The toxic workplace is much in the news, but what exactly is toxic? A reader writes in through email to describe what she thinks is toxic and asks for some very specific advice. With her permission, I am bringing forth her dilemma…
“Dear Workplace Expert (If you really are one):
I CAN’T be the only one in the world with this problem. My boss is a pig. He belches and passes gas all day. The smells are really bad. We are in an open office environment so it’s not like he is in private or there is another place where we can go. There are no windows to open. My coworkers and I have discussed the situation because we all are affected. One of my colleagues thinks he doesn’t think anyone will notice – no way! No one wants to approach him. What would we say? He is a young guy, maybe his mother never told him anything. As a boss, he is fine and treats everyone fairly and with respect. We just don’t want to go near him. Maybe he reads your posts. I am open to ideas.
Suffocating in Seattle”
Ugh. Repulsive. I am not sure why anyone thinks this is OK behavior. It’s not. I assume you like your job so jumping up and quitting while holding your nose is not an option. Your boss is creating a toxic environment – literally and figuratively. Headphones and fans might be a short-term solution for you and the team. But a workplace culture that tolerates such boorish behavior is a bigger problem.
The typical Employee Handbook doesn’t address issues like this. Too bad, because if the handbooks were more current and focused on behavior, we wouldn’t have so many issues about “fraternity house” cultures. Forget the handbook; let’s explore all of your options…
- You could leave a book about manners on his chair one night when he is not around. Given what you’ve said, he might think it was meant for someone else.
- You could bear with it. If you suspect the offender will soon leave the company, this could be an option, but it is not a good one. Eventually, your own performance will suffer because you will be outside gasping for air all the time.
- You could quit. Why should you resign when you are the one who would leave a job you like based on the behavior of someone else? People resign all the time to get away from someone but it is the always the last resort.
- You could tell someone in management about the problem. This path is a slippery slope. Your boss will be embarrassed and might lash out at the team but this could be a good option if you have an all around supportive and collegial management team.
- You could set up an intervention. Someone on the team might take the boss aside and say something like, “Can I talk to you about something that will help you and the team? You are a good supervisor and we all appreciate your support. BUT, we want to ask you to make a few changes in your behavior…” And so on. If the boss is as supportive as you say, he should be thankful for the coaching.
The problem doesn’t need to be about belching. It could be about cursing or crude jokes or raised eyebrows or cracking knuckles. The workplace is full of quirky behavior. I once had a boss who clipped his fingernails constantly during meetings. Another boss chewed on hard candy all day and made cracking noises. The list of really annoying habits we endure is infinite. Sometimes we just have to deal with quirky.
Work shouldn’t be about suffering. Certain behaviors, such as any type of harassment or racism are worthy of immediate termination. Other behaviors range from annoying to disruptive. Know what you are dealing with and push for changes to make work better. Don’t suffer.
It’s a big deal: the company has raised some money, maybe as much as a million. The company is in a cool building with exposed beams, healthy drinks and a Ping-Pong table. Best of all, the company has released a product. Now, with its twelve employees and a dog, the company is all set. Very nice. But wait. Now what? That’s the question that investors, regions and startups are asking.
The question, “Now What?!”, is being asked because it’s one thing to sponsor or invest in a bunch of entrepreneurs; it’s another to create a company that is sustainable and that can grow. As one prominent venture capitalist told me, “It’s not all that hard to build a five million dollar company with a one million dollar investment. It’s really hard to build a forty million dollar company with that investment.” That focus on building and growing “real” companies will make 2018 the year of the Scale Up.
TAKE NOTE: And that means that new investments will go into companies that investors believe can scale.
Don’t believe me? Do a search. Institutes and programs are being developed to turn the verb “start” into the verb “scale”. Advisors are focusing on turning early stage companies into something that will last. Regions all over the world that invested so heavily in a “startup economy” now have plenty of tiny un-profitable companies. Those same regions are now investing in how to scale up those little companies.
Startups are still growing everywhere like mushrooms and that’s a good thing. But take note of the shift in 2018 from a focus on the startup to a focus on scaling up. A company with scale has real growth potential and real revenues, so much so that it is not worried about running out of money. A company with scale has a plan, has a leader who can execute, has an organization that makes sense and has controls in place. And investors and regional economies want to help make all that happen. It’s like helping a teenager through adolescence in the hopes there will be something good on the other side.
It will be interesting to see how the scale up focus will change the tech ecosystem. Maybe instead of incubators we will start seeing tutoring centers for startups with adult supervision.
Get in, hang on and stay tuned for the scale up economy in 2018.
My career has included stints as a CEO of a large consulting company and an onion slicer at a hot dog stand. The same career includes serving as a college president and another time when I was a “sewer rat” for a municipal water agency. Once I was a partner at a top tier venture capital firm, and once I was a lifeguard on the ocean.
All of the jobs had beautiful parts as well as challenging and not so nice parts (ask me sometime about the sewer rat job.) Some jobs made it onto the resume or the LinkedIn profile. Some jobs didn’t. Some of the positions that might be considered the most lucrative or prestigious were not the most rewarding.
Some jobs had me thinking, “I am the luckiest bastard who every lived and I can’t believe I get paid for this.” Others, not so much. Some jobs had an effect on me that will last a lifetime. The people I worked with or around or met in some jobs are with me every day. There were other people that I couldn’t wait to rid from my life.
Some jobs pay a lot. Some are prestigious. Some are neither. All the good jobs have three things that can change you. Without the potential for these three things, it won’t be a good job. The best job you will ever have includes:
A chance to develop meaningful relationships. Friends matter. Working on a team matters. The joy of successful completion of a project with others matters. Feeling like you are part of a special group at a special time matters. Getting to understand others matters. I am still in touch with special people from long ago jobs.
The opportunity to learn something important. The learning of which I speak is not about spreadsheets or PowerPoint skills. The important learning from a great job is about what matters and how to work your way through a complex world. In a “best job” you will learn how to deal with others, where your true passions and skills lie and about science or poetry or economics or…
A sense that you are making an impact or helping others. It is not necessary to feel like you are competing for a Nobel Prize. The best jobs have an inherent sense that your work matters whether it is in the sewer department or as a CEO. That’s why firefighters and special education teachers are consistently at the top of the heap when it comes to the most satisfied people in any profession.
No matter what point you are in your career, some jobs stand out as special, whether you have had four jobs or fifty. These are the jobs that you remember fondly. These are the jobs that make you smile. These are the jobs that make you say, “too bad that didn’t or couldn’t last”. But things change. You move on, the economy changes, summer ends, the job disappears, or something happens. But those jobs that mattered and the people you worked with stay with you.
Each year lists come out of the “Best Jobs”. The lists might give you an idea of where there are opportunities and how much they pay and the geographies involved; but they don’t really give you an idea of what your best job will be. Stick with the simple three ways to know what your best job ever will be.
What was your best job?