How to Leave a Toxic Work Environment

This letter came from a reader who is experiencing a toxic work environment. Here’s her story:

I am looking to get advice on my current work situation. I have been very sick due to my work place environment. I took a STD (short-term disability) for 4 months. I went back, but to the same thing all over again. They are now documenting me and trying to find things where they think I have been dishonest. I told them it’s untrue and unfounded.

This company is known for bully bosses and mean girl mentality.

I have since hired an employment lawyer. He has asked for a separation agreement in hopes they will provide some unemployment benefits. Is it in my best interest to go back to work while they/lawyer hash this out? Or do I have my doctor write-up a letter saying I cannot return to work. She wouldn’t have to lie. I have had 3-4 doctor appointment since my return due to the hostility at work. I am sad, confused, and need to escape with a good reputation. I fear they will give me a bad reference.

Being in a toxic work environment is a very difficult situation, for a number of reasons. First of all, you are working under less than desirable working conditions and your employer does not seem to be working pro-actively to get you back to work.

The tactic the employer is taking to document anything that may give them cause to terminate you is common when they believe forcing you out is a better solution than keeping you. It’s unfortunate because everyone experiences hic cups from time to time.

However, if the situation that originally caused your illness is something that they do not want to fix, it begs the question, why stay? Aren’t you better off leaving – which is why your employment attorney is trying to negotiate the best separation package he can for you.

Many doctors will write a letter giving you more time off especially if returning to the same environment is causing the illness to regain momentum. Understand that taking this option will solidify to your employer that keeping you or trying to work with you to return to your job is not in their best interest.

You are in a difficult situation about how to leave under the best conditions. On the one hand if you return, it will further aggravate the company because they have a “problem” to resolve, however, if you take a leave they may think of you as someone who is taking advantage of the system (even if you are not).

In my opinion, the lesser of the two evils is to take the leave as long as you intend to leave the company. You will be in a better place to explain why you left to a new employer than why you were fired. Your attorney can negotiate what kind of reference is given upon your departure.

Career Rethink

Evaluating your career happens at many stages in life – I call it career rethink. I have worked with people from their early 20’s to late 60’s who have a strong desire to make a change for the better.

Sometimes you are forced into change, other times it is a personal choice to do it. Career rethinks happen while you are working or after losing a job. Regardless of the reason, you may feel uncomfortable or stressed because you are wading in new territory.

Here are some of the situations that start a career rethink:

  • You got the degree that everyone said you should get but it is not what you want to do.
  • Your hate your job and going to it every day puts you in a bad mood.
  • The job you have had for many years is going away – it is getting eliminated or the company is closing.
  • Location is important to you and you are not where you want to live.
  • Boredom has set in…the work you do fails to challenge you and you have become complacent.
  • The field you are in is dying – it’s time to make a shift into a growing field where demand will stay strong for many years.
  • Illness has affected your ability to hold a job long-term.
  • Should you invest in a degree to improve your marketability? Will there be a payback?
  • Are you a corporate person or an entrepreneur? How do you choose? Is the risk worth it?
  • You got fired from your last job – does that mean you are doomed and can not work in that same field again?
  • It’s time to retire – but you don’t want to be fully retired! Now’s the time to do something that you always wanted to do…but what is it exactly?
  • Here’s what you love – your company and job. Here’s what you hate – your boss. Can you survive?
  • Your performance is slipping and you are trying as hard as you can. What can you do to save your job?
  • You’ve been laid off several times – all for the same reason. Are you selecting the right positions or companies?
  • How do you create a life after retirement that includes service, income and fun?
  • You just got a new job – how do you integrate yourself successfully into it? What’s most important?
  • How do I successfully leave a job that I love to go to a job that I aspire to?

While each question is different, each person generally wants the same thing – greater satisfaction in their careers and lives. What form that satisfaction takes will be different.

It all starts with you identifying what your question is and what outcome you want. Finding your answer is a combination of accurate information or data collection, investigation, soul-searching and asking specific questions to get to the root of what is blocking you from progress.

Career rethink is a process of discovery, not a bullet proof answer. If it was that easy, you would have done it already. Armed with the right information and confidence, you can make the changes you want to in your life. The only thing stopping you is you.

Fired: What to say on a job application

What to Do after Being FiredShould I give a detailed explanation on my job application about why I was fired? The answer is NO – that is unless you really don’t want the job! You will have to put down a reason why you left your last job on a job application and if you were fired, then what you put down is really important. Depending on how you explain why you were fired will either spark an invitation for an interview or your job application will be rejected and put into the do not call pile. It is important not to lie on the application as it is a legal document. People have been fired after being hired because they falsified something on their application. Your reason for leaving your previous company should be short and to the point. This is not the time to try to explain why you were fired and why it was not fair. To be honest, don’t even try to explain why it is not fair at any time during the job application or interview process. You will lose 99% of the time, even if the termination was not justified. Just because there is a space for an answer on an application doesn’t mean you have to fill it out. If it is an online application and it is requiring an answer you can always use:

  • n/a – not applicable
  • Open to discuss at interview

Another way you could answer the question about why you left a previous company is to say you were let go – this could be the result of being fired or laid off. Both of these reasons are considered involuntary terminations. In fact, you could just say you were involuntary terminated. If you say you were let go or involuntary terminated, you will have greater chance of getting an interview because lots of people have been laid off over the last several years. Expect more questions about the involuntary termination in your interview and be ready with a solid and confident answer.

Thinking about changing your career?

Are you dis-satisfied with your career and thinking about making a change? Perhaps you have been in the same job for many years and just want a change or you realize that they profession you chose earlier in life was not what you were passionate about.

If this sounds like you, chances are you:

  1. Want a change
  2. Don’t like some aspect of what you do
  3. Can articulate what you are good at
  4. Have a good idea about what you do not know
  5. Are not sure how to go about figuring it all out

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It is all a bit confusing, because the possibilities are endless and you don’t know where to start.

Here lies the quandary. There are many ways to recast your career. How you do it will be unique to you. Are you taking a sharp right turn by changing some of what you do or how you do it? Or are you taking a 180° turn and re-inventing yourself?

To be successful in either approach, think about whether you can do it alone, with some help from your mentors or if working with a career coach to deliver results. Bottom line, you will work harder than you ever thought with deep thinking, reflection and researching your options that have been narrowed down through the process.

I think that people underestimate how long it takes to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Let’s be clear – no one can tell you what you should do in a matter of minutes.

Someone may guide you based on career assessment work you have completed. Many of my clients take the Strong Interested Inventory to find possible career fields other than where they are working today.

One approach I use in career coaching is to explore how intersections of your strengths and preferences open up new career opportunities to explore. When you find that sweet spot there is nothing more satisfying.

Just know that no matter how impossible it may seem to get to the place you want to be, you can do it. One step at a time.

How Parents can help their Child’s Career

First of all, kudos to the parents who realize that their child is struggling in their career and want to do something to help them. What you do and how you do it impacts how your child reacts to your help. Depending on the age of your child, they may take advice from you about their career, or not. 

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More often, they are at that age where your relationship is a little awkward. They are striving to be independent and let’s face it; taking advice from their parents doesn’t fit with their perception of independence.  So what do you do?

Parents – avoid giving direct advice

You may have many life lessons to share that would be valuable to your child – I don’t want to discount what you have to offer. Wait for them to ask for it and then give it small doses.

Figure out if you want it more than they do

It is OK to want the best for your children. However, if you want it more than your child you may need to curb your enthusiasm. It’s their career and until they ask for help, they probably are not ready to receive help. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent.

Transitions are a vulnerable time

Let’s think of it from their side, transitions into a career or new life stage is challenging. It’s a vulnerable time in their life – fear of being seen as unsuccessful, a failure, weak or unskillful. They want to be seen as strong and successful in your eyes so coming to you with these concerns is difficult. Even career experts who are parents realize that if the advice comes from someone else, there is a greater chance for success.

Provide the Gift of Resources

One of the best ways you can help your child is to offer support. That support could be in the form of:

  • Sharing resources or articles from the internet (don’t bombard them – a quick note saying you found this interesting is all you have to say)
  • Introductions to people (offer to make the connection but let them initiate the contact)
  • Financial support to work with a career coach (let them make the final decision on who they want to work with)

Bottom Line

Your child has to want to do something about their situation. You may give support financially or with other resources, but they have to be in the driver’s seat on making decisions that affect their career or life transition. If you take away that sense of independent thinking, it will affect their progress towards their goal.

How to find your Employer’s Address

What do you do when you need to find your employer’s address after being fired and they are not responding to any requests for information? Here’s a situation that one reader wrote me about:

I got fired from my job on Jan 3, 2014 due to being sick to many times. I tried to file unemployment and need the employer name and address, the company I work for is owned by another company and I don’t know the address of the company, we never got pay stubs as it was all done direct deposit.

I tried going onto the website to view the paystub and couldn’t get on, I have called our Human Resources department and was given the run around. I have sent emails several times to the parent company with no response. I don’t know what to do? Any help you can give me would help me.

Thank you, C

Response: You probably have a complicated situation and it is going to take some investigation and persistence to find an answer. It is not surprising that your employer is being slow to respond after you have left employment. Here are a few options for you to find an employer’s address:

  • If you have been working for over a year – check your W-2 form from last year. Your ex-employer has an obligation to report your wages and send you a copy. This document should have the information or if you have to wait until the end of January this year, you will receive one for this past year’s earnings.
  • Your bank may have copies of the information from the direct deposit that they can pull and you should find your employer’s address. Check to see if you can see the cancelled checks online before paying a fee for a hard copy of the cancelled check.
  • Your local unemployment office should be able to help you find the employer information too because they have paid into the UE plan – don’t use the automated phone – go down and sit with them and explain your situation.
  • If you received an offer letter, the employer’s address should be included on it.
  • Look for any communication that may have been sent to you by mail or email from the company – you many find your employer’s address on the letterhead.
  • Check with the insurance company under which you are being covered to find your employer’s address.

In conclusion, it is a good idea every time you begin employment with a company to write down their address and contact information. You never know when you’ll need it – even on the update for a resume!

How to write my ex-boss a thank you note for firing me

note-cardAs I was looking for a topic to write about, I decided to check out what people were searching on find Elephants at Work and this caught my eye: how to write my ex-boss a thank you note for firing me.

My first thought was, why would anyone want to write a thank you note when they got fired? Then again, there might be some very good reasons to do it.

You were fired from a job that you hated.

Perhaps being fired was the best thing that happened to you because you were stuck. It is hard to walk away from a job or company that pays the bills even if you hate the work or organization you work for. Perhaps your poor attitude was showing up in your work – let’s face it; your boss did the right thing.

You were fired because you were in over your head.

Sometimes you take a job or get promoted into job that is more than you can handle. It’s easy to see the signs – you may be put on a performance improvement plan or you are so stressed out that everyone around you is telling you the job is more than you can handle.

Hearing those comments may anger you – why doesn’t anyone believe in you or have confidence in what you can do? You don’t want to hear other people say you need to step away from this position or company. You find ways to cope by not listening or ignoring what you hear because deep down, you don’t want to fail.

Once you are fired, you feel like all the pressure is off you and you can finally relax. Now you realize that being fired was the answer.

Write your boss a thank you note for firing me.

Keep your thank you message short and sweet and write it in a way that you ex-boss will believe you are being sincere.

It’s not the time to go into all the details of your life. Just let your ex-boss know that you believe they made the right decision for the company and you. Moving on from that experience has given you the chance to explore opportunities that are better aligned with what you really want to do.

Kudos to the person searched on how to write a thank you note for firing me. It takes a confident person to send it.