“When I was growing up, I learned to be cautious of what I said because it could set my dad off in an angry outburst at any minute. Just like in my family when I didn’t want to rock the boat with my dad, the same thing is happening at work with my boss.”

A brilliant scientist named Sue recently told me the above. She has given me permission to write this blog about our conversation with the intent of helping others in a similar situation.

Sue describes the overall culture in the very lean company she works in as fear-based, in that people cling to the old way of doing things and are afraid to invest in new processes, including product development in the changing times we’re living in.

She went on to say if people admit they need support, it’s viewed as a complaint and a sign of weakness. When she has taken the risk of speaking up about problems in the workplace and presents ideas of how processes could be improved, her boss is quick to paint her as “out of touch” and will at times ridicule her in front of others.  She went on to describe a lack of accountability when certain individuals “opt-out” of their responsibilities without any seeming repercussions.

Does this hit home with you? Maybe you’ve been in a work situation where you can relate to Sue. You’ve brought up solutions to problems only to be turned down or not listened to at all.

You’re in a position where you have responsibility, but no authority.

You’re expected to keep doing more with fewer resources and despite your efforts to keep up,  progress isn’t being made because you don’t have the support you need or the budget to procure that support.

You recognize you could leave the company, but have poured the last several years (or more!)  into making a success of this organization. You still see potential in the organization if new approaches are taken. You are near retirement or have benefits associated with the position that make you want to stay and try for the best.

Sound familiar? What can you do?

Throughout your career, you may find yourself wrestling with what you have the power to do in a difficult situation. Especially when faced with working for an abrasive boss and/or toxic work environment, you have to make the decision to do what is best for you.

You have 3 options:

  1. Leave and find a new job
  2. Stay and endure
  3. Stay and grow

Let’s dive into each of these options:

1. Leave

After considering the pros and cons of staying in your current role and the likelihood of the culture improving, leaving might be the best option for you. Weigh the pros and cons of your decision on factors such as the impact on your mental well-being, loss of current benefits, seniority, job proximity to home, childcare, and ability to make the same or better salary with another employer.

2. Stay and Endure

After weighing the above factors about whether to leave your current job, you may decide to stay and find ways to work around the toxic individual.

Some people who choose to stay go to their HR Department and report incidents of bullying and/or incivility. Sadly, many employees don’t speak up for fear of retaliation or that they will be perceived as the problem.  When attempts are made to raise awareness of abusive behavior to the appropriate people, employees become quickly discouraged that nothing appears to be done and look for transfers to other departments.

Unfortunately, many employees choose to stay and suffer physical and emotional health-related problems as a result.

3. Stay and Grow

A third option, when faced with a toxic work environment, is to stay and grow. While easier said than done, with this option you consciously choose to take personal responsibility for how you show up at work. You also take calculated risks in speaking up when treated disrespectfully. I say calculated risk because there are times when direct confrontation of a bullying supervisor could jeopardize your job and risk your being the target of more bullying. At the same time, it also conveys self-respect.

Sue’s decision: The Choice to Stay and Grow

Due to extenuating family stressors and financial needs, Sue chose the third option of “Stay and Grow.” She did a thorough assessment of what was best for her situation and made the conscious choice to be proactive in taking care of herself to navigate bullying situations better.

Unfortunately, her company’s structure doesn’t have easy access to HR and she assessed that even if she did make a formal complaint, due to the politics of the organization, it would hurt her in the long run.

When asked how has she been able to stay working in a toxic work environment, Sue said:

“I have adjusted my attitude many times over the years, each time for the better. I have recognized where I’ve contributed to the friction & changed my behavior. I have tried to make my supervisor aware of behaviors (hers & other leaders’) that contribute to the “barely-surviving” mentality, to no avail. After repeatedly trying to speak up and getting knocked back down, I realized I had no choice but to allow what the senior leadership deems acceptable behavior.

After multiple times of being ridiculed and spoken to in a condescending manner, there have been times when I have doubted my sanity. What has kept me going is the awareness of my values and commitment to living them.

I keep remembering my inner resolve to do my work with excellence, to be competent, a problem-solver, and an honest, reliable team player – that inner resolve is what keeps me going.  Even in the face of bullying, I strive to stay calm, grounded, and level-headed. It’s not easy, and there are times I’ve had setbacks and remind myself I’m staying to meet my family’s needs. It won’t always be this way.

In fact, after years of tolerating the abusive work environment, I’m now at a point where my family life has stabilized, and I am looking for new job opportunities and possibly retirement. I now see options that I didn’t have when my family was going through a tough time.

While it’s been extremely trying at times, I have grown in my personal development and taking care of myself along the way. Knowing that persevering through the bullying isn’t about putting on a happy face and being a victim, I have chosen to thrive by taking care of myself with sleep, exercise, diet, and tapping into my faith. I made a vow to myself not to keep an inventory of wrongs or hold a grudge. I have learned how to set boundaries to not feed into the negativity from others.

In many ways, my dad’s unpredictable, angry outbursts prepared me for working in a toxic work environment when I was growing up. It was familiar to what I’ve always known. The good news is that I have learned how to set boundaries and take responsibility for my behavior. That’s the only thing I can control.”

Sue’s story reminds us that when we are clear about who we aspire to be, we can grow through challenging situations, including a toxic work environment.

Regardless of what others do or don’t do, we have a choice of how we respond. Even if what Sue says may “rock the boat” with her boss, she will not give away her power – something that would make her feel like the helpless child she once was.Sue has even reached a point where she can see the positive from a negative situation. Her rocky upbringing has given her the strength and insight to navigate another volatile relationship in her life (this time with her boss). That same “walk on eggshells” experience has given her an appreciation for a healthy, stable environment. I suspect that Sue has done an incredible amount of growth in several areas of her life. This is a woman who values wellness and treats others with kindness and respect.Work may never be perfect, but Sue is a success. She will set careful boundaries to show respect for her boss while also respecting herself.On Sue’s last day with her organization, she will be able to look back with no regrets. She will know she lived and worked according to her values, regardless of what others did or didn’t do.She will know in her heart of hearts, she showed up every day, values intact, working with a solid vision of who she aspires to be.

What is the right choice for you?

Sue made the right choice for Sue. She put a lot of thought into what was best for her and her family. She weighed the options and has committed to a conscious choice. That doesn’t mean that you should do what Sue did.

In any situation, you maintain the power to make a choice for yourself. Carefully weigh the options and consider what is at stake. Can you make it work with your current leadership? Do you have the support you need to stay healthy? Are there multiple options on the horizon?

There is no one right choice. There is only your choice.

When I hear the stories of hard-working professionals like Sue, two revered philosophers come to mind.

First, Nietzsche reminds us that we each must find our own path:

Student: “What’s the way?”

Philosopher: “‘THE way? Sorry. Doesn’t exist. This is my way. What’s yours?”

And finally, the spiritual teacher Thurmon Howard writes: “No one can tell you what is right for you except for yourself. So start telling yourself what to do. If you blunder for ten years while thinking for yourself, that is a rich treasure when compared with living these ten years under the mental domination of another. The only true, honest and enriching authority is the internal authority of your own Supermind.”

Their rich wisdom combined? The choice is yours. You walk your own path. You are in control of your life-story and you always have the freedom to make a choice about what is next.

Has Sue’s story hit a nerve with you? Jeremiah dealt with a similar toxic work environment when he realized his ranting and raving boss paralleled his often angry and controlling mother. For further insight into his path to success read How Did My Family Get in My Office?!

Are you working in a toxic work environment and questioning
whether you should stay or go?

Schedule a time with me today to explore your options, prioritize your health
and look to the future.

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