Chances are, you spend almost as much time with your bosses and coworkers as you do with your partner/spouse and/or children, so that makes them a type of family. And like many families, work families tend to be slightly dysfunctional.
A little dysfunction is normal. Whenever you put a mix of different personalities together for an extended period of time, a bit of drama is bound to happen. It’s okay: it keeps things interesting. But sometimes, the drama escalates out of control. It happens in every industry!
Whether it’s a manipulative boss, a sneaky coworker, or an employee who just doesn’t want to cooperate, a lot of my clients have had (or continue to have) issues around their dysfunctional work environment. I’ve heard some crazy stories over the years about everything from shouting matches to slanderous emails to chair-throwing tantrums! The tricky thing is how to deal with these issues in a way that’s both professional and respectful of your own needs.
The first thing to do when you find yourself in a dysfunctional situation is to take a step back and look at things objectively. Maybe your boss, who gave you great reviews your first year with the company, is suddenly on your case about every little thing. Maybe a coworker suddenly decided you were no longer a friend, but competition for her next promotion. Instead of making a mental list of all the wrongs they’ve done to you, try to step back and look at potential reasons why the person is acting this way. (It’s usually not about YOU!) Is it a problem that can be fixed through a simple clear communication? Do you need to take it to someone with greater authority?
Next, look at how the other person’s behavior has affected your own. Have you been reacting? What role is being played? Snapping back at them, or putting your foot in your mouth? When we take the time to respond, rather than react, to a situation, no matter how offensive it might be, we’re more often able to make the best decision. Sometimes, simply changing your behavior toward a person or situation is enough to alleviate the tension. You have a choice as to how you respond. Take time to look at what perspective you’re in. Ask yourself: What evidence do I have that this is true?
If it’s not a question of personal relationships, things might be even trickier. Many people these days find themselves in a position where they feel lucky to even have a job. Their coworkers have been laid off, and now they’re stuck doing the job of three people. The pressure is mounting, and the stress is killing them—and yet, the boss just throws his hands up and says, “What do you want me to do about it?” The thing to remember here is that if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re either going to burn out or walk out. So get clear on what your true priorities and responsibilities are, and make it clear to your boss that, although you’ll do your very best to stay on top of things, you do not, in fact, have six arms and three heads, so you can’t do the job of three people. It’s that simple. (You might want to phrase that differently in actual conversation…)
Sometimes, a company’s dysfunction has progressed to the point where it’s impossible to do anything about it. You see this a lot in big companies, where the corporate culture is so ingrained that it’s totally immovable. If you’re in that situation, you might see yourself like a cold-water trout in a gradually warming pond. As the environment grows less and less hospitable, your only choice is to adapt or get out.
Part of my work is helping people transition from a dysfunctional corporate environment into a new, more suitable culture. Sometimes that means simply changing jobs, while other times it means going it alone as a freelancer or small business owner. So if your work family is dysfunctional, maybe it’s time to make a change for the better! Do you have a dysfunctional workplace situation?
“To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe