update: how can I brace myself for my toxic new job?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer this fall asking about how to brace herself for a new job that she’d been warned would be very toxic? Here’s the update.

I’ve only been here for two months, so there’s not much to report but here’s what has happened so far.

The atmosphere is just as toxic and dysfunctional as I was warned. Staff morale is quite low still and everyone is wary of management. There are a lot of grumblings about leadership and, as a result of decisions they have not agreed with, staff question everything – said or unsaid. Many are looking to leave as quickly as possible and it is no secret. The tenseness also affects peer-to-peer relationships, since people aren’t sure if they can or should trust each other.

During my first 3 and a half weeks here, several times a day, I got some type of remark from my new colleagues about not letting negativity or bad attitudes affect me, keeping my head up, being sure to maintain a good work/life balance, and the like. People would seek me out to tell me so or, when I was going through my orientation and being introduced, would repeat their specific “warning” several times. It was quite overwhelming but it has lessened, thankfully. I also got more pointed warnings regarding my immediate boss, which was also a bit jarring. Those have lessened too, but some of the stories I’ve heard about issues (almost 20 direct report resignations or department changes in 5 years, all of whom have cited my boss as their reason for leaving is just one example) have stuck with me and I am keeping my guard up.

In an interesting development, however, I do believe that I am being shown favour by management that has stopped me from personally experiencing a lot of what others complain(ed) about. I believe that this stems from my being chosen as an international representative for the country shortly after starting the job. This, the CEO and several other senior managers have told me personally, makes them very “proud” to have me as an employee. I do believe that for these and a few other reasons, I am being treated with kid gloves, so to speak. It is an interesting development and one that I am trying not to get caught up in, just as I am not trying to fall into other workplace drama. Neither would bode well for me and I am trying to keep my wits about me.

In the midst of all of this, I have made a new friend. Despite being burned out, she still has a pleasant attitude and has been very good at helping me to navigate the temperaments of my new colleagues. I appreciate her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way of speaking and her refusal to gossip about workplace drama. She really does live above all the things that are happening around us and I admire that. We check in on each other, eat lunch together, and have hung out outside of work as well. I really do think we’ll be friends long after we both leave here and I’m very happy to have met her.

Also, being able to work again has allowed me to begin to build my savings back up. I am on my way to having a decent down payment for a car and I begun saving for and working on two entrepreneurial ventures. Thing at work are not perfect, but I’m making the situation work for me how I can.

The AAM commenter community was incredible and is still very helpful. I have most definitely taken your and their advice to heart and I am doing my best to not get swept up into drama or take sides. It is difficult not to (sometimes I want to vent to whomever is closest to me) but I’m trying. I have re-read the comments on my original post several times, especially during moments of frustration, and will continue to do so. Also, as was suggested by numerous commenters, I am still on the look out for another job.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon for this*

    OP, this is a great update and you are handling this situation as well as can be expected. Good luck to you in continuing to navigate this and in your continuing job search!

    1. CM*

      I don’t know if it’s great, but it’s very interesting to see how the OP is navigating this situation. I think this kind of thing comes up a lot, with people entering difficult situations because they don’t have much of a choice, and it seems like OP is handling it the best way possible by remaining vigilant and trying not to get pulled into the toxicity. I’d be really curious to see another update later on to see how the OP is holding up.

    2. Maggie*

      Great in the sense that she’s finally amassing some savings for sure! Yes, by all means keep looking for another job, but sometimes you just. need. the. money!! Go get it!

  2. Mrs. D*

    As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. OP, it seems that you really have made the best out of a bad situation.

    I would caution you to still keep your guard up and continue to be cognizant of the disfunction at this workplace, even if you are not the recipient of it. But other than that, congrats on making it work!

  3. Budgie Lover*

    Glad this OP is doing ok so far at a sucky work environment. Based on my own experience, I can add is that if management in a toxic environment treats you marginally better now that you are in good standing, be prepared to suddenly fall out of good standing through no fault of your own. It might not happen, but in a toxic place everyone will probably get some of that toxicity eventually. But it sounds like OP has realistic expectations, so that’s good.

    1. Someone On-Line*

      In my experience, dysfunctional management don’t realize they are dysfunctional. They assume all problems are the result of bad employees. So a new employee is the favored employee. Surely new employee will fix all the problems. But when problems do not resolve, dysfunctional management turn on the new employee as they turned on previous employees. The management never see themselves as the problem to be fixed.

      1. Reliant*

        Yes, I’ve seen this. The new favored employee was first treated like a savior and then fired 6 months later. So, don’t stop looking for that new position.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, I’ve also been in that environment. The boss was convinced she ‘just couldn’t find decent staff anymore’ and that ‘no one was committed to the job’. In fact, the office culture and her management style was so toxic that there was an endless cycle where she’d hire someone new, who would obviously solve all her problems and be the incredible employee she was always searching for, and then she’d gradually grind that new employee down with her horrendous micromanaging and unrealistic expectations, to the point where she’d either get so annoyed with the fact that they ‘couldn’t do their job properly’ that she’d let them go (most people were hired on a freelance basis so she didn’t have to worry about employment law) or the employee would leave of their own volition because it was such an awful place to work. Thus, in her mind, confirming the fact that a) there were no decent employees to be had and b) no one was willing to show commitment.

  4. MissGirl*

    Definitely keep your guard up, learn what you can, save your money, and get out as quickly as feasible. My friend was once the favored of a highly dysfunctional company and boss until one day she wasn’t. After several years, she was laid off with no severance and her boss told everyone she quit to keep from paying out unemployment. She had to threaten to get a lawyer, and he quickly backed down.

    It ended up being very much in her favor as the company was raided by the FBI and shut down later on. Everyone lost their jobs, their last two weeks’ pay, and their 401Ks because the owner “invested” their funds. I don’t know how the toxicity in your company plays out, but when people treat others unethically there’s a high correlation to running an unethical company. Your job is never secure.

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      ^ This is my 2nd favorite dream ending for all dysfunctional workplaces with #1 being invaded by angry, sentient cockroaches

    2. Kes*

      Yeah, even if OP is the favored one now, in a toxic environment that could change on a dime, so OP should definitely keep her guard up.

      However, it does sound like OP is making the best of the situation and taking advantage of the opportunity while avoiding as much of the drama and toxicity as possible, so good job OP!

      1. MissGirl*

        Yep, sometimes you don’t have a choice. This was my friend’s first job out of college and it was the recession. She didn’t have other options. And she learned a lot of skills.

        However the toxicity did eventually affect her and her self worth. She stayed far too long because she got so used to it she couldn’t see it. That’s why I advise the OP to keep an exit plan so that when she does have options, she can take them.

    3. Ali G*

      This basically happened to me at my last job. I was brought on and was hailed as a savior/did all the right things for 5 years, until I got a new boss and suddenly I was a low performer and was managed out of the company.
      So I agree OP needs to keep her eyes wide open.

  5. MissDisplaced*

    Goodness what a place! At least things haven’t gone downhill early on anyway and it’s been bearable for you.
    Also, I suppose it helps to expect the worst going in and not looking at things with rose-tinted glasses and having the bad things hit you without warning.

    Sigh! I’m beginning to wonder if all workplaces (at least in the US) aren’t some form of dysfunctional or toxic? And why? What makes them so? I’ve experienced it so many times where companies start out great and then become ever more dysfunctional in processes, or sometimes become toxic with a new manager, CEO or something. It’s rare to stay somewhere 5+ years when that happens, or I don’t know how people manage to stay on under those conditions. I mean, what is it about our system that makes work/companies so crazy? It has to be more than just the people that make it up?

    1. emmelemm*

      Just as an aside, this LW is probably not in the US, as she spells favor ‘favour’. Just a reminder that toxic workplaces are in every country in this big world of ours!

    2. Me*

      IMO it is just the people. I’ve been at my employer for 18 years, with my current group for 11. And for the first time in 18 years I’m looking to get out. I’m giving up a full pension to do so, it’s that bad. Three new employee in 4 years: one plain incompetent, one lazy and one egotistical know it all boss. I’ve tried to stick it out, but it’s simply not improving. Realized it was past time to go when I was home with the stomach flu and still glad to not be at work tells you it’s past time to go.

      Hiring bad employees and not holding them accountable or being willing to get rid of them will drag a place down every time – toxic might stay, but good will leave.

  6. Yvette*

    I just want to say in general that normally on Fridays there is a “regular” post and then the Open and that is usually it, but these updates are the gift that keeps on giving!! THANK YOU!!

    Any chance of an update on the Intern who framed the coworker for fraud? It involved a stolen jacket, the police and some Amazon orders?

    Or how about the one where the abused coworker faked fraud blaming someone else in order to get the police there for her to talk to?

    1. Artemesia*

      I remember the jacket. The OP thought she was a wonderful person and could not possibly have committed the credit card fraud and so must have been framed, although there was video of her STEALING a coat belonging to an intern including her wallet.

      1. DArcy*

        Yeah, the letter writer in that case interpreted the situation that way, but they were ludicrously biased and the facts presented made it crystal clear that the intern was an innocent victim.

  7. Anon for this*

    Thank you for the update. LastJob showed it’s toxicity pretty soon after I started working there. I, too, was not in a position to make any changes. I really needed that job. I’m here to tell you that you can be a productive employee without getting entrenched into the drama. I made a decision at that job when I realized it was not the company or role for me. I had to stick it out until I had other options, and since this job was the consequence of my jumping ship too hastily from former job, I wouldn’t make that mistake again. So, that meant sitting tight for a bit until the right opportunity came along.

    The decision I made was to gain everything positive I could from LastJob, and that’s exactly what I did. I knew there wasn’t much long term career development, I would get bored in my role quickly, and there was enough dysfunction to put me on guard right away. But, there was an opportunity to expand my network and develop my soft skills since I was working directly with clients. Yes, it was at times very frustrating, but I think that job actually helped pave the way into my now current dream job. You got this!

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