It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, toxic people are everywhere. What do I mean by “toxic people”? You may know them as the pot-stirrer, the negative nelly, the gossip, the mean girl/guy. This is the individual who creates an environment of tension or unease. Their co-workers may feel as if they are “walking on eggshells” in attempt to avoid an outburst. The toxic individual may be perceived as always in a bad mood, one who cannot be questioned or someone who sees themselves as above authority.
Toxic people may perform well in their role, but at what expense to the company? Satisfaction is affected. Morale, camaraderie and productivity all plummet.
Is that the environment that will allow you to thrive and be successful? Is it even tolerable? If so, at what expense to you?
One particularly hectic morning, I was running behind getting out the door to head to work. As I began my commute, I remembered “Tina” was in charge that day. I pressed on the accelerator a little heavier, thinking a ticket would be a better alternative than to upset the boss. Rushing in the door, I clocked in ONE minute late. Sighing a cleansing breath of relief, I rounded the corner to see Tina standing there. “Nice of you to join us today” was her curt greeting. “I’m only one minute late” I said, hopeful to defend myself. “And your point is?” Tina replied, “you are still late,” this time speaking more loudly and sternly which created nervous glances from co-workers.
Feeling deflated, I settled in to work. “I always assign lazy people this project,” Tina said as she dropped the next assigned project on my desk. Cheeks flush in anger and embarrassment, I felt determined to maintain my composure. I knew I was the antithesis of lazy and had the commendations to prove it. However I had learned long ago that arguing with Tina was pointless and there would be repercussions for questioning her. Tina added project upon project to my stack throughout the day. Looking around, I noticed my co-workers appeared to have a fraction of the workload. Working through lunch I began to feel overwhelmed that I could not complete the amount of work I was assigned.
I approached Tina, the supervisor, and told her I was feeling overwhelmed and asked if there was any way she could lend me a hand with a particularly difficult project or perhaps assign some work to a co-worker who had completed their workload already. “Sink or swim.” was her emotionless reply.
Day after day Tina behaved in the same way, not only towards me, but almost everyone she encountered. My colleagues would tell me horrible things she said about me in my absence. It was easy to believe since I had heard her speak the same way about them behind their backs.
Tina took being difficult to another level. She refused to allow me a day off to have surgery because it would have meant she would have worked on a Friday and “I don’t feel like working on a Friday.” She changed employees schedules without their knowledge. She often left work early for social reasons when the workload didn’t allow. She showed obvious favoritism to select employees and would literally ignore the presence of others, even when they would directly speak to her.
When Tina began harassing me via text messages to my personal cell phone, I decided I had enough. I could barely handle the abuse I endured during the workday. I decided I couldn’t tolerate being questioned on every decision, criticized and berated on my time off too. I got up the courage to walk into my boss’ office armed with my cell phone as proof. I showed my boss the messages and told her the way Tina treated me had become intolerable.
I had worked for this company for nearly my entire lengthy career. Every work performance was glowing. I was well liked and respected by my peers and customers. I loved my work, I loved my co-workers; I loved the company I worked for. But the harassment and bullying I was experiencing was affecting my sleep, causing anxiety and creating stress to the point that it was affecting my personal life.
What Happened Next
My boss was sympathetic and assured me that Tina’s behavior was being addressed after five other employees all approached her with similar complaints. Additional co-workers were afraid to come forward fearing retaliatory behavior from Tina. I followed-up weekly with my boss and continued to show her examples of toxic behavior. She told me “it was being addressed” and said she was unable to elaborate. One month passed, two months passed. The behavior remained the same. Clearly there was no follow-through. After a long and difficult deliberation, I decided it wasn’t worth subjecting myself to a toxic work environment. I resigned. I left a job I loved, co-workers I loved and a company I loved due to one toxic person.
What Can You do?
1. Approach (with caution). The toxic person often is unaware that they are the problem or that their behavior is negatively affecting others. This means, cautiously bring it to the toxic person’s attention that their behavior is problematic. Approaching with caution can go one of two ways. Either it will truly shed light or (more commonly) the person will not receive the information well.
2. Escalate. Follow the chain of command. Bring it to the attention of your supervisor, boss, human resources etc. If your boss doesn’t take the situation seriously, go up the chain of command to your boss’ boss and then human resources. I recently spoke with a friend who is experiencing bullying in his workplace. Human resources at his company has a specific grievance policy against bullying. This friend began recording conversations with the toxic person to be able to defend himself – and thus avoid the “he said, she said” barrier. Unfortunately many companies have no bullying policy. The only solution in this case is to follow the chain of command, which can remain unresolved as in the story above.
3. Know when to take your ball and go home. Perhaps you are too afraid to approach the toxic individual. After all it is WAY easier said than done. Maybe your boss is the problem, so escalating is out the window. Sometimes the situation cannot be fixed. Merriam-Webster defines toxic as” “extremely harsh, malicious or harmful.” Toxic people are likely not just difficult in the workplace. Unfortunately it is who they are. The fabric of their being. It is not a sign of failure if you aren’t able to improve the situation. After all, it takes two to tango. It is actually a sign of strength and integrity when you are wise enough to realize you are fighting a losing battle. It takes courage to decide you need to take your ball and go home. There will be another job and another company, hopefully one without a Tina.
A job is just a job. If it effects health, family and your mental well being, it is just time for a change. I would love to hear your story.
Laura Thomson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Bulls Eye Recruiting. She has spent the past 19 years in hospital nursing as a supervisor in Women’s Services, a charge nurse in the Emergency Department and registered nurse in the Cardiac Catheterization lab. In 2015, she decided to take a break from nursing to join her husband in forming a recruiting organization focused on finding top-notch sales, marketing and IT talent for companies. She hopes to give a fresh and exciting new vision to the recruiting industry. You can find her on twitter @BullsEyeLaura or her e-mail is email@example.com.
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