September 13, 2022
Chris Stark worked on her novel for 20 years.
“When I tell the story of a toxic person I worked with and five years later when I walked into an elevator, I smelled the special perfume she wore. And got sick to my stomach. Others have related to this incident and told me about special sounds they have heard — like a toxic co-worker walking a certain way — or a special way a toxic boss slurped her coffee. All bringing horrible memories of discomfort and pain. When this happens, one thing we can all do is to reaffirm that it is not about us.”
I have witnessed so many people struggle in the workplace with toxic colleagues, bosses, and direct reports. I wanted to find a better way to help them with immediate and/or long-term actions.
Here’s a fascinating, true story about how the title of the book was conceived. I went for my usual workout at the gym at 5 a.m. and when I returned I asked my life partner Scott of almost 35 years what he was doing up in the middle of the night? He said he had an aura-type dream about what the title of my book should be and he didn’t want to lose the thought — so he got it and jotted it down. Then, over morning coffee, he related to me what he thought the title of my book should be: Why I Don’t Work Here Anymore. Upon our many conversations about the book he knew that my research with colleague Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, discovered that 51 percent of individuals who had to deal with toxic people quit. And other researchers found that 12 percent do. Hence, the title of my book, Why I Don’t Work Here Anymore! Scott knows me well.
And this is aligned perfectly with one quote from my research study: “The day this person left our company is an annual holiday!”
When I tell the story of a toxic person I worked with and five years later when I walked into an elevator, I smelled the special perfume she wore. And got sick to my stomach. Others have related to this incident and told me about special sounds they have heard — like a toxic co-worker walking a certain way — or a special way a toxic boss slurped her coffee. All bringing horrible memories of discomfort and pain. When this happens, one thing we can all do is to reaffirm that it is not about us. While intellectually many of us know this, we still revert to such things as “if only I hadn’t said this” or “maybe the fact that they engaged in shaming me was justified.” I say engage in two strategies here. First, thought-stopping. Stop yourself from thinking this immediately by saying stop. Second, share this thought with someone who knows you well and whose opinion you respect. And listen to them.
Think of it this way. If you have not been feeling well for weeks, would you rather hear anecdotes from others of what this might be? Or would you rather go to a healthcare provider who engages their knowledge from significant research studies?
This was so much higher than what I had expected. What was equally astonishing were the written words participants in the study shared with us. With over 400 participants in the study, we had over 75 pages of single-spaced text describing their pain.
Yes, I am quite optimistic. I have been doing this work for many years and engage my clients in many strategies to end workplace toxicity. These include:
Working with all levels and multi-disciplines throughout the organization to help them begin changing the culture of the organization by understanding that the most successful change is “not about a bold stroke, but a long, steady march.
* Engaging staff in professional development in what they can do to provide feedback in meaningful ways — and what leaders can do to “model the way.”
* Providing all staff with skills in how to have difficult conversations with respect, confront with dignity, and to know where their “bottom line” is as to when they cannot do any more, and need to quit. But there are so many intervening actions that employees often don’t take before they get to this stage. And that is where my book, Why I Don’t Work Here Anymore, comes into play… with real strategies that have high probabilities of success.
I talk about this in my book. It’s called the skip-level discussion. Leaders need to ask people two levels down — i.e. the individuals who report to their direct reports — to engage them in a conversation that includes two things:
* Tell me about the kind of leadership you are receiving that makes you want to stay?
* Tell me about the kind of leadership you are receiving that makes you want to quit?
Then, after these one-on-one conversations, the leader provides feedback to their direct reports about what they discovered — positives and negatives. And what’s important is to guarantee that the individual providing this information is not fired for anything they say that may be negative. And if is negative, it’s important that the leader bring these two individuals together to discuss this further. And I suggest that at times the human resources professional can be invited in to facilitate this conversation. It’s important to get these out in the open and not lose good people because of a toxic situation. And if it is a performance issue and not one of a toxic situation, then by all means this is a wonderful context to have this conversation out in the open.
* Ask someone who knows you well and whose opinion you respect to give you feedback about any concerns you may have. For example, if you run your meetings like a bulldozer and are trying to change this, ask someone to give you feedback.
* Engage in anonymous 360-degree feedback methods in order to discern your strengths and areas for improvement with a coach to support your work in this regards.
Continuing my consulting practice nationally and internationally to help organizations understand what they can do to create communities of everyday civility and respectful engagement. I want to change workplaces one person, or one team, or one organization at time. I want to provide a context for The Great Resignation where people leave because of opportunities, not because of a toxic work environment. Work is a fundamental part of our day. Why not make it more enjoyable, productive, and healthy?