My Take on Toxic Work Environment

There’s a new term being thrown around – toxic work environment. It’s a catchy phrase. To be honest, I am not sure I like it. While I fully understand that your work environment could bad for you, toxic refers to something being caused by a toxin or poison – something that is harmful or deadly.

You might argue that your work environment is harmful because of poor management or employee relations practices. However, companies that thrive are addressing these issues, if not they will lose their talented employees and customers.

The other issue I have with a toxic work environment is that the starting place is negative. There is nothing more demotivating than knowing you are at the bottom of the barrel and every step you make will be scrutinized.

Instead, why not start from knowing what the organization does well and build on it? Recognize the areas where you can make progress and focus on what you are doing right. It’s hard to motivate management and employees who think their company is toxic. Once a label is embraced, turning it around is very difficult.

Let’s say your company does have a toxic work environment – perhaps it is affecting your performance or health. Then, I have to ask – Why are you still there? The choice is yours to stay or leave – even if it is a difficult one.

Fired After Failing Drug Test

What do you do if your company fires you for failing a drug test? One reader wanted some advice about what to do when the company says you have quit.

I needed some advice. I was fired from job last Thursday for failing a drug test. I went in Friday and my separation notice stated that I quit. I signed it as fast as possible due to not strangling my boss. I just wanted to leave at that point. Should I be worried or upset with what has happened? They would have found a way to fire me eventually regardless. It happens to lots of employees there. I think there trying to buy their way out of unemployment pay.

11566653_sHere’s the whole story.

The boss never had a problem with my work ability. He is just suspicious of me sitting in a car while on break. Well I wasn’t just the only employee to do this. I think he just had it out for me…in one of his moods. I tell him its 6 degrees out and I’m staying out of the cold. I sit in the car every morning before work with no problems. He drives by in a vehicle and sees me and I think nothing of it. I mean I’m right here in front of the shop. He acts like I’m trying to hide something for being in a car.

I tell him I seen you drive by. I’m right here you see me I see you. Then he starts talking about my team not getting enough work done. So then I call him out saying that’s not on me. I do more than anybody on team. Next thing you know I’m being called in office.

He has contacted HR and GM and told them who knows what. They ask me what I was doing in a car and this and that. I tell them I sit there every morning. They have cameras and can see that.

Then there seems to be no problem with my work ability also. I’m a helluva worker now obviously. Then he says I need a drug screen for suspicion of being where I was.

Now I do smoke marijuana now and then and I do it in privacy of my home. I can’t do it at work for the fact I wouldn’t be able to function correctly. I tell him I’m going to press lawsuit if I pass the test for it had been a few weeks since.

Then I tell him about what he said at company meeting a few months before that an employee cracked a joke and I guess he forgot where he was and started talking about his “tube steak” private area out loud with male and female workers present. That sure did shut him up in the office. So on the way to be tested my immediate supervisor tells me this should have stayed in-house. The HR and GM should have never been called. I failed the drug screen. I came back to shop and signed separation notice saying quit. Comments said Mr. XX quit. That’s the whole story if it helps. Thanks again.

Your company most likely has a drug screen or drug test policy. Random drug tests are especially popular in companies where heavy equipment is being used for safety reasons.

I realize that getting a break may mean you want to get out of the shop. While you may not have done drugs on site, employees going to their cars on break often do drugs. Staying in your car in the parking lot is probably not the best decision. You would have been better off driving off the property to a shopping center and chilling out than doing it in your car. Do not give your employer a reason to be suspicious even if you are innocent.

I am not surprised that your boss may have wanted to let you go after you “put him in his place”. For some reason, bosses don’t take kindly to someone telling them they are wrong or be reminded of an event where they may have been embarrassed by their behavior.

When you find yourself in these kinds of situations it is always better to say less and not more. Give your boss less ammunition to load the gun that is being directed at you and perhaps you may have dodged the drug test bullet.

To answer your question about signing off the separation notice that said you quit. I think you got lucky. Here’s why.

When you go to another employer, you can say you quit your last job. If you were fired, you would have to say why they fired you and failing a drug test is not something another employer wants to hear.

I realize you won’t be eligible for unemployment and that may pinch your budget; however you will get a job faster and that is more money in the long run. Good luck.

Bad Boss Behavior: What do you do?

What do you do when your boss’s behavior is inappropriate – not just once but regularly? Do you stick it out, report the bad boss behavior or leave the company? Well…that depends on the boss, the company, your career goals and the investment you have made with the company. Recently, someone shared one example of bad boss behavior and we discussed what her options were going forward.

A bad boss behavior story

Jennifer works for a private company. The VP of Human Resources is someone who was promoted from within the organization. She does not have a degree or formal training in the areas that she is responsible for – which includes more than HR. The company has many offices so Jennifer has limited contact with her boss, except by phone, conferences and other company sponsored training events.

During a week-long training, many of the evenings had mandatory team-building activities to help the HR leaders from the different parts of the company get to know one another on a personal level.

One evening, the group took off for a baseball game. As the HR VP entered the stadium she announced she was going to the bar and a wave of people followed her. Jennifer and the rest of the HR leaders went to find their seats and settle into the game.

Now you probably know where this story is going and I’ll cut to the point quickly – the HR VP never made it to her seat to watch any part of the game. In fact, the game was cut short due to weather and the group who watched the game made their way back to the bus. After waiting an hour, one of the HR Directors asked the bus driver to head back so that people could get some sleep before the morning session. Shortly after leaving, the HR VP called and told them to turn the bus around.

The HR VP entered the bus and proceeded to ream out the bus driver and HR Director for leaving the premises. Once she was done venting her wrath, she turned on her heel and headed back into the bar for another 45 minutes leaving the others on the bus to stew.

The next morning, the HR VP rehashed how disappointed she was about the decisions that were made. After a half hour of scolding, she finally moved on to the day’s training program.

I asked Jennifer why she stays with this company. There are several reasons:

  1. Right now it is about the money and she has not found another position that pays as well. With the economy shifting, there will be more opportunities for her to change companies.
  2. She wants to go someplace where the corporate or organizational culture is nurturing and positive. A previous employer is one of her top choices. It’s clear she does not want to work for someone like her current VP HR.
  3. She is committed to the company for the next several years because she is working on her master’s degree.

Evaluate what commitments you have at your current employer

If you recently joined the company and they paid for your relocation, determine what obligations you may have if you leave. Many companies require repayment of all relocation costs (including buying/selling house fees) if you leave the company within the first year of employment.

Consider any other financial obligations you have outstanding with the company. For example, did the company fund your college or advance degree program? If so, you may be tied to the company for a number of years post-graduation.

Are you close to being vested in a 401K or pension plan and you will lose the company’s contribution if you leave? I have seen cases of people leaving significant money because they just had enough and needed to move on regardless of the impact personally.

Determine if outing bad boss behavior is worth it

Sometimes it just doesn’t make corporate political sense to report bad boss behavior. If you believe that your boss is protected within the company by their superiors or that your comments and observations will be met with skepticism, review if you are the right person to bring forward these concerns.

There will be companies and organizations where change will not happen and that requires you to take personal action to stay or leave.

Organizational Culture: How to Assess it Objectively

Perhaps your organization has some of these cultural dysfunctional signs: lack of teamwork, cultural differences impacting working relationships, poor communication and low productivity. Human resources find themselves embroiled in employee counseling and coaching without making significant impact. The leadership is frustrated that employees don’t just learn to get along and are often ill-equipped or not interested in proactively managing conflict.

What are the options for finding out the extent of the dysfunction and how to fix it? There’s the obvious method of assessing organizational culture with employee surveys. However, to conduct an effective survey, the process can take two to three months. A well designed employee survey will tell you what your employees are thinking if you ask the right questions. Consider using an outside vendor to conduct the employee survey to build trust and maintain employee confidentiality.

There are other methods for assessing the organizational culture. Use an independent consultant that specializes in leadership or organizational development to conduct a series of interviews, discussionS and observations within your organization.

Why should you use an independent consultant for your cultural assessment? There are several reasons this approach is desirable:

  1. Human resources and management already have a point of view about the situation. An independent party can help to confirm or shed new light on the cultural dysfunction.
  2. Lack of trust is a reason organizations experience cultural dysfunction. It is important to bring someone in who is fair and can build rapport with the management and employees.

How do you select the right leadership or organizational consultant to conduct the assessment? Let’s face it, all consultants are not equal.

Select a consultant with:

  • Excellent listening and probing/questioning skills.
  • Hands on experience in working with individuals, team and organizations.
  • A method that assesses employees and management.
  • Grounding in personality, communication and/or behavioral training.
  • Experienced in conducting assessments and making recommendations.

With either option – using an employee survey or independent leadership/organizational consultant – expect to hear results that surprise you or you do not agree with. Many employee survey processes provide generic steps you can take to improve your results. A competent consultant is an ongoing resource to help management and employees develop feasible plans.

What is the best method of communicating with your unavailable boss?

“When is it appropriate to handle issues by e-mail versus in person? Some people are very busy and don’t have time to sit and talk.” This is a follow up question about how effective communication can be difficult from a reader and we discuss how to your finesse communications.

I wrote back to ask some questions about whether or not they were the boss or subordinate, here was their response.

“The boss is very busy, and he is that same age as me. He needs to let me know when he is free. SO e-mail verses talking in person. It probably means more talking in person. More effective, but don’t want to take too much time.”

Here is the scoop on being a boss. It means being available to your staff to discuss issues or situations.

If your boss is local, it is reasonable to expect to schedule a meeting within a few days or sooner if it is an emergency. If there is always a conflict, your boss is not taking his responsibilities for supervising, developing or managing his staff’s outcomes effectively.

Being a boss means setting time aside to do these activities on a daily basis. If they do not have the time, they have bigger issues with prioritizing or delegating their work. People management should be a high priority and if it is not, they may be in the wrong role.

Winning by Jack Welch addresses the role of top-notch leadership in organizations. If you get the Winning CD Set, listen to CD #3 (a refresher last week for me) where Jack talks specifically about management priorities. No surprise, he believes people management is at the top.

The best way to discuss a situation is face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. Talking in person provides more opportunities for both parties to:

If a face-to-face is not possible, a phone conversation is the next viable approach. Here are some tips for making your phone call more successful:

  • Listen carefully to the tone of the voice. If you think, the tone is sharp or non-responsive, request a face-to-face meeting.
  • Be careful not to jump to conclusions. If in doubt, ask your boss to explain it again a different way.
  • Recap the issue and what each of you commits to do and follow it up in writing.
  • Do not feel stupid asking questions, if someone is unclear; continue to probe until you understand fully.

The last resort is using email to have a discussion. Is it quicker? Initially, yes – someone gets the issue off his or her desk and onto the other party’s to do list.

Is it better? No- chances are it will take longer to solve. Here are some watch outs:

  • Both parties lose the ability to create a two way dialogue
  • There is a loss of problem solving in real time
  • The tone of email is open to interpretation of the receiver without the sender knowing something is being taken wrong
  • Not everyone responds to emails quickly
  • Brainstorming for ideas and solutions is nonexistent
  • Relationships build more slowly because it is less personal
  • Learn how to do it effectively if you must send one by reading learn about e-body language

Finally, do not let your manager off the hook. You have a right to discuss if you are on track with projects, people, resources and personal or organizational performance requirements with them. There is no reason to rush the conversation if you schedule ample time to cover the topic. If the boss’s time is that tight, schedule it over multiple meetings.

Promotion with No Pay Increase Due to Wage Freeze?

A technically competent engineer asked if I had seen his promotion announcement to a supervisor on LinkedIn. I had not seen his announcement and congratulated him. He joined the company about eighteen months ago.

In follow-up, I inquired about his pay increase for the promotion. He did not receive a promotional increase because of the company’s ongoing wage freeze – the company told him he would receive an increase later.

He told me he’s been doing the job for a while – there was a need and he stepped up. The company wanted to recognize him so he doesn’t leave and he figures that is why they gave him the promotion.

Now I am going to be blunt with you, just as I was with him. No company should promote an employee and then hold back an increase because of a wage freeze.

Here are the facts:

  • When companies hire positions externally, there is no discussion about a wage freeze – candidates are offered the prevailing rate as a new hire. There is no waiting game.
  • Promotions deserve all the perks and headaches that go along with it – including pay increases.
  • Delayed promotion pay increases become watered down – they are included in yearly increases or the amount is less than would have been offered initially.
  • Sometimes companies forget to compensate you.

Regarding wage increases – it is reasonable to apply wage freezes to yearly salary increases or merits, however, that same approach is not appropriate for promotions.

While compensation is not the main reason that an employee will leave an employer, there are two reasons employees do leave their employers:

  • A misfit with the company culture
  • A poor relationship with their manager

Let’s look at the situation or apply this to your own situation.

How do company or manager’s values impact your view of your workplace?  Do their values shape the culture and work environment?

Why should a company or manager treat outside candidates better than their current employees? Do these actions promote fairness, trust and integrity? How does your company or manager demonstrate these values?

If you have another opinion, let’s hear it.

Gift Giving: Avoid inviting the Elephant

Before I get a slew of comments about being a Grinch or not caring, hear me out. Gift giving in organizations or among groups is one of those Elephants at Work or in the room and it makes some people uneasy. I will give you an example and give some tips on how to give gifts without making others feel badly.

Many organizations have a no solicitation policy for the same reason – people do not want to be pressured (peer or otherwise) into giving to a charity, cause or side business at work.

I will bet that the same feelings about gift giving extend inside and outside of work. Here’s an example:

Recently someone collected money from a group of people as a going away present to an instructor. One person stepped up to head up the gift idea even though there was not complete agreement on what the group wanted to do.

There was good reason why there was a difference of opinion – each person had a different experience with the person.

Recognize that relationships are different.

Each person in the group had varying degrees of contact with the person leaving. Some of them had family ties, others worked the person more extensively over a year and the third group had less frequent contact.

It is reasonable to think that the people who had more personal or professional contact with the person may want to do something, the group with minimal contact may think differently.

Don’t suggest a dollar amount.

If you are going to ask a group of people to contribute to a gift, don’t suggest a dollar amount. When you do that, there is overt and subtle pressure being exerted to the individuals in the group.

If you are going to collect money, one of the best ways to do it is anonymously. Pass an envelope around (ideally not publically) and let people put in whatever amount of money they want to contribute – even if it is a dollar.

No one will know what amount was submitted and it lets people evaluate if they want to contribute or at what level they want to contribute without any peer pressure. To ensure that everyone has had a chance to participate, each person signs their name on the envelope, regardless if they if they contributed or not.

Be consistent on gift-giving.

One of the biggest complaints is that gift giving is not fairly done. To be blunt, it’s easy to organize something for one of your favorite people or initiatives; it is far more difficult to do the same for someone or something where you relationship is not as strong.

If you do not plan to be consistent (and that does not mean letting someone else take the responsibility next time) then give gifts privately.

Give gifts privately vs. publicly

You can bet you will see the elephant pop up when gifts are given publicly and not everyone has participated in doing it. While it may be more difficult to orchestrate, give your gift privately with the people who participated in giving the gift. There’s no reason to rub your actions in other people’s faces.

Gift giving when done appropriately and with everyone’s best interests feels good and let’s those elephants play somewhere else.