Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?

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mdana

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Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« on: December 16, 2019, 11:39:49 PM »
Hello everyone!

I recently left a toxic workplace, after returning to the workforce after several years (post divorce).

I divorced a toxic family system (marriage) 6-7 years ago, then focused on my mental/emotional and spiritual health for a few years before returning to the workplace.  Somehow, I ended up in a toxic work environment (healthcare - management) which came as a shock to me, given that 95% of all other work environments in my past were relatively progressive and positive.

So, as I am thinking on next steps, I am hoping to devise a plan (or strategy) that will help me identify any warning signs of toxic workplaces before starting the interview process. 

Does anyone have some experiences, suggestions or ideas they can share?

Thanks much, ahead of time!
M

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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Latchkey

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2019, 11:42:41 PM »
I'm trying to leave a job I have been at many years which has become increasingly toxic and downright scary at times to work at. I have been going through interviews and though I've not landed a job yet I am finding that there is a lot of information on sites like glassdoor. Also, before I interview I google the person interviewing me and look for current employees in my proposed department to see what they are like. It's a lot like online dating and I think so much depends on who your direct manager will be. All I can say is do your research because these days there is a lot of information out there.

Also, I am scared of going from toxic to toxic and not having the benefits of many years and autonomy I have now. I am also in grad school and trying to get into a new field so there is a lot going on in my search but I have two kids who are still on my insurance so I have to be very careful.

Hope you have good luck and hope that others can offer insights. I'm in a similar boat.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
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When we have the courage to do what we need to do, we unleash mighty forces that come to our aid.

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bgirl12

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2019, 10:36:42 PM »
"Ask A Manager." it's a book and is a blog by the same author. Great stuff. Tons of great material. You have to play the game everywhere you go so get equipped in the meantime. I think people are very toxic at work. The last time I worked somewhere not toxic was 20 years ago. I am in a different industry. I move around a bit. If I can't handle it, I leave. But I read a lot, stay ahead of the curve balls and work and I can dodge many of them as they come.  And when health and relationships suffer it's time to move on.

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2019, 01:23:18 AM »
Thanks you both so much!

I have been lucky -- in that I had always worked in very progressive places (some were teaching institutions). Or maybe I just didn't notice back then and since I have become far more healthy (after doing all the work of recovery from trauma/abuse) I am noticing it more? And, not as willing to put up with as much.  I also worked for an array of years as an independent contractor, which I really think helped shelter me from the corporate world.

I ended up jumping ship before finding another landing, which at times I regret, then I realize this was the right thing for me.  I will get the Ask a Manager book and check out the blog.

Thanks so much!
M
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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HeadAboveWater

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2019, 11:17:16 PM »
I was just chatting with a close friend about past toxic jobs. We both realized that in a couple of incidents there had been really off-putting questions during the interviews, questions like ďWhy do you think youíre so smart?Ē or ďAre you afraid of me?Ē I also once had an interview with a supervisor who, in retrospect, was far too charming. He ended up being a bully who was probably PD.

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Latchkey

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2019, 12:20:46 AM »
So, true story, in my new profession there are many recruiting firms that advertise the same job in some cases. Last month a job that I had seen advertised in the previous month came open again. I decided to apply as the terms seemed to change. I got a green light from a recruiter and then a request to fill out an application. All the time I'm not really sure if I'm a fit or exactly what they were looking for as the terms were vague. I didn't make it past the application portion and got a kind rejection. Not a week later a NEW ad comes out for the same position. The ad is filled with insulting comments like "we interviewed candidates with 5-10 years experience and they interviewed so badly that they could not carry on a conversation about their work or explain their process" "we are looking for blah blah blah and not blah blah blah"

I just went looking for the ad and I think it got pulled it was so awful. Insulting job seekers while trying to hire them??? that is a sure sign of a toxic work place!
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
-Mother Jones
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There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
-Maya Angelou
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When we have the courage to do what we need to do, we unleash mighty forces that come to our aid.

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2019, 03:45:47 AM »
Oh No.... That sounds awful (both your experiences -- Latch and HeadAbove...).

I have been looking at ads here and there and have noticed some are so vague that I'm not sure if I should apply or not.  And, I do know several people are going through staffing recruiting agencies these days. Maybe that makes the process less painful? 

Honestly, I'm not very excited about this.  This have sure gotten allot more complex!

Ugh... Sometimes I wonder if I should have have stayed in my old toxic job (at least I knew it was bad and in what ways).  No, I take that back (my blood pressure at the time was 150/100 -- and I have been known to have low blood pressure, so the stress was not worth it).

Thanks for sharing. Wish me luck!
M

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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Latchkey

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2019, 12:21:48 AM »
Good luck, keep checking in.

(I'm finding the recruiters - not in-house HR- are pretty nice to deal with though the benefits aren't great and lots of contract work but still, nice to get their input. Has helped a lot with getting my resume together)
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
-Mother Jones
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There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
-Maya Angelou
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When we have the courage to do what we need to do, we unleash mighty forces that come to our aid.

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HeadAboveWater

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2020, 02:12:17 PM »
Wishing you the very best as you job search! I think being on this board helps us all to become more adept at seeing red flags and analyzing behavior. I believe also that it helps us to be more reflective about the lives we wish for ourselves. And when you can envision the good things you want, itís easier to recognize them when you see them.

The job search process is not easy, but I am hopeful that it leads to very good things for you!

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Wilderhearts

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2020, 11:06:09 PM »
Honestly, one of the biggest contributors to my workplace becoming toxic is absent leaders who let the junior staff (who don't  know how to behave professionally) spend so much time unsupervised.  They started behaving like we were in high school and formed a catty clique with a ringleader.  The other thing is excessive "niceness" and an inability to say no.  There were two groups of people in my office: people who couldn't say no, and people who took advantage of that.  And then there was me, the asshole who said "no" and caught all the fire!  The third thing was leadership's avoidance of difficult conversations.  Even after I broke down in my boss's office because I was having to parent a junior staff who acted like a bratty teenager and resented me, the junior staff didn't experience any real consequences.  She was moved to a different project and her behaviour allowed to continue.

I don't know how easy it would be to see these as "red flags" because it was more insidious  and subtle than that.  I'm also looking for work now and scared as hell that I'll end up in another toxic workplace.  I will be asking my interviewers to describe their workplace culture.

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2020, 11:46:03 PM »
Wildhearts

My experience as a manager (prior job) was that the other managers/leaders were the same.  They all wanted to go home early and do as little as possible (while looking super busy). So, they didn't set the example (work ethic) for their staff, nor did they support them when things got crazy busy. That was one of my biggest problems, there.  It was the managers (middle) that gossiped and acted like toddlers IMO and the director just wanted everyone to "like her". So, the behavior came from the top and was supported.

Of course I was different (I worked until things were done and pitched in with the front line) and they didn't like that.  I also spoke out about the gossip and cross talk -- which of course was the end of my career with the agency!

I so appreciate you sharing this...because for a while, I was confused as to why the other manager's didn't like me (I nearly doubled the census in 4 months which took them out of the red and making a healthy profit). The business office and marketing team (as well as the front line and referral sources) respected and liked me.

Thank you so much for sharing this! I had never encountered a workplace like this before, so it was really disorienting to me!!

On another note, 1 of the gals that quit before I did, reached out and recommended me to her new employer.  I interviewed and they offered me a position.  She says there is no gossip, childish or lazy managers there -- so, I am going to try it.  I don't think there one can always "tell" about employment environments.  Let's see if word of mouth helps!

Lots of luck to you!  Thank you again for sharing!  Don't be scared -- try work of mouth...? Ask around ...

M

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2020, 12:15:19 AM »
One more thing ...

During the interview I had with my new employer -- I asked about workplace culture, how would they describe their leadership style, how they deal with gossip, cross talk and productivity.  They responded in a way that I liked, saying they believed in "hard work", "follow the rules",
"creativity" and recognized merit VS senority when considering moving up the ladder. 

I did mention that I was coming from a workplace culture that did not fit my needs or style -- and said I was looking to work with other "professionals" in a "Progressive" work environment ----meaning, that what's important to me is continuous quality improvement, trust, productivity, honesty and professionalism! I spent some time describing myself and my style -- so that they understood the best place for me to thrive in. Then, I asked them about theirs. 

I was worried at first (when they asked me to describe some hinderances from the past) but, I took a risk and I was able to say that leadership is critical to creativity and innovation and cliques, gossip, lack of collaborative practice and team erosion are often the result or poor leadership. I said "I'm not afraid of hard work", but that in order for there to be growth, I need to work in a place where others aren't afraid to work hard either -- as a team.


As I re-read your post, I realized how much of what you described I experienced!  The cliques, ringleader and protecting inefficient, ineffective staff over the hardworking productive ones... It was truly shocking to me!


Thank you again!
M
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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Wilderhearts

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2020, 03:08:50 PM »
MDana,
What I've realized recently, after listening to Dr. Ramani's video on scapegoats and golden children in PD'd FOO, is that we were the scapegoats in our workplaces.  We were the ones who had everyone's number, who were aware of the dysfunctional, maladaptive dynamics and weren't complicit in either.  Everyone was threatened by that, so they made us targets in an attempt to neutralize the threat we posed.


During the interview I had with my new employer -- I asked about workplace culture, how would they describe their leadership style, how they deal with gossip, cross talk and productivity.  They responded in a way that I liked, saying they believed in "hard work", "follow the rules",
"creativity" and recognized merit VS senority when considering moving up the ladder. 


Asking about leadership styles and core values is a great idea - I include my values in my cover letters so employers can also start thinking about if I fit their workplace culture.  I'm going to keep that in mind too!

I was worried at first (when they asked me to describe some hinderances from the past) but, I took a risk and I was able to say that leadership is critical to creativity and innovation and cliques, gossip, lack of collaborative practice and team erosion are often the result or poor leadership. I said "I'm not afraid of hard work", but that in order for there to be growth, I need to work in a place where others aren't afraid to work hard either -- as a team.

I'm anxious about this too - I wouldn't want to come off as badmouthing a former employer or workplace because that could reflect poorly on me, but I would also rather be clear about what I want and don't want in leadership than risk getting in with another toxic work environment.  It sounds like you did this very skillfully - in an honest and respectful way.

Man I'm glad we were able to learn from each other's experiences this way - no surprise we both list collaboration as a core value!

P.S. Did you get the job?

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2020, 11:26:39 PM »
I did!

I got the job, and so far...Iím loving it.
Iím treated with respect. No gossip or cross talk I can see or hear.  Itís busy, the workplace is fast...and thereís much room for growth.  They give me feedback, not criticism. In general, everyone is friendly.

Ironically, this is not an agency I would have normally applied to.  Itís small and the satisfaction reviews are not the best (average to low in some cases). The prior agency had excellent reviews and was much bigger (in addition to being not for profit). 

But, I was recommended by word of mouth and I trusted their judgment and took the risk.  2 gals from my prior work place migrated over to this agency, so I got to dig and ask lots of questions before accepting.

I have energy now, Iím sleeping great, and before, I thought I was loosing my memory and critical thinking skills! It was really the stress...because I have no such issues now.

Iím so much happier. But, itís only been a couple of weeks... so, we shall see!

Thanks for posting! Have you found your next landing?

M
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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Wilderhearts

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2020, 09:41:21 PM »
Congratulations!!!!  :applause: :applause: :applause:
I have energy now, Iím sleeping great, and before, I thought I was loosing my memory and critical thinking skills! It was really the stress...because I have no such issues now.

Also congratulations for this!  You really took control of a bad situation and had the wisdom and initiative to make it into something good for yourself. 

I've made progress through networking, and it looks like I'm a shoe-in for a former work place, in a more senior position, with hard-working, committed people I know, who are also incredibly collaborative and respectful.  It's not a done deal and won't be for a while, but I can be optimistic!

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mdana

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2020, 01:28:32 PM »
Thank you!

Iím 1 month into my new job. Itís so much better (not perfect...theyíre not as organized or as well known). The staff is not as experienced either. But, thereís no significantly huge amounts of dysfunction that I can see (so far).  They are very inclusive and willing to grow.


Good luck with you Wildhearts!  Let us know how things go for you!

M


Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. The Dalai Lama

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qcdlvl

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #16 on: February 03, 2020, 04:30:45 AM »
I have no particular expertise and this is only my opinion based on personal experience and observations:

-Does the place, esp. if it's a big organization, have things like psychometric tests or interviews with a psychologist as part of the recruitment process? If they're not specifically trying to weed out toxic personalities, chances are they have an inordinate amount of folks in need of a personality transplant.
-Is the organization as well-established, large and solid as you'd expect given relevant variables like age, location, etc? A place might be less well-established for any number of reasons, but a toxic culture could be one of them.
-Is there any implication that the organization expects loyalty/involvement/commitment well beyond professional ethics and fulfilling contractual obligations? Loyalty should go both ways. You don't want to work at the sort of place that plays happy families when it comes to asking employees to work unpaid overtime, but then fires "uncle" Bob a few days before being able to retire with a full pension so higher-ups can give themselves bonuses for saving money, nor at a place rife with nepotism.
-Do the employees you know (including interviewers, etc) seem courteous and professional? They don't have to be the most charismatic people ever to be good co-workers (esp. if they have obvious strengths like substantial technical skills), but they should appear to be people you wouldn't mind running into at the water cooler, not the sort of people you'd jump into a trashcan to avoid.
-I'm pretty cynical about mission statements, vision statements (anyone having visions ought to see a doctor). If interview questions, etc, are overly focused on these documents, at the expense of for example how you might contribute to a specific initiative, esp. if the focus is on platitudes, it suggests it's the sort of place that focuses on window-dressing and jumping through hoops at the expense of actions and results.

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Blueberry Pancakes

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Re: Warning signs of a toxic workplace ?
« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2020, 05:59:16 PM »
I have wondered the same thing about warning signs of a toxic work place. I am not sure there is a sure-fire way to know while still on the outside. However, I think trusting your gut instinct is a good start. You might want a job so bad that you tune out what your inner voice might be saying. I just wanted to chime in that you should listen to that. Even though you have already taken the job and it looks good, you might be looking for a new position there at some point and be asking this question again.
I also have run into a few hiring managers who needed me to join immediately and could not wait two weeks. It was rush rush. After I accepted, I had one manager who called me and emailed me about tasks while I had not even left my current employer yet. In each case, I took the job against my gut feelings and those were toxic places and dysfunctional bosses.