not be able to read body language, manage stress levels, and control his or her verbal or non-verbal responses to situations. This could lead to misunderstandings, harsh reprimands, or over-reactions. The best bet in this situation is to try to be more vocal about your reactions to the manager until he or she works on increasing his EI.
The last bad manager action is the attack reprimand. The attack reprimand is the equivalent of throwing dynamite in the water. The general dialogue tends to be:
Manager: “You suck. Shape up or ship out.”
Employees: Shocked silence.
This tactic doesn’t work for a few reasons. One: it focuses on the problem rather than a potential solution or the root cause. Two: it delivers an ultimatum rather than works toward a solution. Three: the unprofessional reprimand tends to unite the team by their shared frustration over the experience rather than inspire a move to change.
Bad managers can be temporary, but if they’ve been a manager for a few years, chances are the situation will not improve. The best tactic employees can use is to identify the manager’s deficiencies and try to change their behavior slightly while working with them. And if things get really bad, try to switch departments or change jobs.
A toxic company culture can slowly, insidiously destroy the productivity and happiness that are key aspects of a company. You, as an employee can identify problem areas, and then proactively attempt to fix the issue. If all else fails, you can protect yourself from being infected with the negativity that culture can inspire until you can locate another job.
Samantha Stauf graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in technical writing. In the last year and a half, she has been working in the marketing department at a local start-up.
Picture Courtesy of Boston University MSM’s Is Your Business Ready For the Next Man Made Disaster & Articles Upon Articles.