how can I brace myself for my toxic new job?

A reader writes:

After searching for over three months, I finally received a job offer. I accepted and will start in a week.

While I am happy to have the offer and will take the job, I am a little wary. Since accepting the offer and letting a few friends and family members know I got the position, I have received a number of warnings from people who either work there, have worked there, or know someone who works/worked there. The warnings range from, “Your new boss is a b*tch” to “Don’t get involved in office politics” to “That place is a cesspool.” I trust the individuals who are telling me this so I don’t believe that it’s just idle gossip or baseless criticisms, and I did see a bit of what they are indicating at play during the interview process. Lots of subtle, but still noticeable, power plays were evident among two of the executives on the panel, but I shrugged it off as me reading too much into things. Now, I’m not so sure. Plus, there were a lot of layoffs recently and an insider told me that employee morale is very low. To add to this, the company is not very well-situated in the eyes of the public and the department I will be in is receiving the brunt of the criticisms.

While none of these warnings or bad vibes make me want to reject the offer (quite frankly, I need the money), they do make me a little anxious. I’ve seen you share lots of tips for how to deal with a toxic work environment while you’re an employee, but is there any advice you can give to someone who is willingly about to enter a such an environment? I already plan to keep my options open, keep to myself as much as is possible for an extrovert like me, and actively refrain from getting into toxic conversations, but what else can I do?

Be vigilant about remembering that this place is dysfunctional and don’t get too invested.

That might sound obvious, but one of the ways that dysfunctional workplaces harm the people who work there is by warping their sense of what’s normal … and by getting them overly invested in trying to make something work that they aren’t well positioned to fix in any meaningful way.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a job at a crappy company just because you need the money! We work for money, after all. What’s important is that you don’t lose sight of that, and that you keep some emotional distance so that you don’t get sucked into drama or toxicity or weirdness. You’re just there to do your job and go home.

Be pleasant and polite, but let any crap you see roll off your back. Remember that you don’t need to care about whatever problems exist there and that this is not your organization to fix. (That assumes that you’re in a job that allows for that approach. If you’re senior management or in a department charged with making things work better, like some parts of HR, that’s much harder, so I’m hoping neither of those is the case for you.)

This approach does mean that you might not make the type of close work friendships that you might make in another company. In very dysfunctional environments, close friendships are often based on some degree of commiserating over the mess, and you want to avoid that. And frankly, work friendships can draw you into the dysfunction in ways you don’t expect; you might do an excellent job of distancing yourself from your office’s toxicity, only to find yourself suddenly invested in ways you vowed not to be when it affects someone you’ve grown close to. That’s not to say “don’t care about the people around you” — but part of working in a highly dysfunctional office is that if you invest in anything there, you’re creating an opening for the dysfunction to come for you too at some point. That sucks and is unfair, and it’s also very much the reality of it. So proceed with caution.

All that said, you should also keep in mind that everything you’ve heard so far is secondhand. You’ve heard enough of it that it’s pretty likely it’s true … but it’s also true that different people react to things in different ways. Some people are able to shrug off things that other people run screaming from, and there’s at least some chance that you’ll get there and find that you aren’t as bothered as the people warning you have been. So don’t go in primed to see everything in the worst possible light — because that can make things frustrate you more than they would otherwise. But that’s a delicate balancing act when you combine it with all of the above.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. College Career Counselor*

    Solid advice to help keep the dysfunction at bay. And when you move on from that dysfunctional office, even if you remain above the toxicity for the most part, remember that it may take some time to re-calibrate your sense of what is normal in the workplace. I know it did for me. Best of luck to you, LW!

  2. Neosmom*

    Good day, OP. What does the organization’s Glass Door review look like? Does it parallel what you have heard second-hand?

    1. AvocadoToast*

      You know, I’m finding it harder and harder to trust Glassdoor reviews. I’m not job searching right now, but my SO is. You definitely see some fraud happening – there’s this company where I live that has a horrible reputation. Their Glassdoor reviews are 4.2 stars. If you dig further (back 6 months) you can see all the negative reviews from old employees that mention that they give cash in exchange for good Glassdoor reviews.

      1. Audenc*

        Glassdoor allows employers to “report” reviews that potentially violate Glassdoor’s terms of service. Shockingly, employers tend to only report negative reviews, which can then get purged on a technicality, like alluding to a swear word (“Priorities shift all the effing time”) or individually calling out someone who’s below C-Suite (“my manager sucks”) — both of which are forbidden per the TOC.

        I’ve also worked places where they’ve strongly “encouraged” employees to write positive reviews.

        1. nisie*

          Heck, I’ve seen a company mysteriously get multiple 5 star reviews in a 48 hour period. As if that’s not a red flag.

      2. londonedit*

        Definitely. Glassdoor isn’t hugely popular in the UK, but one place I worked at had a couple of really awful negative reviews posted by a couple of former temporary members of staff. While I was working there, the boss got wind of these, was very annoyed, and started trying to find out how to remove or ameliorate the bad reviews. Sure enough, if you click on the company name now, there are several new reviews from the last few months, incredibly enough all posted by current members of staff, all raving about what an excellent company it is.

    2. OP*

      Hi there, Neosmom. I don’t live in a country where Glass Door reviews are common and, although I checked, there aren’t any for the company unfortunately. Thanks for the suggestion though!

    3. buttercup*

      I recently decided to re-visit the Glassdoor reviews for my company since I first read them before applying for the job. Lo and behold – they cited the same patterns and cracks I’m witnessing now. And then there are a handful of employees in “Anonymous” departments in “Anonymous” roles that have glowing five-star reviews with no “Cons” whatsoever. These five-star reviews have effectively inflated the rating to a solid three stars.

      1. esra*

        You definitely have to scroll beyond the obvious fakes/HR-plants, but I’ve found them really useful when you see trends. Like if I’m looking at a place and reviews repeatedly mention crummy compensation or a terrible work/life balance, I definitely take that into consideration.

    4. Luke*

      Unfortunately the word is out on Glassdoor. Negative reviews are frequently scrubbed or offset by false 4 star entries. Yet it is still a useable source on a company’s culture; if there’s a pattern of negative reviews on the same subject interspersed with unclear & boilerplate 4 star reviews , run.

  3. HS Teacher*

    I know they meant well, but it was kinda crappy of your friends to tell you about all the issues there instead of letting you make your own judgments about your experience there. It’s hard to go into a place with a negative expectation before your first day.

    However, knowing what you’re getting into (since it seems you trust what you’ve heard and saw some evidence of the toxicity first-hand) I’d agree with Alison’s advice. Just keep your head down, stay out of the drama, and continue vigilantly seeking other employment.

    Good luck!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      This, plus be especially cognizant about not automatically falling into a work friendship with the first person who makes friendly overtures. This is a good practice when starting any new job, but especially so when you’re already wary of the office culture and politics in general. It often seems that the person with an axe to grind is the first person to reach out to the new employee. It’s easy to say you’re not there to make friendships but to get caught off guard when a friendly-seeming overture is made.

      1. Life is good*

        “but part of working in a highly dysfunctional office is that if you invest in anything there, you’re creating an opening for the dysfunction to come for you too at some point.”
        This right here! MJI is right on about not becoming fast friends with the first person who tries to buddy up with you. In fact, my advice is to stay pretty neutral until you get the lay of the land. My former dysfunctional office was full of people with a personal agenda who didn’t give a rats a$$ about anyone else. I scared myself at how hard it was to get myself to admit it was a terrible place to work because I was so invested in the culture. I sleep much better at night since extracting myself from that mess.

        1. Beatrice*

          This! In my last job, the first person who would try to buddy up with you would be Dracona. She was super friendly to new people because the rest of us were reserved around her, because she loved malicious gossip and backstabbing. New people were a fresh audience who hadn’t figured out to steer clear of her.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Yep. First approacher at a new job is typically a Regina George (Mean girl’s reference). Just be polite and then move on.

            1. OP*

              Thanks so much for commenting! I appreciate the advice.

              I never even thought to be wary of the first person who approaches me because, well, I’m usually the first person who approaches new people! As I said in the letter, I’m an extrovert and I’m always worried that people will feel isolated in a new environment, so I usually reach out first. I’ll do better moving forward – not just with this situation but in the future.

      2. buttercup*

        This is interesting. I’m currently in a shitty job and have a LOT of beef with my manager (who I think treats me badly). I am also regularly assigned to train and coach new hires. (Fun fact: we got a lot of new hires this summer because so many people quit!) The new hires are lovely and rely on me for guidance and advice. I try really hard to give them useful and constructive advice and keep the negativity out of it. I think so far I have been pretty successful at not betraying my negative view of the company. For some context, we have really shitty managers and a dysfuncitonal management system. So a lot of my advice is grounded in what I learned for my experience with the managers, and what behaviors I now know to be effective with them, without me outright saying, “Yeah, so Mr. So and So is an idiot, so you have to check on him a million times to make sure he does his job and gives you the necessary documents…”

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Same! I reach out to the new person because I know not everyone does. I want them to see a friendly face, know that they can ask me where things are, and connect with someone on their first day. I’m a lot of things, but a Mean Girl isn’t one of them. Yikes!

      3. Alternative Person*

        Suddenly some interactions with a couple of people right when I started my current main job make a lot more sense. And their subsequent reactions when I worked out what was going on.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      Eh, I think this is a bit of a matter of taste. I’d much rather be warned and be able to go in with a bit more caution. And if it’s a friend I presumably have a reasonable sense of whether they’re bothered by some of the same things I am, or if they’re the sort of person who tends to complain about everything.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Me too. I would rather go in with eyes wide open so that I can make my own judgment without my people pleaser bias making a big ‘ol mess when I get there.

        1. OP*

          Everyone’s concerns were things that made sense. While there were some vague comments, I was also told certain things that were specific to both the environment and to my personality.

          I’m a people pleaser too! I tend to think that everyone is on the same wavelength as I am and get blindsided when I find out they’re not. Having my guard up helps me to pay more attention to certain things and understand that I can be myself while also being more cautious than usual. I’m really, really happy to have this information going in.

      2. Alternative Person*

        This. I got warned about a place I had accepted a job at a few years back from an acquaintance in very factual terms. It meant I went into the job a bit more guarded and probably saved me even more emotional stress/pressure, and helped me keep up my job search (and the cover work/temping) that allowed me to make the connections to get a better job, less than six months later.

    3. Cordoba*

      I don’t see this as being crappy of LWs friends at all.

      If I’m about to start something new that will have a big impact on my life I’d much prefer that trusted people with inside knowledge share their experiences with me; *especially* if those experiences are not positive.

      These friends aren’t spoiling the ending of a movie, they’re giving LW actionable information that can help her new job go smoothly and help her earn a living.

      1. MissGirl*

        Yes, especially since she hasn’t started yet. These are data points and the more data you have, the more educated you are to make a right decision.

        I always reach out to my network when interviewing.

        1. Cordoba*

          I’d actually be bothered more if I found out after I started the job that friends did have useful information but opted not to share it with me because they wanted me to form my own judgments.

          Nuts to that, my job is my meal ticket. Any information that helps me to be better prepared for it is welcome.

      2. Gingerblue*

        Yeah, I’m the same way. I’d far rather have that info up front, and I’d be furious if I found out later that everyone knew I was heading into a toxic job and didn’t tell me, especially if I turned down later interviews or offers because I was missing that information.

        Besides, if you know a number of people who work someplace and they’ve never said anything bad about it, you’re not making up your mind in a vacuum anyway–you’re taking into account that your friends have presumably had normal experiences there (because if not, why would they have pretended it was normal to you…?). And then your job turns out to be a toxic cesspool and you’re left wondering why you’re the only one with that reaction. Are you the crazy one? Maybe this is actually normal?

    4. Liane*

      What I find crappy is that no one told her any of these things *before OP accepted the offer.* Did OP not tell anyone she had applied at ToxinCo. until after she got the offer? Was everything puppies & kitties at ToxinCo for years and then the place suddenly transformed into Mordor’s Corporate HQ 1.5 days after OP’s final interview?

      1. Daisy*

        From the way OP words it, it sounds like OP told them after accepting. Employment opportunities in my area are fairly poor so I don’t mention every time I apply for something and get rejected because I don’t want people to ask after it later.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Yeah, I’m the same. If anything I mention I have an interview for x position, and that’s only to those closest to me.

          I wouldn’t necessarily think to ask, either. I know what my friends and relatives do and sometimes where their job is in terms of location, but I many times I don’t really know the name of the firm/school/agency/what have you unless it’s a really big thing (my friends know I work part time for the comic con in my city because it’s the bloody comic con, but not the agency I work for as a translator, for example).

    5. Daisy*

      My workplace has some interesting dynamics and I would have really appreciated a warning. I got to burgeoning friendship with a coworker who suddenly turned on me because the duty supervisor didn’t agree with the way we’d agreed to divide duties and then turned back to rainbows and butterflies the next day.

    6. OP*

      Thanks for the comment.
      I’m actually really happy that my friends told me. Forewarned is forearmed and some of the information is actually going to be useful.
      In response to Liane, the only person I mentioned the interview to before I got the offer works there (in another building/department) and she did give me a few warnings. Everyone else’s advice piled on after I got the offer because that’s when they found out. Also, I laughed aloud at “Mordor’s Corporate HQ”. Thanks for the visual!

      1. Liane*

        Maybe telling people earlier in the process is more common in my area/circle than in yours? And having warnings before your start is better than finding out the hard way later that your bosses are way more toxic than they seem. Good luck. Maybe it won’t be Mordor’s Corporate HQ, or even a branch office, after all. (Glad you liked that.)

        1. OP*

          Oh, no. Pardon. Let me clarify.

          I’ve been applying to jobs for months and have a large number of applications out at the moment (at least 50-60). I usually applied to at least one or two positions per week, and towards the middle of my job search, I stopped updating my friends. They knew that I was looking but I think I got a little tired of the “good luck” messages because, by this time, I was really discouraged and frustrated. When I got through to the interview stage, I told the friend whom I mentioned earlier, but because I didn’t want to get hopes up, I didn’t say anything to anyone else. So they were only apprised once I got the offer and felt confident (finally) that my job search wasn’t fruitless. I think if I had applied for the position at the beginning of my search rather than towards the middle, I would’ve gotten some of the same information.

          And yes, I definitely hope it won’t be anything like Mordor’s Corporate HQ. Although, if it is, at least I’d know I have material for a good book. :)

    7. Traffic_Spiral*

      As a former toxic job-haver, I disagree. The boss gave me some crazy vibes in our interview, I noticed the turnover rate was high, and I had one email interaction with the boss’s head minion that fully warned me this place was bananas. As such, I could prepare myself mentally for what I was in for, be extra-careful around certain people, and be in a mindset to observe the whole thing from a detached POV (like it was sitcom). The people who came in not knowing about it nearly had breakdowns. Seriously, one quit the entire profession and had stress dreams about being back for a full year after she left.

    8. CastIrony*

      Ha! When I announced to my present workplace that I got a full time job at a local small restaurant/gift shop, I think it was my main boss who warned me to not work there because she had a daughter-in-law who worked there. The issue given to me was that I wouldn’t get my paychecks on time (I would get it by the next business day.)

      That was the least of my problems. It was so bad that I walked out politely almost after three months and got my present position back so I could guarantee having any income at all. It was very humbling.

      tl; dr: I find that the warnings were something that I was glad that I got when I was in a bad full-time job.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I would probably do the same. I’ve had too many toxic jobs and I’m just not willing to go there anymore. Literally. If it turns out that the place isn’t that bad, or that you are shielded from that bad stuff, you can always drop the job search.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        Agreed. I was looking to leave my last job and went for an interview at a place that turned out to be a dilapidated shack of a building with a small concrete slab next to the air conditioning unit in lieu of a parking lot. I kept driving. My coworker had an even worse experience when she went for an interview and overheard her would-be boss screaming at an employee in the next room. Suddenly understanding why they had a vacancy, my coworker walked out. We both opted to stick with the bad job until something that wasn’t just as bad opened up, but we ended up leaving anyway, without anything else lined up, when it got too bad. I worked at a temp agency for a couple of weeks. That may not be an option for the OP if the money isn’t good and they really need the money, but considering how bad toxic jobs can be for your health, I’d recommend it anyway.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      At least continue to job hunt until you get there and can make your own judgments about the toxicity of the place.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      It sounds like OP is pretty clear on their decision to work there. I don’t think we need to spend a long time trying to revisit the decision.

      1. Morning Glory*

        And it sounds like Snickerdoodle was telling them to continue job searching while working there, and to leave it off their resume once they find a new job.
        That is not telling them to revisit their decision of taking the job, it’s advice on moving forward.

    4. pope suburban*

      Absolutely. Keeping up the job hunt was one of the few things that made it possible for me to keep going into a toxic job that I needed for the money. Having this focus on the world beyond, and telling myself that the toxic job wasn’t forever, was really important to staying as grounded as I could. It was still really hard, and I agree with the commenter upthread that recalibrating your normal meter will take time, even if you employ every coping and disengagement skill there is.

    5. Kes*

      Agreed – I would keep an open mind, in case your friends’ information is not entirely accurate or things have changed, but go in cautiously, trying to avoid getting sucked into people’s drama and dysfunction where possible, and continue job searching in parallel.

    6. OP*

      I most definitely will. I live in a small country (population just above 250K people) and the job market is dismal at the moment. I’ll take what I can get and keep searching in the mean time.
      Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Janey*

    I like Allison’s advice and would also add that each time a new member is added or subtracted from a team it changes the dynamic. The team I am on was pretty stale when I joined it and just having new blood in the mix with different ideas helped the whole team think about things in a different light.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah and OP can use this to their advantage too. “I’m new and I’m not part of whatever drama existed in the past,” can work pretty well sometimes. If there’s a few new people, maybe they can get together and Be The Change. I do a lot of wide eyed optimism / obliviousness when I’m walking into a situation that I know has a lot of heavy history, and sometimes you really can just opt out of it.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        So true. My previous job was somewhat dysfunctional, especially between my manager and my predecessor. I didn’t learn about the drama until I’d been there a few months, which meant I was able to evaluate my manager on my own without the influence of the past. He was far from a perfect manager, but I could see that he was really trying and that my experience was very different from my predecessor (who ended up filing grievances with HR for what I consider somewhat valid reasons). I’m glad I didn’t have that knowledge when I started, and I was able to create my own work environment without the colored perceptions of what had happened before I got there.

    2. BRR*

      This is a great point. I’ve witnessed my team transition from toxic to the toxic people being a small minority who are now unhappy since we’re functional. Of course, my own stress has skyrocketed during that transition period.

  5. LadyByTheLake*

    When I worked at a previous ToxicJob, it helped to look at it as a soap opera or comedy that I was viewing rather than participating in. If someone is predictably awful, or things are routinely like a Keystone Cops movie, that can be amusing and viewing it that way can help keep the necessary distance. I note that it helped that I was continuing my job search, so I was able to move to a job that was absolutely perfect in less than a year. When people asked why I was looking so soon, given that my company was also In The News For Not Good Reasons I was able to vaguely say that I was concerned about the long-term viability of the company without giving details, which everyone seemed to understand.

    1. Snickerdoodle*

      LOL; it was In The News For Not Good Reasons and they actually had to ask why you were leaving? What?!

      1. ToS*

        They likely asked everybody the same questions. Aaaand sometimes there are the rare orchid department in the midst of the swamp…

    2. LQ*

      I think this is a good way to look at it. You can do a lot by changing the music. The difference between a comedy and a horror can be just the music and lighting. So try hang onto the comedy lighting and music. When you want to vent to people about it, vent as if it was hilarious. Trying to keep an eye on how far from a dull dull day this comedy is will be a challenge, but is an important one.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        “The difference between a comedy and a horror can be just the music and lighting.”

        Great comment! I’m getting so much insight from this thread. Love it, thank you. And you’re right, of course.

    3. Cheryl Blossom*

      This can work for a certain amount of time– it helped keep me a little bit sane in my Toxic Job! But when the toxicity is directed at you, it often doesn’t help.

    4. Confused Employee*

      YES! I do this a lot in life and it helps me handle soooo many things. NYC subway delays, for example.

    5. Mimmy*

      I got a chuckle at your Keystone Kops comment. It reminded me of a comment a couple of coworkers made. Usually there are changes to our daily class schedule, but one day it got so confusing, my coworker said he envisioned the Benny Hill theme music playing as we were trying to figure it out.

  6. Anon for this*

    Think long and hard about this new job. I’ve been in two toxic jobs and the toll they take on you can be considerable. It can be insidious too. Dysfunction is normalized and it does a number on you.

    If you do feel you have to take this position, I would go in there staying the heck out of any politics as much as you can–which may not be possible, depending on what the actual situation is. Do your work, be polite, but don’t get involved. And keep looking for something else .

    1. Snickerdoodle*

      Yeah, toxic jobs can do a number on your self-worth, your expectations of normal, etc., and it takes a LONG time to recover. When I first started my current job, I was paranoid I was about to be fired every time my boss wanted to see me because my old boss never asked to speak to anyone unless it was to threaten their jobs over something ridiculous. Abuse was tolerated or ignored, whereas here I complained about a creepy guy on vanpool, and it got dealt with in five minutes. It’s just like an abusive relationship; the effects linger long after you leave it.

      1. OP*

        Noted. I most definitely will try to stay above the fray and not get bogged down by the dysfunction. Thank you!

    2. CastIrony*

      I’m still reeling from a toxic job! Now I have this thirst to know what’s real and what’s not- in other words, to find out the truth.

      If OP is reading this, I’d like to tell them that I’ve seen nothing but good advice in the comments. I also want to add that listening to music helps, even if it’s the radio that’s bring broadcast. I like to sing my favorites in my head to get through the day.

  7. Precious Wentletrap*

    The best career advice I ever got: “You’re not paid to care. You’re not paid to take it personally.”

    1. CDM*

      The toxicity at OldJob got a lot easier to tolerate once I managed to really internalize “They don’t pay me enough to care about that.” As well as making the deliberate decision to not allow myself to get anxious about things I had no control over.

    2. Carrie Oakie*

      Yup to all this. At my last job, I reached a point of throwing my hands up and saying to myself “I’m only one person with so much ability to multitask/hours in the day/etc.” and when I put in my notice it became, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

      1. OP*

        “You’re not paid to care. You’re not paid to take it personally.”
        OK, I’m most definitely adopting that mantra. Thanks so much!

  8. FCJ*

    I work in one of the least dysfunctional departments in a very dysfunctional, low-morale organization. Like you, LW, I knew about the issues going in. My situation is a little different in that the bulk of the dysfunction and morale issues are because of a particular situation that has an end date, after which everything will be very different, and, ideally, better. Having that little light at the end of the tunnel changes the dynamic a bit from what it sounds like you might be dealing with.

    I deal with it by approaching it with more or less the same attitude that I use to read this column. I watch, do my job, keep my distance from the worst parts of the dysfunction as much as I can, and file away whatever useful information I can about navigating the politics. Aside from that, might as well enjoy the soap opera. Good luck.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      You can also make your own light at the end of the tunnel, if you know you need to keep this job for say, a year before you can start job searching. I bought a calendar and every time I turned a month over, I reminded myself that this job wasn’t forever, and I just needed to make the best of it for a while.

      1. Anon From Here*

        Can relate: I’ve done that in the past. I had a gig that soured shortly after I started, but it was time-limited. I kept my head down, did my work, and watched the money grow in my bank account as I approached the light at the end of the tunnel.

      2. Bea*

        Absolutely agree.

        After my last weird implosion of a great job turned toxic, I walked away so much easier than my other jobs that kept me hanging in there thinking it was “til death do us part”.

      3. Snickerdoodle*

        I literally counted the days left at one job. When I was in school, I counted down how many Fridays were left until the end of the school year. It won’t work without a definite exit strategy in place, though, so maybe some of the other coping mechanisms in place. Think of it as filing away useful information on navigating politics, as FCJ suggested.

        1. OP*

          Thanks so much. I like those suggestions!
          I’ll be sure to keep a calendar handy and keep an eye on my growing savings account. My sister and I are saving to send our parents on a cruise for their 30th wedding anniversary in August, so I’ll use that as my “light” and reason to keep going no matter what goes on.

  9. Cordoba*

    The nice thing about bad jobs is that it’s not too hard to improve on them. Anything that pays the same and is solidly neutral will be a big step up.

    I’d approach it as though you’re a contractor or a temp. Show up, put in the work, get paid, go home. Don’t get too involved in the people or their drama or the day-to-day frustrations.

    Try to do good work, but don’t fret about doing the best work in the history of work. You’re only there for the money and the experience to put on your resume.

    Save money, try networking, and keep job searching for something better. It’s much easier to find a job once you already have one.

  10. Angelinha*

    I agree with keeping in mind that it’s secondhand. I heard some similar things when leaving one job for another, primarily from my colleagues and old boss, who were certain I was going to hate it. Turns out that exactly what they thought they would hate about the job, I loved – the new job had a culture that I fit in with a lot better and that was very different from the place I was leaving. I stayed there 5 years and mostly loved it, even though I routinely heard from coworkers that it was a crappy place to work. People value different things in the workplace (and jobs within the same company can be very different too!)

    1. Ama*

      The place I last worked a lot of people would love — and maybe if I had been in a role that really suited me, I would have, too. There were a lot of great perks that were very much not standard in that industry, the PTO was great, etc. But I was in a role that I was really ill-suited for and one that had a ridiculously high workload to boot, and every attempt my boss and I made to try to alter various job responsibilities so it wouldn’t be quite so bad were shot down for various reasons (ranging from valid logistical limitations to outright gaslighting). It was very clear that the role I had was the role I was stuck with as long as I was there so I left. And yet I look at their website every so often and there’s been very little turnover in the five years since I departed, so plenty of people seem to find it a great place to work.

      1. OP*

        I thought long and hard about what I was hearing – and from whom – before writing in. The people who gave me the advice aren’t naturally pessimistic or gossipers and at least two of them left the company because of stress. One went jobless for almost a year rather than go back even though she was asked. So I definitely think there’s merit to it.
        I will, however, be sure to form my own opinions as you suggested. I’ll use their advice to keep my guard up but I won’t let it cloud my judgment.
        Thanks so much for the advice!

  11. New Hire*

    I had almost the same experience interviewing for my current job. I knew a school acquaintance who had held the same post about a year ago (and moved on after only a few months), so I took her out for coffee to ask about it. I thought I’d get a bit of info on the company and what to expect from the interview, ended up hearing about all the drama that went down between this acquaintance and the company’s director. Like, personal drama, passive-aggression which later escalated to screaming matches. Sounded like a real nightmare, I almost pulled the plug on attending the interview.

    I went through the interview (with the director in question) and accepted the job, partly because I didn’t get the bad vibe I expected from this woman, partly because I really REALLY needed the work. Started out very apprehensive about it and expecting the worst. I’ve been here a little over a month and haven’t seen any evidence of what my acquaintance was talking about. I’m starting to think it was either a very bad time in this director’s life, or my acquaintance was especially thin-skinned, or there was just something about their personalities that caused the clash. Mind you, it’s been a month, things could still change for me.

    So I think this is all great advice, try not to go in with too many preconceptions even though you’ve heard this stuff from multiple people, and do your best to insulate yourself from the BS.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Seconded about different people finding some personal traits more or less tolerable than others. I worked for six years for a boss that many other people said that wouldn’t be able to stand. They all warned me that I was going to hate working for him, but t he things that my coworkers didn’t like about him didn’t bother me at all. They preferred the other boss, and I don’t think I would have been able to stand working for him. The one I preferred was flexible and freewheeling (sometimes to a fault), and the one I didn’t prefer was very methodical (and to me, stiflingly rigid).

    2. Anon for this*

      I think it depends what’s causing the dysfunction and the toxicity.

      So here’s my cautionary tale. I worked for a narcissist and there was a pattern. We all went in, and at first, she was great. So so supportive. So so complimentary. She was so glad the new hire was on board. How awesome the new hire was. How great it was all going to be. So even if the new hire had heard things about Toxic Boss, the tendency was to dismiss them. Some became snitches for her.

      And then almost every single time, she would turn a dime. Now the new hire was awful. Now the new hire was a mess. She would rail about how awful the new hire’s voice was. How it grated on her nerves. At a certain point, she’d get a new target, and the new hire either left or became one of the many, many walking wounded, who were also systematically being conditioned to think they could never get a job anywhere else.

      She’d switch up her game too. Start cozying up to people who had worked for the place for a long time, who would convince themselves that “Toxic Boss has changed. You just have to know how to work with her.” And then she would turn on them too. She would scream at people in meetings. I have heard that she blocked people trying to transfer. She was buddy/buddy with HR so that never went well for those who dared to go down that road. People were literally cheering when she left to take a job in another state.

      It takes years to get over that.

      1. OP*

        “Try not to go in with too many preconceptions even though you’ve heard this stuff from multiple people, and do your best to insulate yourself from the BS.” Most definitely! Thank you.
        Anon for this, so sorry about your experience. I really hope that you’ve been able to move on emotionally and that it doesn’t still affect you to this day.

      2. I See Real People*

        Oh man. I had this boss too in a previous life. All the way to the ‘literally cheering when she left’. It took a while to get over, like you said.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        My father did that. He would be verbally abusive, then seem reasonable, and I would hope he changed. He never had. He usually used whatever he learned by being reasonable, against me. I didn’t fully break away from him until my 30’s. It took a long time to get over and understand the problem was with him, not me.
        23 years after I broke off our relationship, he’s still pretending he didn’t do anything.

    3. ToS*

      Agreed. You might be the new hire that tips the balance toward FUNctionality. Toxic people can leave, or have a change of approach (with or without HR/discipline/a brain transplant). You’ve had people outline that you need to leave the rose-colored-lenses at home.

      Other things that help – don’t get isolated. Stay in tune with professional groups either online or in person to keep perspective. Yes, this site helps with that. Toastmasters is inexpensive and international, and that might keep your head & heart above the fray with in-person exchanges.

      Have good boundaries, as trust is earned. They only need a warm glow to go with your application, interview and acceptance, not your life story. When you see good, productive work go on, encourage it. Let gossip stop with you. Recognize that part of the story is not all of the story.

      Yes, some jobs are about a paycheck, some of this is to keep your mental health intact knowing that not all dysfunction gets past destruction toward resurrection. Best wishes.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! I’ll definitely take all of what you’ve said into consideration and try to apply what/where I can.

        “They only need a warm glow to go with your application, interview and acceptance, not your life story.” I feel like you wrote this because you know me! I can definitely get too involved and overshare. I’ll work on that for sure.

        Thanks so much for your response.

  12. Sloan Kittering*

    I had a mental ritual that I did every time I left the office – sort of “leaving the problems at the door.” It was my job to do the best I could for the 8.5 hours a day I was there, but I refused to take any of it home with me, even mentally. When I was done I was done. This attitude was what got me through two years there until I could respectably move on.

    1. OP*

      I do tend to “take” work home with me – even if it’s just mentally. I’ll definitely have to keep this in mind.
      Thank you!

  13. Oh So Very Anon*

    I was once hired as a temp to work for someone who was NOTORIOUS for being a crappy boss. Expected miracles, yelled, failed to participate in the niceties, and was generally an all-around grumpy-puss. They’d hired a temp to replace his Exec Assistant while she was out on Mat leave, because nobody in the organization would work for him.

    He and I got along famously. I loved working for him! Although he kept his distance, and he did expect miracles, he never once yelled at me. I felt respected. I don’t need my boss to be my friend. I need clear direction, which he gave in spades. Also I was a temp, with an end date.

    Moral of this story: Go in with an open mind, and make up your own mind. It may be just the perfect mesh for your skills and personality. Just because others hated it doesn’t mean you will.

    And… what Janey said. New people bring a whole new dynamic. Give it a chance. If you hate it, you can collect a paycheck while you look for the next opportunity.

    1. irene adler*

      I have a friend with a similar experience. He was told he was to report to a new boss in two weeks’ time. New boss had the reputation of being difficult to work for. She was hard to please, very exacting, extremely detail-oriented. Demanding.

      He frets the whole two weeks.

      He shows up for work expecting the worst.

      They got along famously. Her exacting, detail-oriented personality mirrored his exactly. He realized her ‘demanding’ ways were simply wanting her reports to be thorough. He was glad to have a boss that appreciated this concept as deeply as he did.

      You are right. Give it a chance.

      1. OP*

        I will do, thank you.
        I do think there’s merit to what they’re saying but I’ll do my best to not let it cloud my judgment.

  14. AMG*

    You’re fortunate enough to have some warning – sometimes you don’t no matter the questions you asked during your interview or the research you did prior to excepting the offer. Take that information and plan accordingly financially/professionally in case you have to make a quick exit.
    I found out within my first week of a new job I’d walked into a toxic nightmare and started sending out my resume again right away. I have my final interview tomorrow with a great company and if successful, I plan to remove my current company from my resume. I’ll explain that I took an extended vacation between positions if questioned about the month’s gap on my resume in any future job searches.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I think so too. I’m glad for the warnings and I’ll definitely keep my eyes on job openings, just in case.
      Good luck on your interview tomorrow! I hope that all goes well for you.

  15. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    “Be vigilant about remembering that this place is dysfunctional and don’t get too invested.”

    I would also add, “…but enter the place with an open mind.” It might not be what you think. But yeah, it could be.

    I went from one job – to another – very early in my career – because I needed the money. And I was in the new position for around two months and realized how toxic the atmosphere there was. But I viewed it “this is not the last stop — this is not the last stop — this is not the end”….

    Because the distraction of lack of money was off the table, I made the best I could of the situation and when I was forced out around 14-15 months after I started, I made a jump to a higher plateau. And I left the old place behind. I felt badly for those I left behind but, gee whizzers – perhaps I belonged with a bunch of faster horses (the Tom T. Hall song also goes on “younger women, older whiskey, more money”… applies as one sees fit).

    AND – enjoy the soap opera. Someday, after a long successful career, you’ll laugh about this.

    1. OP*

      I’ll definitely try to keep an open mind while keeping my wits about me. Thanks so much.
      Also, I’m loving all of these soap opera comments. I will most definitely look at it that way as much as I can.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I am at the end of a 45-year career – probably – and now, I look back and laugh at those days – I had more than one toxic situation. What you’re going to learn, going forward, is how to avoid these positions.

        Situations CAN turn toxic – and that’s often beyond your control. That’s another thing to keep your head up on.

        1. OP*

          That’s great advice, thank you. I’m worried about entering the environment, but I will try to learn as much as I can – about myself and about others. Thanks again.

  16. MissGirl*

    You mention needing the money. If it’s to pay debts, pay them down as fast as possible. Build a larger than usual emergency fund since they mention lay-offs. You want to feel like if you had to leave, you could survive.

    Frame this as a learning experience. You can learn a lot on how not to do stuff.

    Remind yourself this a choice for x reasons. You’re not stuck there; you’re choosing to be there.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for the advice! I’ll definitely learn as much as I can and think of my being there as a choice.
      No outstanding debt just yet but my student loans come due in October so that’s my main focus. I’ll definitely start and keep up an emergency fund.
      Thanks again!

  17. SarahTheEntwife*

    Depending on how much of a time-suck the job is and what your other obligations are, is there an outside interest you could focus on? Even if it’s just “learn how to make pie” or “check out all this year’s Hugo nominees from the library” I think I would find that sort of situation easier to deal with if I had another goal that I felt more invested in than my job. It would just give that “need to be useful” impulse something healthier to latch on to.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, during my bad job I told myself my “real” work was my creative pursuit and the toxic office was more just a day job to pay the bills. That’s not how I usually approach my career but it did help at the time.

      1. OP*

        That’s a great idea, thank you. I volunteer for a number of different organisations, so I’ll definitely use that work to help take my mind off of the environment.
        Also, I do a lot of freelance work (graphic design, writing, editing, etc.), so I’m looking to increase that as much as possible so I’ll have something else to focus/fall back on.

          1. OP*

            Thank you! My “Feel Good Music” YouTube playlist is currently being updated so I’ll use it counteract any bad vibes as much as possible. :)

  18. Bea*

    All my bosses have been viewed unfavorably for various reasons. Most can be summed up as cranky by many others. However they’re my biggest fans and I adored them in the end. So “your new boss is a *%×*/” is easy to deal with for me in that you file it away so you’re not caught off guard by the idea if she really is difficult.

    A lot of these perceptions can be true to the person talking to you. Go in with your eyes open and guards in place but also ready to make your own final conclusion. I’m so used to bitterness and cleaning up messy offices with personality conflicts that none of this sounds too concerning to me.

    1. OP*

      The thing is that I can deal with cranky people. My favourite university lecturers were the ones most feared/dislike across campus. I don’t mind people who are exacting or who have high demands. The warning about the new manager came from her not standing up for her staff as she should. Crankiness I can handle; being thrown under the bus…not so much.
      However, I’ll definitely keep my eyes and mind open as I go in.
      Thank you!

      1. Bea*

        Ah yeah being spineless is a whole different kettle of fish! I would still stay cautious of her but I’ve seen people spin so many stories in their own favor instead of accepting they were at fault.

        I’m used to “Boss didn’t remind me a 4th time so it was late. Shoulda reminded me again, I can’t believe they expect me up remember my own deadlines geeeez” kind of crap. But I’m always in the position to see much of this unfold.

        I had someone fired for refusing to answer his supervisor when asked a direct question. And the story from the fired side was “I shouldn’t have to talk to him! He didn’t even say please! He’s an a!$hole”

        1. OP*

          For not saying “please”?? Really? Wow. That’s…something.

          That’s a good point re: taking ownership of one’s faults. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out and do my best to make sure that I accept where I’ve messed up.

    2. Sara without an H*

      True. I’d try to give the new manager the benefit of the doubt for at least the first six months to a year. I’ve worked with and for people who were quite reasonable during normal times, then turned into werewolves during the end-of-the-fiscal-year-book-closing ritual.

      And I admit — I’ve been called a bitch by employees over my brutal insistence that they show up when scheduled and get work done, so that does affect my take on this.

      1. OP*

        Ah, yes. The dreaded deadline panic. I’ll be sure to look out for it.

        I’m sorry that you’ve been called a bitch for expecting that people do what they should be doing. You sound like you’re a reasonable person (and manager) to me, if it’s any consolation. :)

  19. it_guy*

    OP, a lot of that environment is directly based on how the manager is!

    I worked for three years until my manager retired that was a great place to work, but on my first day, based on the comments I wanted to go screaming into the night.

    I have worked at really weird places that all but required a laugh track and a bag of popcorn to make through the day because of the weird antics. Just remember, that it’s the job not you that’s the problem.

    1. OP*

      Yes, that’s my fear. A lot of the warnings are about the manager.
      I’ll keep an open mind and go in willing to learn but also being firm about the fact that I won’t allow myself to be walked over.
      I’ll definitely keep “it’s the job not you that’s the problem” in mind.
      Thanks so much.

  20. MuseumChick*

    Remember, having a job doesn’t stop you from continuing to job hunt. So, if this place does turn out to be as toxic as it sounds like it will be, keep putting feelers out there for new opportunities.

  21. Sloan Kittering*

    Hope for the future is the key to getting through a crappy present. Here was my life at a toxic job: 1) plan to take a walk at lunch every day, or plan to eat lunch out of the office if at all possible. If your morning is crappy, you can remind yourself that there’s something pleasant coming up. 2) plan a relaxing re-entry ritual for yourself when you’re done with work. If your afternoon is crappy, at least you can look forward to Rocking Out In the Car time or rage-eating chocolate or whatever. 3) plan a really fun vacation no less frequently than every six months. If your weeks is crappy, you can think about how great it will be in Tahiti or whatever equivalent you can afford. 4) remind yourself that you have to put in a year or two but you will be on your way to a new better job soon. Getting sooner every day.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Oh and I forgot, I was careful to schedule Gym Time right after work to pour my frustrations into. Sweat was basically just another way for the tears to get out :P

  22. sleepyinseattle*

    I’ve worked at a place that has a reputation for toxicity for several years now. Things are much, much better than they were a few years ago. But honestly, even when it was really bad and tears in the hallway and fights in staff meetings were daily occurrences, I have always liked my job. I have a good relationship with my boss. My team is solid. I like what I do. Even as I recognize all the things that need to change (and there are many), I’m not miserable every day or anything.

    The times I’ve been most unhappy are when I end up steeped in other people’s issues. That’s the stuff that makes me miserable. Where I engage constantly with issues and problems I can’t influence that really drags me down. Mostly when I’m unhappy about something in my own sphere I talk to the people involved directly, focus on what I can change about the situation and let the rest go. I also focus on how I can protect my team from some of the more toxic people and influences here. I do my best to clear obstacles from their path and make this a decent place for them to work. That’s the best I can do.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes! It’s amazing how much other people’s complaining can drag you down if you let it. If you’re feeling okay, don’t let someone else ruin your experience of that.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! I really, really like your last paragraph and will save it for future reference.
        I definitely take people’s problems on (I cry at RSPCA commercials and golden buzzers on talent shows) so I’ll have to work on detaching. I’ll take your advice into consideration.

  23. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I agree with all of Alison’s advice, and would add: if possible, cultivate an active and full life outside of work. It’s a lot easier to deal with on-the-job stress and dysfunction if you can focus on fun, exciting, healthy things as soon as you leave the parking lot. Of course, not everyone is in a job that can “leave work at work”, but I would strongly recommend trying to do so as much as possible.

    A strong support network of friends and loved ones will be able to listen to (a reasonable amount of) your work-related venting but then help you redirect your focus, rather than falling into the cycle of endless commiserating and complaining that work friends often create. And I know for me, when I can find ways to spend my time outside of work – like a hobby, exercise, volunteering, or just spending time with my pets and family – I’m less able to dwell on the things that bother me at work than when I just sit around and think/complain to anyone who will listen. I’ve noticed that the less time I spend thinking about workplace dysfunction outside of work, the less they bother me when I walk in the office in the morning.

    1. OP*

      Thanks so much. I definitely have the tendency to stew so I’ll pay attention and make sure I’m not doing that. I’ll also make sure to cultivate my social life as suggested (my boyfriend is a jazz musician so going to his gigs is a huge stress reliever).
      Thanks again!

  24. Goya de la Mancha*

    Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

    Second-hand is hard because while you trust your friends, everything is subjective. Personally, I have found it useful to know when I’m entering a toxic situation. As long as you don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the toxicity (which can be a lot easier said than done), it becomes one of those things that you just shake your head about as you walk out the door at quitting time. As Allison points out, there is nothing wrong with this job being “just a paycheck”. Enhance your life outside of work to help balance and try not to let things follow you home!

  25. Let's Talk About Splett*

    When I was unhappy in a job, it helped me to keep a running list of things I liked about working there, no matter how trivial, like “vending machine in break room always has Dr. Pepper”, “short commute”, “generous PTO”, and try to focus on those things.

  26. Mrs. D*

    Find ways to disassociate with your work environment. Be attentive to what your job entails, and produce good work as an employee. BUT! In addition to acknowledging what things about your workplace are dysfunctional, make sure the dysfunction stays at work and doesn’t bleed into other aspects of your life and your time off the clock. Truly distance yourself from the dysfunction. If you’re on your break, be away from your desk. Step outside and breathe in the fresh air. When you clock out for lunch, leave the building. See if there is a park nearby that you can eat lunch at. Take “what happens at the office stays at the office” to heart and leave the crazy at work when you go home.

    Part of the battle is knowing what you’re getting into. The other part is making sure it doesn’t affect you physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. Because it will if you let it.

    1. OP*

      This is so great. Thanks so much for sharing that. I’ll definitely do things to detach during the day as well.

  27. AutumnAlmanac*

    One of the things that interests me is that you received so many warnings. Do you live and/or work in a fairly small and close community, or keep in close contact with a local professional network? I ask because the situation you describe seems out of the ordinary to me. To receive several separate warnings strikes me as a definite warning sign.

    In any case, I think you’re right to be wary, and I think Alison’s advice is spot on.

    I know what it’s like to really need a job and a paycheck, and if I were in your situation, I’d take the job too, but I’d keep a very open mind about my new workplace. In your situation, I’d probably keep my head down as far as possible to start with, do my job to the best of my ability, and wait to see how the whole thing played out. You never know, the whole thing may turn out to be a mare’s nest.

    If, once you’re in the job, you’re worried about whether you’re reading things with a bias, I suggest casually chatting with a friend who is wholly unconnected with your new workplace, without specifically mentioning things as problems, and see if they pick up on any issues. Not foolproof, but it might help.

    Good luck, and please update us if you can!

    1. OP*

      I live in a very small country (around 250K people) and the company is one of our biggest Teapot Producers so I know many people who work(ed) there. My dad worked there when I was child, his first cousin is on the board of directors, and two of the people I went to university with work there currently. The associations don’t even stop there. Lol. Very, very small world here.

      Thanks so much for the advice!

      1. AutumnAlmanac*

        Ah, gotcha. In which case, the amount of advice you’ve received makes a lot more sense to me. My original advice stands I think, but I’d be even more wary in that case, because you’ll be dealing with people who know you. I think that concentrating on the tasks you’re given will serve you well in the long run.

          1. AutumnAlmanac*

            OP, I know this reply is a few days late, but I just re-read my last comment, and realised it could come off as a bit patronising. I’m hoping you didn’t read it that way, but my wording was a bit off in retrospect and I’m not always great at conveying tone in text, so my apologies if it did sound patronising! I certainly didn’t mean it that way. Good luck in your new job :)

  28. Lexi Kate*

    “think and act like a man” which is terrible and sexist but great advice my husband gave me when I got a terrible boss and came home upset for the second week. By that he meant nothing is personal, no one is your friend they are co-workers, and do your job well as asked. The not taking things personally changed my career and I still use that today. The friends vs coworkers it helps when you are in the height of disfunction so that you aren’t harming your career or letting someone climbing the ladder through gossip. Also in disfunction like it sounds like you are entering into with power struggles doing your job as asked is paramount because people on a power trip are looking for ways to jump on any minor issue they can to make themselves look better.

    1. OP*

      “Nothing is personal, no one is your friend they are co-workers, and do your job well as asked.” Thanks for this; I’ll definitely keep all of your advice in mind.

  29. Carrie Oakie*

    I was at toxic job for over 6 years. It didn’t start toxic, per say, but looking back it was all a bad idea. (The only good thing is it led me to my current employer, who saw my value and scooped me up!) My manager was a friend, and there were times when she’d speak to me in ways/ about things I know she wouldn’t with a non-friend co-worker. I’m sure I’m guilty of the same, of course. The boss played favorites, if you made one mistake you were made to feel as if you’re defending your job rather than being able to say “I know how it happened and I’ve put protocol in place to prevent this from happening again.” We also knew that he’d go with the last person who spoke to him, so it was a constant battle to get him to help anyone. When I finally quit, it was the best feeling, the relief, the not caring what happened anymore because it’s no longer my problem. My health improved, my attitude improved, my outlook improved!

    It helps to know you’re possibly walking into toxicity. Just keep an eye out for what is actually normal vs. what is normal in that environment. It’s very easy to fall into the trap. At new job, I’m just sitting back and watching what’s happening, making notes on what I see and doing my best to be sympathetic without getting drawn in. Best of luck!

    1. OP*

      I’m glad you were able to get out of that situation! It sounds like you’re much happier now.

      I really appreciate that I’ve been warned; I think it’ll help me keep my head on.

      “Just keep an eye out for what is actually normal vs. what is normal in that environment.” I’ll do that, thank you.

  30. Jacque of All Trades*

    Wow. This could have been written by me 6 years ago. The problem is if you are a good worker, you *do* end up caring. I kept up the job search while at Toxic Job, and it took 3 years but I found a job with heavenly employer. And it took a good 2 years to get over the trauma of Toxic Job. Crappy Boss is still there, making everyone’s life miserable, which sucks.

    1. OP*

      That’s what I’m afraid of: caring too much. I’ve received great advice from Alison and from the comment section so, hopefully, once I take it to heart, I’ll be fine.

      Also, I’m glad you were able to leave your toxic job!

  31. Archaeopteryx*

    One way to be prepared is to (in an outwardly casual manner) document everything you can. Send email confirmations of things agreed to in person, save all your emails and proofs of due dates, etc. That way you’ll be ready if one of the symptoms of this toxicity is goalpost-changing or false accusations that you didn’t do something you did.

    1. OP*

      Thank you!! That’s great advice, especially because the warnings about the manager were specifically that she doesn’t stick up for her team. I’ll be sure to keep everything documented.
      Thanks again.

  32. CanCan*

    If you’ve been told anything about people backing out on their word, being unclear about instructions, or similarly changing their view of the past, be sure to document conversations with people with a quick email confirming what you’ll do, deadlines, what you’re expecting from them, etc.

  33. Astrid*

    I also heard terrible things about my current job but I figured that it had to be better than my last firm. I consciously made a decision to improve my outlook/demeanor from day one: I purposefully walked around with a slight smile on my face (my normal resting face is quite serious); and I never made any negative comments about senior management/my boss when talking with my colleagues. You’d be surprised at how a positive disposition reflects back in other people’s interactions with you. This approach isn’t a panacea for deep-rooted institutional problems, but it may help you get by in the short-term.

  34. Sara without an H*

    OP, you sound like a very level-headed young person, and the comment stream includes a lot of good advice. My only additional advice would be to be on the lookout for ways to use this job to acquire new skills that you could use to advance your career.

    Cultivate a positive attitude, save as much money as you can, and good luck to you!

    1. OP*

      Thank you so much, Sara without an H! I appreciate your compliment.

      I’ll do my best to take everyone’s great advice into consideration.

  35. Chaordic One*

    You can make this work, at least for a while, and you’re lucky in that you’re going into this with your eyes wide open and aware of some of the potential problems with this particular employer. You’re not as likely to be completely blind-sided in this job and when problems come up you’ll know that it’s them, not you. Keep looking for something better, but do your best while you’ve good this job.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I will, thank you. I do believe that having the warnings is helpful and could help me navigate the environment better.

      Thank you for your comment!

  36. theletter*

    I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of “put your head down and do your work,” as brutal as it sounds.

    “Wait long enough by the river and you will see your enemy’s head float by” is macabre advice from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, but the point is that often people that are disliked are disliked by a lot of people, and you don’t have to be the person who goes to war with them if you really don’t want to. You can try to wait them out.

    corporate environments do tend to subtly change over a period of six months to two years. If you’re productive and easy to work with, people will notice.

    1. OP*

      “You don’t have to be the person who goes to war with them if you really don’t want to.” That’s powerful. Thank you so much for that – and for the rest of your comment. I appreciate it.

  37. KitKat100000*

    This was me four years ago! I took a job at a small company where I was warned by the outgoing employees that it was a very micromanaged environment, where people claimed to be family, but used that as a way to significantly blur personal and professional boundaries.

    My recommendations are as follows: (1) be very, very careful about sharing personal information about yourself; (2) be very, very carefully about what you share about your evenings and weekends; (3) be very, very careful in socializing outside of work; (4) see how things go, but start applying for jobs whenever you’re so over it that you just want to scream.

    I was in that awful job for two years, but I have been out for two and I have never been happier at the new job. You can do it!!! Good luck!!!

    1. OP*

      Thank you!

      I can definitely get chummy and overshare so thanks for the reminder that I should keep my work and social lives separate.

  38. Jules the First*

    So a little over four years ago, I deliberately took a terrifying job at a hugely dysfunctional office, leaving a job I liked and getting paid no more than I was in my old job. My new manager was a nightmare on wheels (a widely known fact), topped only by the dysfunctional capriciousness of the board he reported to. And I was going in as a department head tasked with turning around a non-functioning team that nobody likes. I kid you not – after I announced I had taken this job, every single person I know asked me if I was sure I wanted to take such a toxic, destructive job. In fact, a couple dozen people actually introduced themselves just so they could tell me I was nuts for taking this job.

    I spent two and a half years in that job. It was every bit as horrible as everyone said it would be, but it turbocharged my career – I’m now in the same role, but at a company three times the size, where I’m the youngest department head by a decade – and it gave me both a profound appreciation for good management and a full toolbox of coping techniques for handling difficult people. It also made me a much better manager and a wiser, calmer, more patient person. And more confident in my own skills. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, but knowing where it got me, I’d do it again.

    So my advice for coping is this:
    1. know why you are there – keep the reasons you took this job front and center in your mind
    2. know what your red lines are, and stick to them – what behaviour are you not prepared to tolerate from your new bosses? Be ready to speak up and/or quit if they cross those lines.
    3. have a backup plan – know what you will do when they cross your red line and you need to quit (know how many weeks you can afford to be unemployed; cultivate your networks so you have feelers out if you need them; don’t be afraid to keep casually job searching and interviewing)
    4. nurture your fan club – build relationships diagonally through the business (your manager’s peers, your peers’s managers)…I can’t count the number of times I’ve been rescued from a Really Bad Policy by someone senior to me but not my boss who nevertheless liked my work and cared that I might quit if said policy actually went through.
    5. it’s only personal if you make it so – toxic colleagues (and bosses) try very hard to make things personal (whether it’s your personal problem or the problem is your personality)…but it’s entirely up to you whether you take it personally. I found it so much easier to take my boss’s random cruelties after someone told me “never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence”. Also, “not my circus, not my monkeys…”

    Good luck!

    1. OP*

      Wow! Your story is really inspiring (I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing).

      Thank you so much for the advice. I especially love #4. I hadn’t even thought about how beneficial it could be to make those types of connections.

      This will definitely go into my notes along with all the other comments and Alison’s feedback. Thanks again!

  39. OP*

    Thank you so much for the advice, Alison! Thank you also to the readers who commented. I’ve read all of your advice so far and made a note of everything you’ve said.

    I have a short update in case you’re interested.
    When I received the offer, I was told that I would be starting in the third week of August. The day after receiving the offer (and writing this letter), someone in HR called and told me that the original start date would have to be pushed back and that they would contact me soon. Two weeks later, I called to follow up and was told that a start date still had not been set. Two weeks after that, I called to follow up again and was given the same response. Two weeks after that (last Friday), my would-be manager called to apologise and explain that…they still had no start date. If you’re counting, this is week seven.

    As of right now, I have resumed my job search and I am hoping that something else comes up.

    I’ll be sure to send in an update if anything noteworthy happens.

    Thanks again!

    1. Bea*

      Holy crap. Nevermind this place is as awful as your sources say. That’s horrid to do to someone. I hope you find something soon.

  40. MissDisplaced*

    Sometimes you can make lemonade out of lemons and sometimes you only get sour water. Lol!
    Personally, I’d rather go in expecting it to be bad, which means it might actually be better. Teams, and companies change, you might get lucky to hit a positive transition.

  41. Hope for the best*

    Congratulations on the new job. Perhaps you were hired because they thought you could help them with their toxic culture? There has been good advice and even warnings, but you make be the difference maker. Sounds like you can’t make it worse so focus on making it better. Good luck!

  42. Argh!*

    I found myself in a toxic soup, and I knew it right away. I just refused to play games, and although I was able to keep up my spirits and keep the eye on my own ball (instead of trash-talking everybody else at the morning pow-wow which was led by the resident narcissist) no participating did backfire a bit. I was seen as not being a “team player” because I didn’t let the narcissist drag me down. The guy encouraged others to be insubordinate while kissing the boss’s arse.

    When we had layoffs due to downsizing, his entire entourage got laid off. He was put in charge of three departments instead of one (including my department, which I was forced to leave), and actually had to do real work. He wound up quitting and I wound up moving on.

    So… try to figure out the cadres & cabals in the new place, be nice to all the secretaries (they know EVERYTHING), and keep your head down. If you find yourself calling in for mental health days or your health starts to deteriorate, get out as fast as you can.

  43. Triple Anon*

    One thing that’s helped me is to constantly remind myself that dealing with the dysfunction is part of what I’m being paid for. For example, if there is someone who is always mean, I remind myself, “I’m being paid to interact with this person as professionally as possible,” and I distance myself and don’t take it personally. All the unavoidable parts of it are part of the job and a means to a salary and benefits. It can be easy to lose sight of that and get too involved. But it’s just a job.

    Getting involved in more uplifting job-like things outside of work also helps – volunteering, hobbies, even a second job. It’s great if you can have a fun job to balance out the less fun job and if the fun job can go on your resume. That way, for example, if someone takes credit for your work in Not Fun Job, you can think about the recognition you are getting in Fun Job. Also, if it’s obvious that you’re accomplished outside of work, people in Not Fun Job will tend to be kinder to you.

    Just throwing those out there as ideas / things that have worked for me. :-)

  44. B*

    Try to budget yourself for a “eff off” payload; basically make it a priority to save up [3 months*] living expenses so that you can readily quit/be fired and be OK

    *or whatever period of time you’d think you could find a new job

  45. Liz*

    A few years ago, I wanted to make a small sideways shift in career, so I let a friend recommend me to her old boss. My friend warned me that Old Boss was toxic, so I went in very prepared for shenanigans, but also telling myself that surviving Old Boss would be valuable experience.

    (I also wondered if my friend mightn’t have exaggerated — but then this boss told me mid-interview that she liked to think Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada was based on her. No, I was not interviewing for Anna Wintour.)

    My only tip for OP — if you ever get a start date — is to keep an eye on yourself. I had planned to stay for two years, but around the 18-month point, I realised that my “funny” stories about office shenanigans were more angry and frustrated, and depressingly circular. And that was my cue to reach out to a recruiter (who went, “Oh, you worked for [boss]! You can handle anything!”).

    (For the record, I was warned in advance that my current boss is also “quite hard work” — but it turns out that he and I are very compatible, and we get along quite well. I especially enjoy how he never screams, throws things or makes me cry.)

  46. Micromanagered*

    To AAM’s advice I would add: Go with an open mind and form your own relationship to this job. I currently work in a position that is known for high turnover in response to toxicity. Basically a toxic team can’t keep my position filled for more than a year or two, but it’s been a year and a half and I’m doing fine in the role. I’d consider myself an introvert who’s learned to function as an extrovert at work, and I’m able to bridge some of the personality gaps and get by just fine. I’ve known a couple people who had the position before me and my relationship to people they thought were The Worst is in many ways totally fine—not always perfect, but easily workable. So maybe don’t go in with too many preconceptions. YMMV.

  47. Richie*

    Oh is this an American insurance company in Paris? Because I have been getting warnigns and calls for caution for one here. Terrible turnover, never seen before rates but above market pay.

  48. Flash Bristow*

    Wow. This is such awesome advice from Alison – perhaps the best I’ve read, because in many cases I could step back and think what to suggest, but I absolutely wouldn’t know where to start with this one!

    OP, I’m glad you’re going into this with your eyes open and self awareness – and I hope your character as an extrovert helps get you through. Good luck!

  49. Jenna Maroney*

    This question could not be more perfectly timed… debating whether or not I want to take an interview at a company I know treats its assistants horribly… the pay is OK. But I’ve been in abusive work situations before and really don’t want to find myself in another one.

  50. Bossy Magoo*

    This is so interesting and timely, as I left an extremely toxic work environment 8 years ago. It was toxic because of one person (the President) and I recently read that he left the organization. I still keep in touch with the very few people still there from when I was there (turnover was about 200% when I was there). More recently a friend of mine announced she had accepted a job there and I congratulated her and reminded her that I used to work there. She reached out to get any info I might have as she was about to start this exciting new adventure and I was honest with her about how dysfunctional that one person made it, things that he did, ways I had to navigate him and how she should navigate him should she see him around still…but that all of that shouldn’t matter since he had left and I was sure she would have a great experience. Well, she started work there and one of my contacts who is still there contacted me and asked why I didn’t warn her about that place. When I said I figured it would be okay since the President had left, this person said no…the new President already resigned and the old President was back. I feel very nervous for my friend but I’m not going to stir the pot…I already gave her my take on him so she can go into it with open eyes. I hope she survives this experience. He really was that awful of a person.

  51. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2: You are not being selfish. As someone with three anxiety disorders, I can empathize with you! You would not be a good candidate to help the other person even if you wanted to. Perhaps telling them about your medical issues (if you wish) may help soften the blow.

  52. Beth Anne*

    I recently interviewed at 2 places that had bad reviews. One place in the interview I decided I didn’t want the job and could tell the reviews were true. The other interview I thought went well despite the bad reviews and I would have worked there.
    Sometimes depending on your personality you can deal well with bad work environments. I am like that. I go to work. Do my job and don’t cause any trouble. Others invest too much into the drama.

  53. GreenDoor*

    I worked in a toxic job. Here’s what I wish I would have known:
    * Be wary of the first person to invite you out to lunch/after work drinks. That person is likely the office gossip looking to get you to spill your personal info in a casual environment.
    *Refrain from any lunch/after work socializing with groups to the greatest extent possible to avoid being sucked into a clique.
    * You may receive gossip but do not repeat it. Take it in because information is power. But keep it to yourself to avoid a reputation as a gossip.
    * Give only the bare minimum of personal information and give vague answers to as many personal questions as possible. “Yes I”m married.” “I live on the East side” “Oh, I tend to shop all over the place” “Oh, I dabble in a lot of hobbies, but I”m a master of none” Lots of questions sound innocent and friendly but your answers will surely be used as ammunition against you so the less you give, the better.
    * And, I feel gross saying it, but be especially aware of how you behave around the opposite sex. My ToxicJob had a few people who would allege sexual impropriety as a power play, even for the most innocent behavior.
    * If anything seems fishy, always clarify with your boss. Nothing wrong with a “Just wanted to double check” with the boss to make sure you’re not being set up.
    * It might be tempting to seek out a kindred soul to commisserate with. I learned the hard way that some people are only your office friend when times are good but they’ll throw you under the bus in a heartbeat. This job is not the place to make friends!

    Good luck!

  54. The Rafters*

    “and there’s at least some chance that you’ll get there and find that you aren’t as bothered as the people warning you have been”. Absolutely. I accepted a small promotion to an office where several people at my then location said was a horrible place to work. I’m still there (after another promotion) 20 years later. It might turn out that most folks in your new office simply hold very different views than the people who left. That was certainly the case with me and my former colleagues – all lovely people, just not right for that particular environment.

  55. Laughing Alone with Salad*

    Lots of great advice here. I want to share this article which I found to be really well done–it’s about not just avoiding toxicity but finding the people who will help you stay functional and positive. It’s aimed at new teachers but I think it works for all kinds of places.

  56. Jaded*

    Did OP not talk to any of those people before applying and/or while interviewing for the job? I always try to check with people I know who may something about the place I am interested in and I don’t base my entire decision off what they are saying I do take it into consideration based on what I see and experience during the hiring process.

  57. Rhcchevrolet*

    Drive to work, turn off your car’s engine, grab the steering wheel and turn on a smile… now, go to work.

    Never stop looking for a job, on your break or lunch hour in your car on your cell. Never in earshot of a work associate.

    You have a job …, you will get another job easier. Much like a man. Good luck and don’t stay … before you know it… 14 years have past bye. 14 years of hell on earth at Flowers Foods of Lafayette.

    Make your luck and move on. No such thing as loyalty.

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