Tips for Handling Toxic Environments

It seems I keep running into environments where stress is a killer for the employee. Not as in coffin or cremate, but at least regarding sense of isolation and anxiety and lack of recognition or support. In some of these cases, it does translate into loss of life, because it becomes loss of self. What this does to the individual is strip them of pride, distract them from their skills and repeatedly miscommunicate their lack of ability.


I first found this in the education environment. A high school teacher of 16 years, I poured myself into my work. Ask most of the general population what they think of teachers, and they will say they revered many of their teachers, yet they consider today’s teacher to be uninspiring. Often unethical. It is that perception that leads to teachers isolating themselves, defending their actions and burying themselves further into their work to come out with a better reputation.

Enter exhaustion.

When I first started my coaching business, I eventually landed in hospital and healthcare environments. These industries have employees with a mix of economic and educational backgrounds, comparing themselves to each other. What starts out as a competitive drive leads to
loss of self and overwhelmingly feeling inadequate.

Now I am helping those in the legal profession and find even more prominence of anxiety. From new associate to new partner to new firm to new practice area, the competitive drive usually eliminates humanity. Revenue is key for all of these changes. When the bottom line drives progress, we forget about recognition and individual value. Individuals go into the profession to make a difference
in peoples’ lives and what they discover is the difference others are making on their own.

The attorney wants to be able to stand up and speak up for others yet they feel in the bigger firms they cannot stand up or speak up for themselves.

So what do they do?

Dan Lukasik, managing partner at the law firm of Bernhardi Lukasik PLLC in Buffalo recently wrote about interviewing author and psychotherapist Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW. Meyerhofer explains why law firms are the perfect environment for depression, but also describes what individuals experiencing depression can do about it.

Meyerhofer states the individual needs to get back to who they are and then remember their own strengths and joys.

I wish to challenge those in service-based professions, especially those in executive power. You went into the profession to help others. Start with your employees. They will be more productive and commited to both their and your firm’s success.

Toxic employees need support of others to retain their own power. Give them this support and then help them manage themselves. Here are some tips to get you started.

Tips for Handling Toxic Environments

  • find a mentor
  • seek perspective
  • keep a journal of successes

Mentor
Mentors are folks within or outside of our organization who keeps you focused on moving forward. They are the ones who are willing to hear the bad and the ugly and help us turn these things into positives. They help us see circumstances in new light so we are motivated or angry enough to do something about it.

Seek a mentor as early on in your career as possible, then do it again. Then do it again. As long as you are desiring forward motion, align with a mentor.

Perspective seeking
Those who don’t need new perspective have to figure things out on their own. That’s crazy. It doesn’t make good use of our energy or our abilities. Seeking perspectives of others helps us cut through the low productivity and gain experience – first from those we’re asking and secondly by moving ourselves into action.

Journaling success
No matter how successful we are and how often we have aligned with others, we can still feel underwhelmed by our own efforts. The best way around this is to track what is working. Daily record what you like about yourself, what you accomplished, problems you solved and just as regularly as you write these thoughts, review them.

This helps us shift from negativity and victim mode to productive, creative and happy individuals.

Toxic environments are not easy ones to manage. If you are in one, and want to stay there, it behooves you to try these tips. If you manage the environment, give these instructions to those in it. You will not only be in the business of helping others, you will will be helping yourself.

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