Tagged ‘organizational culture‘

Treachery at Work

As a consultant, I need to tune in to organizational dynamics fast. Why? Because I need to be able to maneuver the relationships and politics in order to get my job done.

That sounds cold and it is. My #1 priority, though, whenever a group hires me for something important, is to make sure my product is as good as it can possibly be. Getting it tangled up in an organization’s peculiar toxic environment is a negative. It will impede my progress and affect quality.

So in my travels and in my own employment history (yes, there was life before consulting), I’ve seen many organizations with very dysfunctional internal cultures, many of which would meet anyone’s criteria for toxic workplace.

What does treachery at work look like? It looks like this: unreasonable and changing expectations, poor or no communication, blatant favoritism, high school style cliques, blindsiding, blaming, dismissing, marginalizing, taking credit for other people’s work, gossip, the silent treatment. Shall I stop there?

What is a person to do in this type of environment?

Here’s the most important thing, the absolute must for a person who finds him/herself in a poisonous organizational stew. Don’t be a victim. Give yourself the same advice you would give your son or daughter about coping with bullies on the playground. The bully wins if you act afraid. Or if you begin to believe the bully’s taunts.

Stick with the process. A key element of a treacherous workplace is that so much of what goes on is out of the public eye. Deals are made, understandings reached, plots hatched with only some people in the know and everyone else wondering.  Sticking with the process means always forcing deliberation and decisions to the public venue and, once there, advocating for an open, honest discussion, and insisting on this over and over again until colleagues comply.

Remember you are a professional person with top-notch skills and great experience. That’s your mantra. If you then take your mantra to the high road and stay there, you will be in good shape. Is that difficult to do? Absolutely.

By being the person who sticks to the high road, you offer an example to others who wish they had your courage. Sometimes this can begin to change the culture, sometimes not. It’s very wearing to be a principled person in an environment where others seem to have lost their moral compass. But even if you end up leaving an organization because it is simply too toxic to continue, you will carry your professional integrity and self-respect with you. Those are qualities you truly can take to the bank!

Organizations that allow treachery at work limit their own success. Don’t let treachery at work limit your success!


A very helpful overview of toxic workplace issues and strategies is provided by Amy Scholten, M.P.H. in “10 Signs That Your Workplace is Toxic and What You should Do About It.”

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Gratitude Drought: How to Deal with Lack of Appreciation on the Job

People need wages to survive.  They need appreciation to thrive.  Good leaders know this.  They understand that human motivation is complex and that few people are driven solely by money.  This includes everyone from the guy bussing tables to the head of a huge corporation.  Recognition, appreciation, and gratitude are terrifically valuable and free commodities so it always surprises me how many of my colleagues complain about their organization’s lack of gratitude for their work.  How could something that makes people happy and costs nothing to give be such a rare feature of the workplace?

If this is your situation, here are some ideas about how to cope:

1.  Show more gratitude to others in your organization including your co-workers and your boss.  People will reciprocate because to not do so will make them uncomfortable.

2. Share your accomplishments with colleagues outside your organization.  Post about getting a big grant on Facebook and enjoy the accolades of your friends.  This is an easy way to feel better about getting no love at work.

3.  Start changing the culture of your organization.  Find opportunities to suggest recognitions for others; speak up about a colleague’s work at staff meetings; nominate your boss for an award!  Organizational culture is only partly controlled from the top down; there’s a bottom up dimension that is just as powerful if less rarely activated.

4. Understand that gratitude could be manifest in mysterious ways. Often, a supervisor will express gratitude by exhibiting greater trust in an employee.  The way this works is this — the employee successfully completes a task, the supervisor’s gratitude is manifest in giving that employee something bigger and more important to do.  See?  You might be getting gratitude from your supervisor and you thought you were just being overworked!

5. Don’t let your job be your life.  Your professional life is a major, major part of who you are but it isn’t all you are.  Find those things that give you a sense of accomplishment, where you feel that people are grateful for your involvement, and, yes, where you can express your own gratitude for opportunities to better the world and enrich your own life.   This last one took me a long time to learn — life is not all about work, accomplishment, and success.   

And last, if no one else appreciates what you do, I DO!  I love people who work in nonprofit organizations and people who work in government and people who volunteer their time in the community.  I think you’re wonderful and irreplaceable.  How’s that?  Feels good, doesn’t it?  Pass it on!



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