One of my favourite topics is startups – discussions about the benefits of young companies and how innovative workspaces can be a boon to productivity and healthy work life balance. It would be remiss of me, however, to imply that it is always great. There is a lot of hard work involved of course but it is also possible to have negative workplaces amongst all this innovation.
This post is about the importance of identifying a bad workplace, poor cultural fit and how it can impact negatively on your health – mental and physical. And why it is important to identify early and do something about it.
What is bad?
Well beyond the obvious understanding of a bad workplace (abusive staff, tyrannical boss, inappropriate language, sexism etc) there are plenty of things that can lead to a negative environment:
- Blame culture – when something goes wrong does the team work together to solve the issue or does it focus on who caused the problem (publicly or not) and require them to fix it?
- Unclear objectives – does everyone on the team know what is expected of them or why they are working on their task? Omission of a clear plan can lead to a drop in morale.
- Lack of communication – sharing plans, collaborating in decision making and listening to your teams will help everyone to feel supported and understand their role.
- Dishonesty – it can be assumed that for the most part people you work with are honest, some companies even find the need to list it in their values. But what about the difficult truths or glossing over things that should be addressed? Openness requires real honesty and that can be difficult.
- Long hours – whilst probably required at some point in most jobs is this used sparingly? Is the decision to put in extra time one of the group or is it mandated?
- Values failure – in a company that is clear about its values does everyone live by them? Are there times when they are pushed to one side? During times of pressure you often see what a team is really made of.
Of course there are many more potential reasons for a workplace to affect you negatively and they may not be obvious. Some times the thing that brings a company or team down is not obvious at all…
Hiding in plain sight
Sometimes the cause of a bad environment might be hard to spot. It could be that despite best intentions something is not as intended.
In a values based organisation how are these communicated? Does everyone know the company values by the way that people talk, work and collaborate – or is it something that everyone is reminded of in publications, marketing or (even worse) is it painted on the walls? If everyone truly valued the same things then such constant reminders should not be required.
If teams work well during normal operation what happens if an item of work does not go to plan? If an engineering team’s release is being held up by an item of work what is the typical behaviour? The team working together to get it back on track – or individuals being left to figure it out for themselves?
Individual vs company wide
It may even be that everyone is happy but you just don’t fit in. Perhaps the values don’t align or maybe your sense of humour is incompatible. Do you feel comfortable with your workmates and business leaders? A long interview process should allow for a high chance that the match of a candidate to the team is solid but no process is perfect. It may be that you just don’t feel a good fit. If you get to the end of any probation period (usually 3 – 6 months within the company) and you are not happy then this is probably a good sign that the company is not for you.
Making your exit
If you wake up on Monday morning (or even worse, Sunday night) dreading going back to work for the week that might be a sign that it’s not working out. If you think your lunch break should be longer, if you find yourself having no discussions in the office or if you find that chats always turn into arguments or leave you annoyed then it’s probably time.
As soon as you realise that the fit is not there it’s time to start planning your exit. Staying longer may seem like the noble thing to do but you will only get more annoyed at the job, likely bring down your co-workers and possibly damage your health as well. Most people working in startups or technology companies have options, there is huge demand for your skill set – look at alternative companies and maybe go on a few interviews. Also consider sharing your concerns with your boss – if they understand and agree that it’s not working out then they may even help you find the right role elsewhere.
Believe me you don’t want to realise too late that you should have made the move and that it’s deteriorated your health. It’s no fun having to take 6 months out of the fast moving tech world because you don’t have the strength or energy to greet the world. It’s also no fun being in the doctor/nurse’s office twice a week getting vitamin boosters to put your blood levels back in balance! Life is too important and the right balance should mean keeping good health!
Happy New Year to all my readers and may you have an exciting, healthy 2018 :).