On a beautiful spring morning, Sandra was excited: It was the first day of her new job. After seven years with her previous employer in various positions of middle management, she was getting a great opportunity—second in command with a large, downtown employer. Her new position carried a hefty raise, a great title, and the move to senior management she always wanted.
But by the end of her first month Sandra discovered her new job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t the job requirements that bothered her. They were exactly as she had expected. It was the work environment itself.
Passive aggressiveness ran rampant throughout the organization, and she learned that her boss, the regional president, was concerned only about his own ego. His concern for others was only lip service.
Dysfunctional wasn’t strong enough to describe Sandra’s observations. At month’s end she spent her evenings near tears, wondering how to get out of the mess she’d got herself into. What she thought was her dream job had turned out to be a nightmare.
Fortunately, Sandra is not without hope. She has several options to consider.
The first option—and perhaps the most mature choice—is to become an agent for change. Dr. Marty Yopp, a Professor of Business Education at the University of Idaho, suggests that people in Sandra’s position take the leadership role they’ve been given and rise above the fray. “Never take part in negative comments or gossip” Yopp says, but instead “try to change the office atmosphere by being positive, friendly, and helpful to everyone.”
The key is to “be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she says.
Dr. Laura Crawshaw, President of the Executive Insight Development Group and a Leadership Development associate, agrees. She says people in Sandra’s position should first try to “work to establish enough open, trusting relationships to make it livable” for all concerned.
“Entering into a work relationship is like getting married after only one date,” says Crawshaw. “Things look good from initial impressions, but it’s without the benefit of a long engagement—to figure out if they are going to screw the toothpaste cap back on, or do whatever is needed for a fulfilling relationship.”
I like the analogy.
The second approach for Sandra is to take a good, hard look at her goals. Every company has employee issues, and Marty Yopp is quick to point out that it could be easy for people like Sandra to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
If Sandra can clearly articulate her career goals and review them on a regular basis, she will eventually reach them. As I often say, we go where we’re focused.
Laura Crawshaw believes that people like Sandra can work on career goals in an emotionally unfulfilling position while striving to get emotional fulfillment outside the job.
Sandra’s third choice, in keeping with the marriage analogy, is to eventually “file for divorce.” Like a marriage, Sandra got herself into a relationship that required a level of commitment. But fortunately, unlike marriage, no vows were taken, and Sandra has the option to leave without much emotional devastation if it turns out she just can’t stand the bad environment.
Most people I talk to say that people in Sandra’s position should give it their best effort for at least six months. But, if “divorce” ends up being the choice, Laura Crawshaw says the key is for people to carefully consider what kind of “marriage” they want in their next position.
One good idea is to interview prospective coworkers before accepting any other offer, and probe to find out what the work environment is really like. Ask a lot of questions. A little information can go a long way.
In my sixteen years of working with companies of all shapes and sizes, I have yet to find a company that doesn’t operate under a thin veneer that looks like they have their ducks in a row. Every company has problems and many have mild forms of chaos, all hidden below the veneer. The real puzzle is to figure out if the problems you’ll encounter are the kinds of problems you can live with.
Then, as with a marriage, cherish the good times and work through the bad.