♫ And if it’s bad
Don’t let it get you down, you can take it..
Hold your head up, oh hold your head high… ♫
Music and Lyrics by Junod Etienne and Sean Price, recorded by Steppenwolf.
When one thinks of toxic environments, one doesn’t tend to think of law offices as falling into that category. Yet I get calls from partners, associates and staff alike who are having to cope with working in such situations. In some offices matters are dire; the stress of working in these environments are taking their toll on the person’s health and well-being, on their careers and certainly on their home life as well as they can’t help but carry the effects home. After a time some of these people reach the breaking point and leave. Others are not so fortunate and are looking for tips on how to cope with being in such a situation.
The first thing to remember if you are caught in such an office is that you cannot control other people’s behaviour; you can only control how you respond. Passive-aggressiveness, destructive and negative comments, conniving politics, terrible leadership, partners that are insensitive to personal boundaries or worse are not things that are a reflection of who you are; you are simply caught in the toxic vortex. So here is a collection of tips for coping in a toxic environment:
- You need to stay positive and upbeat. The person you are most able to influence is yourself so don’t allow the toxicity to drag you down.
- Learn from the experience. Every bad situation allows you to grow as an individual and take home lessons – even if those are about things that you would never repeat. Learn how to apply The Golden Rule – ie how to treat others as you yourself would wish to be treated – as it is a powerful guide to help you grow when you are in such a situation.
- Do the best that you can do. You want to preserve your integrity and your good name. It is no surprise that word gets around in the legal community and being able to cope in a bad environment only enhances your reputation, your work ethic and your character.
- Create a ‘thank you’ file. While it may perhaps be the thinnest file in the office, a collection of letters and cards that endorse the value of your work could be the most valuable file in the office. It will grow over time and leafing through the physical embodiment of good wishes and thanks is a personal validation of your own self-worth and assistance to others.
- Get a supportive network outside of the office. Having someone to talk to about the situation certainly helps and their advice and support can get you through some dark days.
Continue to search for a better workplace while keeping your shoulders squared and your spirit up. Keep looking for a more positive situation. Remember that no matter what, continue to hold your head high.
What online resources are available if you find yourself in a toxic environment? Here are a selection:
Workplace Bullying Institute “WBI is the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying that combines help for individuals, research, books, public education, training for professionals-unions-employers, legislative advocacy, and consulting solutions for organizations.” It was founded by Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie. They state:
“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating…”
This site has wonderful resources for people caught in these situations including an ‘action plan’ which includes the great piece of advice: “Have your escape route planned…
The World of Psychology Web site in the article “When Your Workplace is Toxic” has this bit of advice regarding having a personal renewal program in place. They state:
“We must have a self-care protocol in place that we can employ as a daily guide, while being alert to rationalizations and excuses for not doing it. Not to have such a personal renewal program may court disaster for both our personal and professional lives. It is also, at its core, an act of profound disrespect for the gift of life we have been give.”
The Future of CIO website: in an article entitled “Five Characteristics of a Toxic Workplace” states:
“One of the most toxic characteristics of workplace, is that of management making decisions without the consideration of the people.”
It goes on and states:
“A lack of real support for employees can be an issue: Who do you go to if there’s a problem with your boss or someone in a senior role? Often, there’s an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one wants to address until the problem begins to spiral. Unhelpful behavior that leads to general gossip, can very quickly create a toxic environment.”
If you are a leader in a firm that is starting to show signs of toxicity, this website has another good article that speaks about a 4 step methodology for analyzing, assessing, and redesigning the culture of an organization in a consistent manner: Corporate Culture Re-inventing: Is Hybrid Model the Best?
Lastly, when it comes time to craft your exit strategy from the toxic workplace, Forbes Magazine has an article online entitled “Five Critical Steps to Finding a Job Fast!” It lists such things to consider as fine tuning your LinkedIn profile as well as checking any publicly available information about yourself that may turn up on a Google search.
(Originally published by the Canadian Bar Association in their publication Bartalk in the columns: PracticeTalk and Dave’s Tech Tips in February 2014.)