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How to Survive When Your Workplace Culture Sucks

The technology behemoth Amazon has recently been under fire after a scathing New York Times piece exposed the company’s exceptionally demanding workplace environment.

The article, based on interviews with former and current staffers, portrays a company culture so obsessed with innovation and growth that it pushes employees to extremes and encourages competitive backstabbing and callousness.

“Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving,” wrote The New York Times

Whether or not this is true, it’s certainly sparked a debate on what it means to produce and thrive in a workplace culture. Hopefully, you’re gainfully employed in a job where you can do both. But at some point in your life, you may find yourself in a less than healthy work environment. Here’s how to handle it if and when you do.

Try to Be Positive

Want to know how to make a toxic environment even worse? By succumbing to the negativity. Although it can be very tempting to retaliate against those who are making your life difficult, this kind of gratification is short lived and usually leaves you feeling worse than before. Try to resist spreading rumors or putting others down behind their back. It will only damage your reputation in the long run.

If possible, try to focus on the things you enjoy about your job while filtering out the bad things. Sometimes immersing yourself in the work can be a pretty effective way of drowning out everything else.

It also helps to have things outside of work to look forward to such as hobbies, exercise or socializing.

Don’t Take It Personally

Even if your current work woes stem from the fact that somebody – a co-worker or manager – doesn’t like you, try not to take it personally. Consider whether their grievances have some basis, and if so, take steps to rectify things. If not, then recognize that it’s their issue, not yours, and chalk it up to a mismatch of styles and personalities.

Draw the line between work and your personal life. Your boss may not be your best friend, or even someone you’d ever want to hang out with. But that was never part of the job description. The important thing is to respect their position and find a way to work with them in harmony.

Form Alliances

Allying yourself with people who won’t stab you in the back or toss you under the bus can help you weather the tough times. Not for some “Survivor”-like coup to take down the bad guys (although, it helps to have witnesses if you need them), but for support and sanity maintenance. Sometimes you’re not in the position to quit your job, at least right away, and having co-workers with which to vent about shared experiences can be an immense relief.

Document Everything

Even if you’re not working in a toxic environment, it’s still a good idea to keep a record of everything, including reviews, relevant emails, and notes from meetings and emails. Consider keeping a work diary, or at least documenting important interactions with colleagues and supervisors, especially if your boss or another colleague has made sexist or inflammatory comments to you. It’s also a useful way to keep track of noteworthy accomplishments.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Values

No matter what happens, don’t give in to any kind of behavior if it compromises your core values. This means stabbing others in the back to get ahead or engaging in unscrupulous business practices to save your job. Nothing erodes your sense of self-worth than sacrificing your integrity. You might lose your job by not compromising. But compromising can end up costing you a lot more.

Plan Your Exit

Finally, if things become intolerable or unfixable, you could inquire about transferring to another position within your current organization. But if that’s not an option, it’s time to look for something else. See it as a learning experience and remember that a job is a job, not your life.


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