Monday, December 07, 2015 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

This is a really tough post to write.

Why? Because first and foremost, I've worked in a toxic environment (in fact on more than one occasion), so I can relate to the subject matter, and it's hard not to let those old emotions rise back to the surface.

Second, in my opinion there's little worse than getting up, day after day, and dragging your body to a job that you hate. Or a job where you're criticized. Or harassed. Or reprimanded so consistently that you start to question whether you have any skills, strengths or redeemable qualities at all.

Finally, an environment like that makes you feel shitty while you're at work, and if I were a betting woman, I'd guess you feel pretty shitty at home, too. As much as we try to convince ourselves that our professional and personal lives are distinct spheres, it's just not the case. They're intertwined, and what happens in one affects the other. Period, end of sentence.

One of my very best friends is smack in the middle of a situation that she readily admits is toxic, and she feels stuck. People all around her are quitting their jobs, her boss is monitoring her every move (even though she's a trustworthy, consistent high performer) and the woman leading her organization puts on a "face" for the public, then belittles her employees behind closed doors. She's at her wit's end, is applying for lots of jobs and really just doesn't know what else to do.

We spent more than an hour talking about her job the other night, and at the end of our chat she asked me to write a blog post with advice for people who aren't sure whether or not they should leave their toxic job. I thought about it, and knocking the post idea to the side for a moment, wanted to reach through the phone, march into her office and tell her company just how little they deserved her. I HATE seeing her in such pain.

But then I put my coaching hat on, tucked my personal feelings back where they belonged and told her this: I love the idea, but in coaching we believe (more often than not) that advice is dangerous. Advising someone to do something based on my personal values is counter to the foundation of coaching, which believes you need to take actions that align with your personal values. Especially in such a precarious situation as this, I could be doing a lot of damage if I told someone to quit their job and a result of them following my advice something negative happened.

Of course, I still want to help, so instead I've put together four steps that I hope will inspire anyone wrestling with this situation, and help them take a step back and evaluate the many alternatives they could pursue to bring about change.

Step 1: Create a vision of your ideal job. Write it down, maybe draw a picture, color it in.

When I say this to people, it often results in some funny looks, because they aren't used to thinking in terms of "ideals" (especially if their ideal job is to be a rockstar and they're a 45-year-old accountant). Trust me for a moment. Dreaming, using your imagination and envisioning what your perfect day on the job would look and feel like creates hope. It makes you feel excited and inspired, even if that outcome never comes to pass. And for someone that goes into work every day and feels awful, finding that source of hope can be a powerful motivator.

Step 2: Evaluate your ideal and figure out how your current job differs from your vision (even if that's theoretically). 

Let's take the rockstar example. One of the key differences between being an accountant and a rockstar is the ability to be creative. Or the ability to work outside of an office setting. Note the differences you discover, because they'll be key criteria for you to look for when/if you start hunting for new jobs.

Step 3: Think about all of the different ways you could remove the toxic aspect from your job.

Have a toxic manager that treats you poorly? Do they have the potential to improve? If yes, could you speak to them about your concern and share a course or article you've found on remedying the issue at hand? If not, could you move to a different manager that would treat you with more respect?

Hate the tasks you're doing everyday? Is the company big enough that you could move into a different functional area? Or, if it's a small company, could you pitch a new role to the executive team and create a job for yourself that would give you more pleasure? Could you suggest a rotation with another colleague looking for a change and give BOTH of you the chance to use your skills more effectively?

Step 4: Examine what you've learned, how you feel, make a decision and make a plan.

You might realize that in evaluating your situation more thoroughly there are a few different options you could try that would remove the toxicity. Maybe your efforts will work, maybe they won't, but particularly for people who don't have the luxury of just quitting their job, these small wins may make things a little more bearable (at maximum, they'll work better than you thought).

It may come to pass after all of this reflection that you do feel that leaving is the best choice, and in that case, I encourage you to set a goal, and develop your plan to meet that goal. Maybe for the next 6 months, you'll devote 5 hours a week to the job search, and you'll cut back on X expenses so you can save up X -- a buffer that would let you quit your job and stay afloat for X months.

Whatever the terms, build something that works for you and your lifestyle, but get specific and push yourself to set a deadline.

Ultimately, here's the good news. Most toxic work environments don't last forever because YOU are in the driver's seat of your own life. You have the power to make change happen, even if it takes time, so if you commit to creating a better situation for yourself, you can and you will.

This is going to sound SO cheesy, but as a Disney fanatic, I just have to end with this analogy. Remember the scene where Peter Pan is trying to teach Wendy, John and Michael how to fly? He instructs them to "think of the happiest things -- it's the same as having wings." When the children shift their mindset to wonderful things, wonderful things happen as a result. Sure, they need a sprinkle of pixie dust to help them along (because thoughts alone might not be quite enough!), but it's their own shift in mindset that activates what they previously thought was impossible.

On that note, you can fly, you can fly, you can fly. Believe in yourself. I do.

Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting