Whether I’m working with a client who is highly dissatisfied at their current role, actively in process of leaving a toxic workplace on their own terms, or was recently laid off, I’ve often found it fitting to compare the transition they’re experiencing in a bad work environment to that of a marriage gone bad.
Prior to writing books on contemporary career development and running an online career coaching & consulting business, I was working in the corporate world as a marriage and family therapist. I quickly observed the interesting parallelisms of the person(s) described above sharing the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with someone who is in the process of leaving an unhealthy marriage or grieving after the divorce.
Having been married or not, all of us on some level have had experiences of these stages with a close relationship throughout our lives. So, it is a proven analogy many people can relate to and identify with. I’ve often found it resonates as a very powerful analogy which really helps my clients to better process and work through the difficult transition of leaving a company they’ve dedicated 5, 10, 20, 30, sometimes 40 years of their lives at!
All this being said
If you have found that actually leaving a bad work environment or toxic company once and for all, has proven to be extremely difficult or seemingly impossible, please don’t be hard on yourself.
Assuming a large magnitude and high level of attachment (addiction) you have to this relationship with your company, you can’t break it on your own. After all, it’s far too easy for most of us to have become highly attached to our role in a toxic workplace and company after so many years.
For those of us who are highly passionate, caring, and truly gave the best we could to our position, our clients/customers, and our company, how could we not have become highly attached over the many years, sometimes decades of our being committed to this relationship?
First things first
You will need the support of others, ideally people who have triumphed in this area themselves or industry experts who help people successfully make a transition out of their toxic workplace. Bonus points if you find someone who fits both criterions.
If you are reading this and can identify having similar feelings surrounding your current toxic workplace, the image below illustrates the stages of making a change. After looking at the image with the stages of change, it would behoove you to honestly ask yourself which stage you currently are in this process.
Wherever you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be, so don’t judge it. Just start by accepting where you are. People in the “pre-contemplative” stage are often either unaware of their need to change, or there is some level of awareness, but they have little to no desire or serious interest to change anytime in the near future.
Chances are likely that if you’ve chosen to take the time to read this article, you’re either in the contemplation, preparation, or action stage of making a change. Below I’ve highlighted common scenarios.
I often hear from people in these three stages
1. Scenario of someone in the contemplative stage
You have “hit the ceiling” at your current toxic company, and are ready for the next challenge or growth opportunity.
You’ve been told (either directly, or indirectly), that there is no more opportunity for you to advance in your current role, and any further requests you’ve made for advancement opportunities or for a raise in salary congruent with your current tenure have been brushed aside or have fallen on deaf ears.
You no longer feel like you’re appreciated for the quality of work you do or valued by your organization.
You are ready for a change, one that involves you being challenged, continuing to grow, and appreciated for your contribution.
2. Scenario of someone in the preparation stage
Your current bad work environment is extremely draining, and you are likely working well over 50 hours a week. The position or company may have been good at one point, but it’s been a very negative situation for quite some time now.
You may even know on some level, either by instinct or actually have been informed, that your current role within the company is no longer “secure” on some level.
You have an acute awareness that your current job is sucking your soul dry, and you are feeling “stuck” or “trapped.” You have likely even started to discuss this issue with a few close family members, friends, or a trusted advisor.
Whatever the reason(s) leading up to this, you’re ready to leave and may have even begun occasionally looking into other job opportunities and ‘dabbling’ with applying to a few.
At this point, you know you want to change, but you likely don’t have a clear strategy on how to effectively land your next role, or you may have loosely prepared a strategy, but don’t have the necessary time or energy to execute it while still working at your current job.
You may also be experiencing a high level of fear about your company somehow “finding out” about you looking into new opportunities and firing you.
3. Scenario of someone in the action stage
This may still include some aspects of contemplative and preparation stages.
You have completely made up your mind that you are in a toxic workplace. You are “one foot out the door” at your current job.
You are very actively pursuing new opportunities, but feel like you keep attracting toxic companies and don’t really feel great about any of them if you’re being honest with yourself. Similar to “dating gone bad,” you aren’t even sure if any good companies exist anymore.
You may have been able to get to the interview process with several companies you felt pretty good about, and sometimes even make it to the 2nd or 3rd round of interviews. However, despite getting positive feedback and coming really close, you’re still left with no job offer.
If these stages and scenarios sound an awful lot like yours, the first step is to start by accepting where you are, right now. The truth is, before we can really begin to shift and make a major change out of a toxic workplace, we have to first be willing to face the issue at hand and be honest with both ourselves and other people.
In my experience
My experience working for years with many people in these toxic workplace scenarios is that the next step you need to take is to reach out for the appropriate and consistent support, resources, and insight you will need to overcome and create a lasting, positive change in this area.