my coworker says our company is toxic — but is she the problem?

A reader writes:

I’m three months into this great new job that I’ve spent a lot of time in education and unpaid internships to prepare for. I’m so excited to finally have it! It’s a high-pressure job that requires a lot of attention to detail.

I was assigned to a trainer, “Jane,” who’s been here five years. At first we had a bit of a personality clash, but we’ve moved past that and I’ve come to value her as a very skilled employee who is a fair and patient trainer. I’ve gotten high praise from her and our supervisors, so everything seems to be going well.

However, from day one Jane has constantly complained about our workplace, mostly to our other coworkers while the supervisors are off-duty. (We’re on shift work, so probably 75% of the time we don’t see our supervisors.) I have noticed that there has been a lot of turnover in the past year; two employees quit in my first two months. Also, there’s this weird culture where each person seems to think they’re the only one who does any work or is competent. People tend to jump to conclusions about each other’s intent or state of mind when a mistake is made and, on the flip side, take it very personally when a mistake is pointed out. The tension seems especially pronounced between Jane and the two managers in charge of our section.

So far, I like everyone and don’t really understand where all this tension comes from, so I’m hoping to just keep my head down and be positive and friendly in the hopes that I won’t get sucked into it. But how do I know if it’s only a matter of time until my supervisors start singling me out, as Jane seems to think has happened to her, if this is a generally toxic workplace, or if the problem lies with my trainer?

There’s a big clue in your letter that makes me think the problem is at least partially with Jane, and that’s the fact that she started complaining to you on day one and has complained constantly ever since. That’s toxic behavior, and it’s not something that level-headed people generally do.

To be clear, I’m not saying that level-headed people never complain about work! They do. But they’re usually more discreet about it, and definitely have better judgment than to unload their complaints on a new hire’s first day. They also don’t voice their complaints incessantly, because it’s annoying and unpleasant to the people around them to have to hear the same things over and over, and it will eventually affect their professional reputations.

So if nothing else, we know that Jane has bad judgment and is doing her own part to make your work culture pretty negative.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate problems in the work culture, though. Based on what you described, it sounds tense and combative and weirdly adversarial. Does it stem from your managers, as Jane seems to think? Maybe! Managers bear a lot of responsibility for the culture of the teams they manage, and if they haven’t spotted the problems and worked to fix them, that’s a problem on their side.

And who knows, it’s possible that your company is truly the worst! But even if it is, Jane’s behavior would still be weird, and I’d be wary of aligning yourself with her based only on her own word rather than things you’ve observed for yourself.

Plus, having inept management doesn’t mean that it’s a matter of time before they single you out for mistreatment. That’s a very specific charge, and if you haven’t seen any evidence of it beyond what Jane has told you… well, I’d be pretty skeptical. Jane sounds so profoundly unhappy with the job that it’s hard to take her as an unbiased source. Plus, if Jane herself is being targeted, that might be less due to arbitrary, punitive managers and more because Jane is a chronic complainer who’s regularly injecting negativity into the work environment. I’m not arguing your managers are good managers (it doesn’t sound like they are)… but nearly all managers, good or bad, would have a problem with Jane’s behavior. So it’s unsurprising that her relationship with your management is tense—and she might be extrapolating negative conclusions from that which won’t apply to your own experience there.

Ultimately, the way to sort out what’s really going on here is to watch and make your own observations. How do managers interact with people? What kind of guidance and feedback do they give? Do they welcome open dialogue, or is it all top-down? How are decisions made, and how do they handle disagreement? How is good work recognized and rewarded, and how are problems addressed and resolved? ( Are they addressed and resolved?) But don’t be heavily influenced by Jane’s take on things—stand back and observe and form your own judgments. Maybe your conclusions will line up with Jane’s after all! Or you might realize Jane is right about some things but the intensity of her reaction is off. Or you might decide you have an entirely different take on what’s going on.

If you do decide it’s a toxic workplace, at that point you’d need to decide how you want to respond to that. Some people can work in weird environments and let it mostly roll off them; other people can’t, and that’s entirely legitimate too. What you don’t want to do is get frozen where Jane seems to be—in the “this is awful and I want to tell everyone how awful it is” stage.

For now, though, the key thing is to trust yourself and what you see and experience firsthand. Don’t get overly influenced by someone else, especially someone whose judgment already seems questionable.

Read an update to this letter

First published on

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Jean*

    Sounds like a little bit of both. Jane is being excessively negative, and the workplace in general seems infested with bees. Keeping your head down and not getting involved in any of that sounds like a good strategy.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      This is where I fall, as well. My last workplace was toxic, and different employees reacted in different ways. Most of us were discreet about it, but some had trouble keeping their opinions to themselves. One person rage quit. It depends on personality.

  2. voyager1*

    Going to disagree with AAM. Jane isn’t the problem she is a symptom of a toxic environment. Her behavior is systemic of your other coworkers. People who are defensive about any feedback are not folks you want to work with. The number of people leaving to me is a bigger red flag too. Those are probably fed up with it all.

    1. OP in 5 years*

      I agree with this. Reading OP’s letter gives me flashbacks to my first few months on the job and guess what, that person complaining was spot on. It’s an overtly toxic culture and while yes, Jane could certainly have better judgement/filter for a new employee, it’s clear everyone is fed up/feeling stuck. Unfortunately I’ve now been here for 6 years… long past time to gtfo

    2. MicroManagered*

      And who knows, it’s possible that your company is truly the worst! But even if it is, Jane’s behavior would still be weird,

      I don’t think you are disagreeing with her? She is saying the company *could* be the problem, but also be wary of Jane’s behavior either way.

      1. lemon*

        Can’t speak for others, but I disagree with calling it “weird.” Is it weird to react negatively to a toxic culture? I agree that Jane could show better judgment, and that her constant complaining could certainly be off-putting. But weird? It’s possible the culture is weird, not Jane.

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah….having worked in a toxic environment, I’d be more inclined to call Jane’s behavior “unfortunately common”.

          One nonprofit where I worked, the Executive Director was known for being difficult. Different people took different approaches in how they’d on-board people in terms of giving warnings about her. The people who trained me (before leaving) said their approach was to ensure I knew all of the worst stories and so I wouldn’t be surprised. My approach when training was to tell new people it was coming and try to not take it personally because there was nothing you could really do to avoid it.

          Without context, sure – I don’t think our behavior would fit under standard professional handbooks – but it certainly didn’t come out of no where.

      2. Andy*

        Jane behavior is not weird at all in the context of dysfunctional team or company. It is well within the range of normal reactions to it.

      3. LGC*

        To me, it read like Alison’s answer framed LW as having primarily a Jane problem. It’s a difference of emphasis – Alison basically said, “Jane’s the problem, but keep an eye out on your company,” while voyager is saying something more like, “Your company is the problem, but you’re mostly seeing it through Jane.”

        (So they don’t disagree that Jane’s behavior is toxic. They disagree whether the company is toxic, perhaps, and how important that is.)

        1. TardyTardis*

          If Jane is the only one with complaints, maybe it’s Jane. If it’s everyone else and there’s constant turnover–I believe you know the answer to that one.

    3. Smithy*

      Have to agree here. Jane may be an overall bad role model, but workplaces with high turnover, a defensive culture around giving/receiving feedback, as well as longer retention of chronic complainers speaks more to me of the environment than any one bad actor.

      It’s certainly possible that Jane went from being a good performer in a decent company to having an incident like being passed over for a promotion really sour her perspective. It’s certainly not uncommon to see people outgrow their current role and struggle in finding external or internal growth opportunities become unhappy at work. But after having worked in a wildly toxic place, I’ve found it far more common for otherwise decent enough people/employees to adopt wildly unprofessional, angry and otherwise checked out attitudes . In addition, unprofessional/bad actors aren’t kept in check by management – or promoted – and it can easily spiral.

      I know the OP is young, but just want to say three cheers for identifying something as off. Keep your eyes and ears open, be mindful of what “cyb” practices are at your office, and continue to be aware. If the overall negative issues do feel confirmed, then I recommend aiming to move on after 1.5-2 years. Much longer than 2 years, and it can be really difficult to not let those kinds of environments impact your own behavior.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        defensive culture around giving/receiving feedback

        People tend to jump to conclusions about each other’s intent or state of mind when a mistake is made

        Witch hunts tend to have that effect on the survivors.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Totally agree with that point. Something else that might be at play is that the survivors of a witch hunt may inadvertently keep the worst parts of an organization’s culture alive even as the rest of the organization changes. If Jane’s been around for a lot longer than other people that’s something to consider.

    4. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I have to agree. It sounds just like my workplace until we had a major management change over. If you if fit the management’s type and were a kiss-a$$ it was a wonderful place to work. However, if you have one opposing opinion, you were targeted.

      I was one of those targeted. Someone I trained, I tried to warn her about the environment. She took it with a grain of salt until she saw first hand how someone else was targeted and in doing that targeting, it made her look bad. The management literally changed meeting minutes (which she took) to make someone else look bad. In doing so, it made it look like the person I was training could not take minutes.

      While Jane may have gone a bit overboard, I would trust her, especially given the recent high turnover.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        well, the defensiveness sounds bad, but ‘2 people quit’ doesn’t have enough context for us to judge. 2 out of 10 = red flag. 2 out of 70 = not so much.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Especially right now. Lots of people are in flux because of everything that is going on in the world. Were those two people there for years? Or months? That also matters.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, and it also depends on the position. One of my program teams is generally for people who are planning to stay about one to two years and then pursue further studies or to be promoted onto a different team to do higher-level work. The turnover for the position looks high on paper, and, if you come in the mid-summer when people are starting to relocate for school and/or take time off before starting their studies, it looks like we have a mass exodus. But it’s that way by design, and it’s quite successful both for the program they support and the people getting hands-on experience.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            But that can be explained very quickly to those coming in. And presumably those coming in won’t be intending to stay any longer. Doesn’t seem to be OP’s case at all.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        Yes, I agree with Jules. We truly don’t have enough information here, and when that happens, it’s all too easy to extrapolate based on one’s own experiences. I work for a fairly small organization (~50 employees), and we’ve had periods where a few people leaving was a sign of a bigger problem, and we’ve also had periods were a few people leaving was a sign of nothing except that sometimes that’s how it goes.

        I do think Jane is at least part of the problem. Coworkers who glom onto brand-new employees and start trying to convert them to the This Place Sucks party are almost always bad news – or at least that’s what I extrapolate from my own experiences. :-)

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          If Jane is part of the problem, management assigning Jane to train OP is another part of the problem. Maybe they thought Jane would be chuffed at being assigned a training role and stop whingeing? Or don’t they know what she’s like?

      3. Anon for this post*

        I’m in a similar environment- there have been 3-4 people in my position in the last 2-3 years and it’s obvious as to why. If you’re not the boss’s favorite, it stinks. I’m a hard worker and refuse to kiss up. My coworkers do it and some of them get away with murder. ( 2 lunches, not working enough hours, etc.) It stinks.

        All of this goes on and they expect you to look like a Stepford Wife and question you if you aren’t smiling or don’t look happy. I guess that I’m not a good enough actress or something…

    5. BRR*

      My last employer was toxic and I watched as we would get a good hire and they would slowly be affected by the stress until they broke I don’t think there’s enough information to say if she’s the problem but it’s sounds like she could have behaved better. I’m not sure Jane leaving would fix this workplace.

    6. Susannah Wildman*

      I agree. I could be Jane! I do tell people I am training about things that are wrong because we are violating national standards in a regular basis and I don’t want these new young workers to think this is right. It’s not and someday my workplace will either close or be in a whole lot of trouble. The only reason why they are getting f away with it right now is political. I don’t quit because I am too old and unlikely to be hired elsewhere (although I do apply in different sub fields of my work arena). I feel it’s my ethical duty to let people know They can’t go somewhere else and do some of the things we are doing. If they did they could get into serious trouble.

      1. Susannah Wildman*

        And I might also add that some of what I tell them is in order that they can protect themselves to the proper degrees instead of to the degree which they are being told is safe and is not. Plus my immediate manager loves me. Higher levels probably not so much if they know who I am at all. This isn’t my manger’s shares fault at all.

    7. lemon*

      Yes, I disagree a bit with Alison, too. I think I was kind of seen as a Jane at Old Job. I didn’t do a lot of one-on-one venting, but I was constantly frustrated and upset at work. But that was because… my manager and my coworkers were antagonizing me in private. Gaslighting, stonewalling, people slamming doors in my face to prevent me from attending meetings I was invited to, men coming into my office uninvited and “joking” that I should go get them a coffee, men constantly staring at me and IMing me all the time. The thing is… none of this stuff happened in front of others, so to external observers, it looked like I was the problem. And that was very much part of the toxic culture of the org and their M.O.– to wear anyone who didn’t want to get with the program down in private 1-1 meetings so that there were never any witnesses and no paper trail.

      The fact that the LW is three months in and is already seeing some yellow flags is what makes me think something similar might be going on here. The weirdly adversarial co-workers who get defensive about feedback makes me think that this could be a big blame culture. That was the first sign of the toxicity at Old Job. When I first started, I remember thinking, “Why are they so defensive all the time? It’s not that serious.” But then I went to my first sprint retrospective and watched everyone throw each other under the bus, and was like, “oh, that’s why.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But were you unloading all that on a new hire in their first days and then continuing to talk about it non-stop afterwards? That’s what makes Jane’s judgment suspect, not that she’s aired some complaints.

        1. lemon*

          No, but I admit it took a *lot* of conscious effort not to unload on the new hire, mostly because I was aware that it would make *me* look bad and not the org.

          I read the LW’s update below and I see they’ve confirmed that this seems to be a Jane problem, so my disagreements at this point are mostly moot.

        2. Andy*

          We have team with “problematic” manager. She can do with some type of people – submissive with low need to have boundaries respected and low self confidence. (Some are quite skilled objectively.) By boundaries I mean basics like not wanting to be touched physically or reacting badly on gasslighting.

          But other people typically don’t just professionally leave. They crack mentally, emotionally and leave with odd bang. Not just leave normally. Multiple people already, all after few months on the job. None of then having job hopping on resume.

          Toxic places make people crack and break.

        3. Erstewhile lurker*

          I think another aspect is if the person is single or lives alone. There is no outlet to vent or even get a second opinion on toxicity and it can end up being carried back into the workplace. I know it’s not ideal but I do sympathise with Jane here, I’ve been at places where there was a culture of shaming mistakes, competing with one another etc.
          It was a pretty immature way to run a workplace and it was really coming from upper Management setting the tone. Jane should probably find a new job, but at the same time make an effort to keep things professional in the meantime. It’s not her problem to fix but she can

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Early in my career, I worked at a place that had the goal of “falling forward”. In other words, if something went wrong, we were explicitely coached to just skip the whole “blame-shifting” moment and instead ask “what can we do going forward?” It was so nice to have that as a model!

    8. Eukomos*

      Same, the assumption that people who inform new employees about a bad office culture are the problem ultimately serves to protect management who create bad cultures. If it’s “unprofessional” to let anyone know how bad things are then everyone either keeps their head down and tolerates abuse or tries to tell the new people and gets dismissed as unprofessional. But eventually the new hires figure it out either way, and leave, thus creating the high turnover OP’s seeing. Jane’s probably at the end of her rope, and OP needs to accept the red flags that she’s seeing really are red.

    9. lazy intellectual*

      It’s a toxic environment but Jane shouldn’t be complaining to someone she is training/someone who just got hired.

      1. lazy intellectual*

        I will say, as someone who had to train people in my last toxic job, I understand it can be tricky to give advice without throwing some people under the bus. Like, I had to advise one of my trainees to deal with a manager a certain way because he was, quite frankly, unreasonable. But giving frank advice is different from venting.

  3. Safely Retired*

    “(We’re on shift work, so probably 75 percent of the time we don’t see our supervisors.)”

    The letter makes me wonder how much the supervisors are paying attention the 25% of the time they are there. If management is that remote they could be quite oblivious to everything going on, a situation that feeds to the other problems described.

    1. MassMatt*

      That part really jumped out at me, too. The supervisors are only around 25% of the time? Then they are not really “supervisors”. Unfortunately in lots of places that work 24/7 (or even say, 8am to 8pm) the supervisors mostly work 8-4 or 9-5 and regard it as a “perk” of the position. They are then clueless about what is happening the rest of the time—which might well be the busiest periods.

      It sounds like Jane is terribly negative but also that the management there is terrible. I recommend the LW try to steer clear of politics as much as possible and try not to solve every problem beyond what she is responsible for. The workplace sounds like it needs a huge overhaul and that requires real commitment from upper management, not a crusade from a new employee.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, it really depends on what the work is and the level of people doing it. Lots of work doesn’t require constant on-site supervision.

        1. JokeyJules*

          yeah, i talk to my supervisor maybe once or twice a week, if that. the work gets done, communication is good, it would feel forced and unnecessary to talk to them more.

          1. MassMatt*

            The LW isn’t saying she only talks to the supervisor 1x a week, she says the supervisors are only around 25% of the time. That to me is absentee management.

            Given the problems the LW talks about–an atmosphere of suspicion, employees each feel they are the only one competent/doing any work, constant complaining, inability to give/take feedback–this does not seem like an “eh, some places are like that” situation.

            1. Sam*

              I took it as something like nursing, where a lot of the training would, literally, be taking place away from supervisors; they’re probably around, but not immediately present.

            2. Uranus Wars*

              I kinda read it as ‘only within earshot 25% of the time’. My team doesn’t require constant supervision and they way we work they are together a lot I am behind a closed door or in a meeting a lot but I am always available via phone, email or meeting if requested.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        I work roughly the same schedule as my supervisor (it’s a flexible workplace and he tends to be about an hour earlier to arrive and leave, though not always) but that doesn’t mean he’s standing over my shoulder the whole time! We see each other a few times a week and use e-mail to get most of our work done. By your logic, there would be no supervisors when working from home at all.
        Of course it depends on the nature of the job, but supervisors should generally be aware of what is and isn’t getting done regardless of when that occurs.

  4. MicroManagered*

    As a general rule, I’m wary of the first person to be drawn to me in any new group setting, like a new job. I’ve found that person has often alienated herself from the group already and looking for “fresh blood” to so speak.

    I know Jane is OP’s trainer, but the fact that she’s began confiding and trash-talking almost immediately would make me wary of her.

    1. fposte*

      I would agree, but I also think it’s not a great culture, between the attitudes and the turnover. Sometimes the people who survive long in a bad culture are people whose dysfunction is a good match for it.

      “Toxic” always sounds to me like an objective judgment of destructiveness, so I don’t generally levy it against people or workplaces; all kinds of places have people who manage to thrive, and all kinds of people have relationships that work for both of them. I’d encourage the OP more to focus on whether the characteristics she’s identifying are problems for *her*, and to keep alert to the industry in general to get an idea of how much is this workplace and how much is the field, and then decide what kind of time it would make sense for her to invest.

      1. Tau*

        Agreed. I think “toxic” can be overly… binary? Like – sure, there are workplaces that almost nobody thrives in, or where the only way to thrive is by being horribly unprofessional and potentially an awful person. But there are also workplaces that are dysfunctional in a way that *can* be awful to deal with, but don’t have to. Maybe it depends on personality, maybe it depends on your job role, maybe it depends on some other factor – but it’s possible for you to have a perfectly fine time at the company and your coworker to have a miserable one, or vice versa. It’s possible for your coworker’s misery to be justified and rooted in structural problems and for you still to be perfectly happy. My team lead at my first job hated his job and was deeply miserable, and I believe there was truth to his complaints and justification to his feelings – but it was still a good place for me to work, because I wasn’t him.

        1. lemon*

          yeah, I think people over-use “toxic” a lot. As you pointed out, there’s a difference between “toxic” and “dysfunctional.” Toxic is harmful. Dysfunctional means… isn’t well-run but not necessarily harmful. Old Job was definitely toxic, in the sense that I was constantly leaving meetings with my manager in tears, was taking stress home with me to the point where I gained 50 lbs from stress eating. My current workplace is dysfunctional. I’m not engaged in the work I do, and I often joke that I work with the nicest, kindest micromanagers on earth. But I don’t feel the same stress levels as I did before, and the people I work with are generally well-intentioned and easy to get along with.

        2. Mockingjay*

          “Or you might realize Jane is right about some things but the intensity of her reaction is off. “

          This part of Alison’s response jumped out at me. All workplaces have things that need to be fixed or improved, but how you react to a situation counts too. Jane complains, but does Jane suggest improvements?

          With management absent most of the time, it’s possible minor aggravations have built up among the staff. Maybe all that’s needed is more interaction and instructions from managers.

        3. fposte*

          Right! And conversely, even if everybody says “No, that doesn’t sound toxic,” you can realize that it’s still a job that will destroy you and need to leave.

        4. lazy intellectual*

          I think people are allowed to use the term “toxic” if it applies to them. Something to consider is that some people can be targeted by bad bosses more than others. In my last job, my managers were jealous and bullied any employee they saw as a threat, while coddling mediocre employees. For obvious reasons, the mediocre employees probably had/are having a great time in their jobs, while the talented employees were/are miserable.

      2. Former Young Lady*

        These are both such good points, and it’s something I’ve really wrestled with over my two decades in the workforce. I’m still wondering, even now, how much a workplace is defined by its least-functional/most-plaintive worker. When is someone simply a slightly-weaker link in the chain? When is someone a “missing stair”? When is the whole damn staircase riddled with termites and rot?

        Looking back, my onboardings have been about 50/50 w/r/t people warning me/not warning me about how much certain colleagues sucked. When the warnings took place, they usually proved to be warranted. About as often as not, the person dropping the warning turned out to be a vampire, too. When that happened, it was almost invariably a case of dysfunction-as-cultural-fit.

        Of course, the total lack of a warning can sometimes just mean that everybody’s adapted to dysfunction, or they’re in denial about it.

      3. Orange*

        Thank you for this! I chafe sometimes when I hear the word “toxic” because it feels so pejorative. Some work environments/situations/people do suffer from bad culture, but “toxic” makes it seem like it can never get better, or is a universal, indisputable experience for everyone. There’s almost always more to the story, and the idea of a “toxic” workplace gets used too much IMHO.

      4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I would agree, but I also think it’s not a great culture, between the attitudes and the turnover. Sometimes the people who survive long in a bad culture are people whose dysfunction is a good match for it.

        This is a good point. I suspect that a lot of the people who survive for a long time in a bad culture while complaining about it being a bad culture don’t have a lot of insight into how they’ve been complicit in keeping it alive in spite of turnover. Sometimes a survivor who tells new employees to protect themselves against a toxic culture is doing the right thing; other times they’re doing so at the expense of encouraging a new employee to engage with the emerging positive aspects of their org’s culture, undermining the possibility of having anything change.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      You suggested that she’s began confiding and trash-talking almost immediately

      In the letter: Jane has constantly complained about our workplace, mostly to our other coworkers

      I’m not sure that “confiding” is the right concept for this. (I’m not nit-picking language, but actually making a distinction, before anyone piles on) …. because it seems to me more like Jane, having been in this environment for 5 years, maybe she just doesn’t care so much about being discreet and circumspect any more, and just speaks her mind about her dissatisfaction to most of the people she comes across?

      For example I was in a (superficially) similar “toxic workplace” situation, even had seniority (not their actual manager/supervisor but de facto “Captain D assigns the work and does the difficult stuff”) and after a few years of toxicity I was just done. Talked openly to anyone who would listen about how I was sure the company was going down the tubes, my lack of confidence in upper management, saying (truthfully) that I was actively working on my resume and applying else where and that I would encourage them to do the same, etc.

      Not great behaviour from an employee, especially a ‘senior’, I know – but I had been driven to the end of my rope with some of the things that went on there and the total lack of support from management etc. My manager (who oversaw the whole department) would have been lost without me on a couple of projects but even he said that “I wouldn’t blame you, I’d do the same if I had any prospects” when I openly asked for a half day of PTO for an interview! I was Just Done at that point!

      1. MicroManagered*

        Yeah, you are nit-picking language … but I don’t disagree with you! “Confide” is not 100% the best word for what I was getting at. Opening up to her? Telling her things that are usually kept more private (like unfavorable opinions about work and other coworkers) or only shared with a known/trusted person?

    3. Littorally*

      Agreed. I got burned on this before. By the time I realized just how disliked the person was, I’d already gotten tarnished by association.

  5. Lala*

    oo… I wish you luck. My last workplace was so similar that you could’ve honestly be an employee there except for the not seeing your manager part, and it turned out to be both things: the workplace was toxic (very high turnover), but the manager who complained to her trainees about it from day 1 was incredibly toxic on her own, and was eventually fired.

    “Also, there’s this weird culture where each person seems to think they’re the only one who does any work or is competent.”

    This was also super prominent there and unfortunately, it was very cultural and unlikely to change anytime soon. I think it was in reaction to bad top-level management and a bunch of interrelated issues (such as bad hiring practices – they were all from bigger orgs, and this was a very small org, so they all thought they were amazingly overqualified while often not having the right skill set for a small org? IDK)

    I was the person who thought “well, I can just do fine and not worry about them” but it was harder than I thought to avoid the impact.

  6. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    Man, I feel like I could have written this letter about my last job. From the moment I was introduced to the Sr. Data Analyst I would be working with, it was a constant litany of complaints about the CEO, co-workers, pay, benefits, employee favoritism…I’ve been working in office environments for over 20 years and I’d never seen anything like it.

    She turned out to be right about most of it, but her sour attitude was such a bummer for me to have to listen to all day, every day. She was later let go without notice, and I wound up quitting myself shortly afterwards. I sure hope she never wants to use me as a reference, as I would never be able to give her a positive one. She was very good at her job duties but her soft skills and emotional intelligence were disastrous.

  7. Caroline Bowman*

    All you can do is observe for yourself, not take it personally if you do end up getting treated not-well and make the best of your first career role. If it turns out to be okay, try and stick for a year (not if it’s causing you undue stress though! I mean if it’s okay / maybe not ideal but okay and you’re learning) and then cast your net further.

  8. Roscoe*

    My guess. Its both a toxic workplace AND Jane brings some of it on herself.

    Based on what you have noticed, it doesn’t sound great. High turnover, adversarial issues, and everything else definitely has the makings of a toxic workplace. That said, Jane doesn’t sound like she is doing herself any favors. I know from experience, its easy to get sucked into that. You are tired of dealing with things that won’t change, so you vent. But Jane is probably venting too much, which makes her managers dislike her, even if all of her complaints are valid. She definitely shouldn’t have been complaining to you on day one, but I also wouldn’t be quick to act like she is the only problem either.

  9. MedGal*

    Be wary of what coworkers say. I once started a new job where everyone complained heavily about the person I replaced. That she took long lunches, disappeared for long periods during the day.

    Fast forward about a year. Suddenly my coworkers are all treating me poorly. No more lunch invites, just cold in general. Suddenly I understood why my predecessor did what she did. It was really hard to take. I took more sick days when I worked there than I ever did before or since.

    Things are not always as they seem at first.

  10. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — It doesn’t sound like the healthiest environment, but it’s early days yet. The fact that management is so conspicuously absent bothers me — do they not know about all the grousing, or do they know and not care?

    My advice would be to not join in the carping, avoid joining any factions, and learn as much as you possibly can on the job. Since you’re early in your career, you may want to soak up as much experience as you can get with the idea of looking for another position in a couple of years.

    1. Annette*

      Early days during a world altering pandemic. In many or most cases – it’s too soon to make a judgement. Proceed lightly.

  11. windowround*

    These are all fairly common problems in a workplace.

    As for the ‘only person who does any work/competent’ that’s not always untrue. Often in workplaces with poor management or that are not competitive roles you get a gap between workers in terms of the effort they put in. It can cause resentment that is valid.

    I agree that complaining to a new hire from the beginning is a sign of really poor judgement. Even if everything is true a smart worker will wait a while before confiding in someone about what they really think about the workplace.

    1. OP/Letter Writer/Not Mad Just Disappointed Scientist*

      You hit the nail on the head with “lack of competitive roles” – we are in government, and there’s really only one promotion available to most. The two management positions are usually held by lifers. In my year at this job I’ve definitely noticed that those who know they won’t be managers do significantly less work. It’s pretty maddening. I’m just trying to keep perspective, that the job is about the work we do, not our egos.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Also the “lack of competitive roles” may play into some other issues. I’ve worked in similar environments and part of the challenge is that a lot of the people in our senior individual contributor roles may not really have the right skillset to move into management and, in some cases, don’t have the insight to know that it’s not the right fit for them. This leads to a situation where you have some people who won’t even become managers but insist on backseat driving. It’s a problem even when they aren’t slacking off because the lack of insight also means that they struggle to see the big picture in a lot of ways and aren’t really people you want mentoring new employees.

  12. k8*

    ugh when i worked in a toxic/negative environment and was training people, i found myself constantly word-vomiting about how everything stunk/was poorly organized/didn’t make sense/etc….i don’t think i was wrong about any of that, but i always walked away from those encounters feeling badly and wishing i could have managed myself/my emotions better. i agree with those saying that it might be a bit of both a toxic coworker AND a toxic workplace– in which case, good luck!

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      One issue we had was constant turnover as people got fed up and left, often on short notice / after a blow-up, which made it harder for me to be Peggy Sunshine with each new person coming to be for training. Having seen their last three predecessors bite the dust, it was hard to be positive about this new lamb’s fresh start …

    2. Smithy*

      Unfortunately, the worst part of working in an unprofessional/toxic environment is how it impacts your own instincts/professional habits. I found that a lot of my “this work place” survival skills, were things I had to mentally and emotionally unlearn when I left. Something that took time and certainly delayed opportunities for professional growth. Sometimes because I was caught in a faulty cycle where I believed I could advance (where in fact I couldn’t), and sometimes because I had to take the time to make renewed professional habits second nature.

      1. ReadyNPC3*

        What do you mean by that? I came out of a very toxic environment a few years ago and I worry I’ve held onto or developed some bad habits. Are there any resources you could suggest to help identify ways to deal with those habits?

  13. Jennifer*

    Sounds like a bit of both. I’d put the lion’s share of the blame on the company. However, Jane should be more discreet about her complaining.

  14. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    This is where long-term thinking is valuable. You may have only just begun in the field you’ve prepared for, but I’m guessing that your workplace isn’t the only game in town, right? You’re clearly observant and really smart, if you caught on to this so early. Now you can play The Anthropologist Game, where you observe the behaviors of the people around you, in order to understand their hierarchies, social cues, and culture. You’re not going to be there forever, and you will be so much stronger and capable in future jobs by having that knowledge.

    That knowledge can also help you shore up your resources, like knowing when you need friends and hobbies to help you disconnect/recharge. Above all, stay current with your field’s job market and keep your resume updated, so you can jump when you feel you’ve gained all the job experience you can manageably get. (which is a good idea anyway, in case whoops! the company is closing! or merging and laying off employees! or if a totally unforeseen pandemic happens!)

    Use Alison’s advice, trust your gut, keep thinking long-term. This is one small group of people out of a whole world.

    1. HMM*

      Best advice here, IMO. Keep your eyes peeled, but stay above it all. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for you and the answer is the same, regardless of what Jane or your other coworkers think. If Jane is right and you’re unhappy, then figure out how to make things better or exit. If Jane is wrong but you’re still unhappy, then the answer is the same. But if you’re happy – stay and let their complaints roll off your back.

    2. Emily*

      It’s also worth being cautious about the effect the place is having on you. I’ve stuck it out at a truly toxic workplace–I had a year’s contract and I figured I could survive it for a year then leave on good terms which I did.
      It also had a terrible effect of my mental health that I didn’t truly realise or at least acknowledge until after I left. I haven’t worked in that field, which required considerable study and dedication to get into, since I left.

  15. Cordoba*

    Speculating about the intent and mindset behind somebody’s decision making is often injurious to a working relationship.

    Right or wrong, stewing about why somebody did what they did is only time well-spent if the outcome of that stewing is actionable.

    I find it helpful to deliberately assume that people make bad decisions out of either random chance, incomplete data, or cheerful incompetence rather than as part of complicated plot to “get” me or engineer some sort of scheme.

    On multiple occasions I’ve watched people build elaborate multi-part conspiracy theories to explain what was “really” behind work decisions they didn’t like; while I had 100% reliable information that indicated the decision was absolutely as straightforward as can be.

    No Chad, the bosses didn’t move your desk behind that pillar to make you look bad or cut you off from the group. After renovations all the desks were assigned alphabetically, *somebody* had to be behind the pillar, and you just happened to wind up there based on how the English language works. Your gripe is with the dictionary, not a secret cabal of fellow employees trying to sabotage you.

  16. Jules the 3rd*

    This sounds a lot a company I know (not my current employer). There was some bad company culture, in that a couple of people looked for scapegoats not solutions, but most of the company was ok. I think OP doesn’t know enough to decide yet.

    My Jane was one of the people who looked for scapegoats. She required a lot of hand holding and emotional support, or she assumed people were blaming her *even when nothing was wrong*. I could not even ask, ‘Are you still in the shared spreadsheet, or can I unlock it?’ without getting a defensive response. Her assumption that people were assigning blame colored a lot of meetings before her managers figured out how to defuse her.

    If the problems you’re seeing are mostly between Jane and two supervisors, don’t assume the whole company’s a problem. Take a step back from Jane, talk to your managers about Not-Jane stuff, like your goals, company goals, what they want to see in your position, what you might need to know if you want to transfer to some specific other position, what training the company might pay for to get you to the other position.

    If the mgr’s response is ‘oh yeah, we need forklift operators, and company would pay $ for forklift training’, that tells you something good about the company. If the manager response is ‘none of you floor workers will ever get into other positions’, that is another data point supporting your concerns.

  17. Anonymous at a University*

    Yikes, OP, this was me with a colleague, “Tammi,” when I began my current faculty job who was genuinely nice to me and showed me how things worked…but also told me that another colleague who was nice to me was a “user,” saw conspiracy theories in two people talking in their office with their door shut unless it involved her, and held one colleague’s tears when his mother died against him five years later. (Because, see, when Tammi’s mother died SHE didn’t cry, so he was overly emotional, and his emotions were also secretly a jab at her).

    There are genuine problems with our university: stagnant wages, lack of communication from administration, one administrative employee who was hired for data analysis and then tried to assign herself to running faculty’s classrooms, a tendency to act on too little information from a survey of, say, 20 people, favoritism. However, none of these were actually the problems Tammi complained about. It was always the conspiracies she was sure were being directed against her, actions she wanted to take that people turned down “for no reason” (these actions were often either illegal or impractical), and people who had mistreated her who had retired five years ago. I came to realize that other people saw me as aligned with her, and when I finally stepped away from Tammi because she turned on me for being part of a “clique” that didn’t exist, suddenly I was getting a whole different take on the existing problems and what some of my colleagues were working on to solve them- something Tammi never, ever did.

    Keep your eyes open. The problems might well be real. They might be real, but not in the way Jane thinks they are. They might be real, but she’s exaggerating them. Or there might be entirely different problems, like the adversarial work culture, that Jane never mentions. Make your own judgments. You can’t always trust the long-timer with a bunch of baggage to unload; sometimes they just want you to carry it for them.

    1. Springella*

      Yes, but perhaps it’s not unusual to see conspiracies everywhere when in toxic environments. And strange work cultures make strange things with some people’s heads.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Eh, the problem was that Tammi was, and is, seeing an entirely different kind of toxic than what was really there. She was claiming that someone who had to take care of a sick family member and thus missed some meetings was “toxic,” while Tammi wanting to miss meetings just to miss them was fine because, of course, it was her. She’s threatened to claim that people she doesn’t like have done non-existent things- things she herself told me didn’t happen!- so she can imperil their tenure. She told someone to shut up over a completely innocuous comment and acted shocked and appalled when they came and talked to her to ask what the problem was later (because of course there was no problem, they just should have realized that Tammi can insult people she wants to). She got upset that people brought roast beef sandwiches to a potluck because they’re brown and Tammi wanted “orange and yellow, cheerful” foods to soothe her depression, so the person who brought the roast beef sandwiches was obviously “making fun” of her. She told me I was part of a clique that was oppressing her because I laughed at a joke someone else told, a joke that had nothing to do with Tammi.

        I think Tammi was strange long before she came here. And I have no patience for conspiracy theories when I’m being accused of being part of them.

  18. OP/Letter Writer/Not Mad Just Disappointed Scientist*

    Hello everyone! Thank you SO much for all of your responses!

    I submitted this question to Allison about a year ago (no shade – things happen!). Since then, I’ve really hit my stride in my role, my (former) trainer got promoted, and then she quit this February. I feel she gave me a fantastic foundation…but yes, her constant negativity really got to me. Over her last several months I noticed a lot of her opinions were based on factually incorrect information. But at the same time, I have felt a bit of the capriciousness from our managers that she warned me about. Still, “Jane” was never good at office politics and took every slight very personally (which she has herself admitted to me). Her toxicity could be very contagious. It still is, actually – we still talk, and she *still* complains about our managers. We work in government/emergency services, so since the pandemic we’ve been mostly short staffed and overwhelmed. Jane has gotten into my head a bit that our managers will never listen to my concerns. Realizing this, I’m trying to distance myself from her a bit and just continue to focus on my work. All the stewing is just distracting, and we’re all in crisis mode!

    At the end of the day, I’m pretty confident that my early instincts were correct. I like Jane, but I think her perspective has gotten rather warped. I’ll learn from her mistakes while also maintaining a healthy attitude towards my managers’ actions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is the longest I’ve ever let a letter sit (a year — I’m so sorry! and I’m not normally anywhere near that bad) but now at least we get the pleasure of an immediate update. Thank you!

    2. Chaordic One*

      So it turns out to be a bit of both. The workplace and management has problems, but Jane herself is a bit toxic and “never good at office politics”. It is interesting to know that Jane was promoted and then quit. In my experience most of the toxic people I’ve had to work with were those who were trapped in their jobs for different reasons and who didn’t really have many other options in looking to find another one.

      Sometimes they lived in a rural area with a limited job market, or they were unlikely to find another job that paid as well as what they were currently making, or they had something about them that lent to their being discriminated against (being older, being overweight, RBF, being a member of a minority group, etc.) although they could never prove it. Or maybe they couldn’t interview their way out of a paper bag. And they didn’t read AAM and put the advice and information into practice.

      It sounds like you have handled the situation well and are continuing to do so, OP. Thanks for the update.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Phew, that’s what I was hoping was the case for you! Really when you’re new, you don’t know which swerve that setup will take.

      Almost the exact same thing happened to me when I starred at my current job. Only without Jane getting a promotion, she just left for other reasons. She doesn’t still talk badly about it though, I think being away gave my Jane more perspective which is nice to sere.

      So glad we got an instant update!

    4. here I go again*

      Just caught this update, after I posted … Glad things are working out for you.

    5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      This is a great update! That point about Jane not being good at office politics is key here. This isn’t about victim blaming, but sometimes people who don’t navigate office politics well tend to not be able to get out of their own way at the best of times, which plays a big role in the toxicity that they’re describing. It’s difficult to evaluate this when you first start a new job, though.

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      This is perfect! You should feel confident about your instincts, as they are right on. Rejoice in being clear-eyed; and yes, I was impressed with “capriciousness” too.

  19. Nonprofit Nancy*

    This reminds me of my old workplace so much. I probably had shades of Jane by the time I left. High turnover is a red flag to watch out for. One thing that is odd is, if Jane is a known complainer stirring up trouble, why assign her to train a new hire?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Everywhere I’ve worked, training has been assigned to a low-performing employee.* In some ways, it kills two stones with one bird. Bill can’t make any errors today because he’s training the new hires. It’s win/win! Joaquin and Wendy’s work on the next-generation teapots is too valuable to disrupt with training.

      In OP’s letter, though, it sounds like Jane was a dedicated training specialist. I’ve had two jobs where there was an HR employee who was dedicated to onboarding new employees. Generally, they were teaching the global requirements (timeclock, benefits, etc) and then you’d move on to a peer-trainer in your department or role.

      *The logic also seemed to include “low performers are at least still fulfilling the minimal job requirements, and everyone shares the same fundamentals and basics anyway.” So employees get trained to do things poorly, then immediately retrained to do those same things well. Cue the chorus chanting “Dysfunction!”

    2. stemmie*

      Except for the turnover, this is my situation to a T. My boss was constantly unloading secret office drama on me since I came on board and many find her difficult to work with – I’ve had my eye on the door for about a year now. BUT I just gave a workplace culture survey as part of an anti-racism training – and a substantial number of people who don’t even work with her raised all kinds of red flags! Including: they believe they are not recognized for good work, problems are not solved, and the director won’t hear critical feedback. Our director fought me on whether the survey truly revealed anything negative! And my boss told me my work wouldn’t make a difference!

  20. Richard Hershberger*

    You know how every time a whistleblower complaint is reported, the company’s go-to response is that say that this is just a disgruntled employee? They are claiming that the whistlebower is Jane: That person who is always complaining about something. Everyone is out to get them, and are screwed in every interaction they have with anyone. The thing about these people are (1) they are the one constant in those interactions, and (2) they are utter bores. I do my best to avoid these walking fountains of tedium for that second reason.

    That being said, that doesn’t mean that the workplace is not in fact toxic. As the old joke goes, just because I am paranoid doesn’t mean that no one is out to get me. It does, however, mean that your analysis of the job’s toxicity should not include Jane’s reporting.

  21. Office Person*

    I train new people at my workplace and I agree that trainers should not force their opinions on new hires. My work is fairly toxic in some ways (but there are Good Reasons that I stay) but I would never unload all of those onto a new hire. The things that bug me may not bother them. The people that I clash with may not affect them. I might say, “Jill prefers this report to be just so, and really is bothered when it isn’t, so pay extra careful attention to this,” but I wouldn’t say, “Jill can be a real ass when the report isn’t the way she wants it, so do it her way or you’ll have to hear her bitch about it”. New hires invariably have issues with the same people I do, but I always make sure they get the chance to form their own opinions.

  22. windowround*

    Commenting again.

    I think it also matters how old you are and how much work experience you have. Some co workers have unreasonably high expectations of management and their workplace and their co workers. If you have experience you’ll be able to judge whether you are in a good workplace or not.

    I’ve worked with some complainers who it seems have had a good run in the workforce and don’t really know what a crap workplace is. My last job I considered to be ‘fine’ in the ranking of these things but to some co workers it was ‘toxic.’ Damn, you don’t know what toxic is if you’re calling this toxic!

    So use your experience to judge for yourself if maybe your co worker is being precious. If you’re lacking experience talk to someone with experience outside your workplace and ask them what they think.

    A lot of letters to AAM I honestly think ‘hey that’s just work.’ Sometimes work blows a bit. That’s why they pay us to be there. You’re just not really going to find an amazing workplace unless you get very lucky. I mean they have to pay us to show up. So long as they place is acceptable enough and isn’t given you sleepless nights don’t try to force perfectionism on your job. Other people standards are often out of whack with the fact that well it’s work and this is how it often is.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a good comment and a good point. The people who complain the most about my current company are the people who have been there 20+ years – some since they were 18 years old. They are 1) either comparing to the old days when insurance was free and you could smoke at your desk or 2) have never worked anywhere else.

      That is not saying there are no workplace issues anywhere or that the OP doesn’t truly work in a bad environment, but I think those are things over time you learn to suss out on your own.

  23. Goldenrod*

    As usual, Alison’s advice is SPOT ON. Personally, I suspect it’s both – that Jane is toxic, and so is the workplace culture. It’s not an either/or.

    Or maybe Jane would be okay in a different environment, but she became toxic over time in that culture. I will sound that this 100% sounds like a toxic workplace to me, based on all the weird blame and defensiveness.

    In one VERY toxic place I worked, I would eventually discuss the toxic management with new hires….but I would definitely give them time to form their own impressions first. I would basically just confirm what they were feeling once they started figuring it out, so that they knew they weren’t alone in their feelings. But no – you don’t dump that on someone on their first day! The OP has to form her own impressions and conclusions on her own.

  24. Professional Straphanger*

    I spent way too long at job that had the same vibe as LW described: “each person seems to think they’re the only one who does any work or is competent. People tend to jump to conclusions about each other’s intent or state of mind when a mistake is made and, on the flip side, take it very personally when a mistake is pointed out. The tension seems especially pronounced between Jane and the two managers.”

    Ultimately I think it happened because senior management didn’t have a coherent vision or model leadership. The result was mid- and lower-level managers in unending skirmishes and turf wars to stake out their little groups or process areas. We worker bees got conflicting instructions and subtle but career path-affecting snubs from managers because we worked for “THAT manager” instead of a manager they were friendswith. Add in the workers who tried to ingratiate themselves to a hoped-for manager-ally by spying for them or stabbing coworkers in the back, and without senior management to make policy and ensure everyone works together you’ve got the very definition of toxic workplace.

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You’re so new, you need to just keep your head and ears on a swivel. Jane could be the problem, I’ve had Jane be the problem before! But I’ve also had Jane just be a symptom of the fact she works in a toxicwaste dump of a company.

    The turnover gave me a gut punch and flashback to the toxic waste facility I was managing.

    I came in and I loved the place. It was fantastic but there were signs here and there. The big one was when the senior employee jumped ship. It’s typical for junior employees not to stay around but when you get there and the most senior folks are starting to pull the cord, that’s a huge sign to me. So I’d need to know more about that turnover…

    I didn’t see it as an issue until I really saw how the replacement of those staff members was handled. Then I got it dropped on my neck because I somehow was to blame they couldn’t replace 10 year senior spots with literally minimum wage no-experienced former Starbucks baristas. :| :| :| :|

    But then I had a Jane that was just a stormy little raincloud that didn’t like that the leadership had changed and had a lot of complaints. The turnover there was actually the toxic people finally leaving because they weren’t being allowed to continue to be the company Queen Bees.

    So when you’re new, you really just need to try to keep everything in perspective of “I don’t know any of these people yet, just because they seem nice or seem standoffish, doesn’t mean that’s who they are.” Get to know people, keep an open mind! And know you may or may not need to dump that place in the future.

  26. HeyPony*

    Being wary of chronic complainers and giving myself time to observe and form my own opinions at a new job is one of the best lessons I ever learned about the work world. It’s easy to let yourself get absorbed into that kind of culture when you’re the new person, feeling a bit nervous and eager to fit in. Jane may be 100% correct, but you need to figure that out yourself based on your own observations and experiences.

    And AAM is correct, it is way out of line for someone to initiate that kind of chatter with a new colleague, especially when that person is tasked with training the newbie. Very poor judgement on her part.

  27. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I’m curious about what the “personality clash” with Jane was about. For example is it that OP likes to know all the ins and outs of why everything is the way it is, and Jane just gives general answers… or conversely that Jane is ‘obsessed with minor details’ whereas OP just wants to grasp the concept at first and then drill down later, or similar things… or is it more “personally” based?

    I’m not sure it’s “only a matter of time before you get singled out” as such, but I think it is only a matter of time before you start to get more insight in to more of the nuances of interpersonal politics and things like that, because I think Jane to put it crudely is probably more of a “symptom” than the “cause” of an environment like this. I wonder why Jane believes she has been singled out and so on.

    I think in your position, OP, I’d approach it with a curious and open-minded outlook on 2 fronts:
    1) open-minded as towhat pans out in the company (e.g. is it revealed to be a bees’ nest) but in the meantime try to keep a healthy but also “healthy dose of skepticism” way of thinking, and
    2) can you probe (tactfully) with Jane why she thinks she has been singled out or what’s driving these type of comments? You may be able to gain some insight from that with some careful questioning/discussion.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      On point 2) above, what I mean is discussing in a detached and rational sort of way, and when she says something like “well, it was obvious to me that Felicia had something against me ever since the incident in which…. etc etc” be aware that you are “observing” rather than “sympathizing”!

  28. Andy*

    Highg turnover with what a lot of aggressivity (whether passive or open), yeah, sounds like bad workplace all in all. There is an underlying bad reason for all of this: “each person seems to think they’re the only one who does any work or is competent. People tend to jump to conclusions about each other’s intent or state of mind when a mistake is made and, on the flip side, take it very personally when a mistake is pointed out. ”

    The paranoiaver mistakes in particular is bad sign. The real risk is not that you will be singled out.

    The real risk is that this workplace will condition you to react with anger on mistakes, own or those of other people. That you will become defensive and that after you change workplace those new traits will stick.

    Jane is angry it seems to me and possibly the next person to leave.

    As a side note, management people are heavily biased against people talking about problems or venting their anger. And in some cases the issue is really with individual. But in many other cases complaining or angry people are the consequence of bad leadership and bad culture. And there are many signs here that Jane is merely the person where this all is playing out. Regardless of whether she was singled out or is just guessing wrong given general passive aggressiveness and hostilities in the workplace.

  29. tired&*

    >Also, there’s this weird culture where each person seems to think they’re the only one who does any work or is competent. People tend to jump to conclusions about each other’s intent or state of mind when a mistake is made and, on the flip side, take it very personally when a mistake is pointed out. The tension seems especially pronounced between Jane and the two managers in charge of our section.

    I just had flashbacks to my old job because it was exactly this. I cannot stress to you how this passage took me back to a place that I am still working to undo the damage of. To answer the question, it’s BOTH. It’s toxic workplace and Jane’s been, as I call it, “institutionalized.” She’s aware of the toxicity but ultimately, she leaned in while maintaining she’s actually an objective party to it all. A bad workplace poisons the mind and you change yourself in order to not be eaten by it.

  30. here I go again*

    Quick advice: Don’t Be Jane.

    Somewhat longer advice: Be aware that Jane is recruiting you to her side, wanting you to agree with and spread her negativity. Don’t fall for it and try not to feed it. Remain neutral about her complaints and hand them back to her, then turn the conversation back to work. “Well, that sounds tough, Jane, but I’m sure you’ll sort it out. While I have you, I wanted to ask you about …”

    Jane may be a bit miffed when you don’t play along and even complain about you to others. Dollars to donuts, your co-workers already know she’s a complainer and might appreciate that you are not. Basically, be friendly but professional with everyone and do a good job until you can move on to a better working environment. Best of luck!

  31. Orange*

    Oh man. I am a manager of a workplace that feels just like this- right down to the shift work, the concept that “everyone is incompetent except for me” and weirdly defensive responses to feedback and any kind of oversight. We definitely have a few Janes, and we also have a few OPs who are just baffled by it all. From my end as the manager of an occasionally dysfunctional work setting, it’s been a huge struggle to make any headway with changing the culture. We’ve increased manager presence outside of business hours to help with accountability, we’ve worked on coaching staff individually, we try to be sensitive and receptive to feedback, but it feels like the negativity generated by some select workers overwhelms the work we’re trying to do to improve the culture. In defense of all the managers and supervisors out there who feel like they are swimming against the current on workplace culture and trying to improve a “toxic” workplace, the Janes are totally exhausting, even if they sometimes are correct.

    OP, I’m going to echo the other commenters and AAM- use your own judgement about what you see. It’s never as simple as “Jane is toxic” or “this workplace is toxic.” The answer is usually it’s both and it’s neither, and it’s up to you to determine if it’s a place that fits for you.

    1. Laika*

      Out of curiosity, are you working with any of those select workers to minimize the impact they’re having? I’m not a manager but I could’ve written OP’s letter (or, on some days, be Jane…). We have a few people at my work who are just a barrage of negativity, like they’re trying to drag everyone else down, but as far as I can tell, no one has ever spoken to them directly about it. I wonder how much of an effect it might have, if any at all?

      1. Orange*

        Definitely have worked one on one with the folks who are being negative! What I’m learning is that it is really hard to do that effectively (but AAM has been a huge help), because some people are very embedded in their behavior/mindset that leads to the behavior. If they don’t willingly buy in to wanting to make some fundamental changes, or don’t trust you or management in general, or feel like they are the only sane one in the workplace, etc…, it’s very hard to coach them out of it. If it becomes really disruptive, we can move in the disciplinary route, but that can also be tough on morale, or hard to support if the person is otherwise proficient at their job. The other part of this is that managers don’t get to tell other staff, “I reprimanded Jane after she didn’t demonstrate any improvement in the specific areas I identified and worked with her on for the last 6 months”. All staff see is “Jane still sucks and management isn’t doing anything.” All Jane may see is “my boss is targeting me.” It’s so hard!!

  32. Chaordic One*

    Ever notice how “everyone is incompetent except for me” is usually accompanied with a healthy dose of “That’s not my job!”?

    I’m just sayin’. There are definitely some problems with job descriptions and roles, with expectations, and with exactly who does what. There are probably a lot of situations that have been unanticipated and that are not really being addressed, or that are thought of by management as being rare “exceptions,” except that they are actually extremely common.

  33. Minocho*

    While I agree that Jane is not helping the situation any, the fact that everyone is both convinced they’re the only ones pulling their weight, and that they’re playing the blame game instead of the “This is a problem I noticed, how do we fix it?” game does mean that something is not great about the culture.

    I would definitely keep my eyes open, and do my best not to contribute to the negativity that is currently infecting the OP’s coworkers. Good luck, OP!

  34. AzelmaThenardier*

    This gave me full-on flashbacks to my last job but one. Within a couple of days of starting, I had a couple of co-workers complaining that the place was badly run and they hated their jobs. I was excited about my new job and all the exciting opportunities I’d been promised during the interview process. I just thought they were being negative and weren’t approaching the work with right attitude. Three months later, after seeing a hugely quick turnover, I ended up resigning. They were absolutely right about how the company was run and I’d really been mislead about what the job entailed. Sometimes it’s a couple of employees with bad attitudes and poor judgment, sometimes is a symptom of something bigger.

  35. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    This place sounds thoroughly toxic. Everybody thinks they work harder than everyone else, everybody is quick to blame each other for anything that goes wrong, people are leaving, Jane is complaining. OP started out with a problem with Jane right at the start, but managed to move beyond that.
    Jane is an important part of the problem of course, there are two points about her in my list of what’s wrong with the place. She may well thrive on the toxicity and complaining. I would probably try my best to avoid her as much as possible – I appreciate that this is hard when she’s supposed to be training OP.
    I remember reading about someone who was told that management sucked at their new job, then later they found out that management was deemed to suck because they expected employees to turn up on time and in a clean uniform. It’s important to make up your own mind based on your own experiences, because people don’t necessarily tell you all the facts of a case – they might not know them all, and they might be glossing over their own less-than-honourable part in a story.

  36. Never Sleeping Beauty*

    I say this as someone with experience, be extremely cautious of Jane. At my last job, my boss tried to indoctrinate me from day one with complaints about everyone else in our small company, including the CEO. It worked, and together we formed this toxic relationship that revolved around complaining and making fun of our coworkers behind their backs. I thought, “Oh, isn’t this great that I have a comrade at this otherwise terrible place.”

    Then I went on a business trip with one of our “awful” coworkers. And I realized I’d been bedazzled and actually, the other employees were pretty nice and much more competent than I had been thinking. So I started resisting the negative jam sessions and didn’t participate in them as much. Guess what happened? Boss turned on me and tried to get me fired. Since then, I am extremely wary of anyone who would excessively complains about their workplace. Not to say there aren’t legitimate complaints to be raised, but often this is a sign of a toxic person.

  37. Alexis Rose*

    Oh my goodness I could have written this letter. My first week of work at my previous job was spent chatting with different folks and trying to form a rapport with everyone on my team. One lunch I had with a coworker was characterized by her spending the ENTIRE time on a tirade about how awful every other coworker and supervisor and manager was, and how I was young and naive right now, but in 20 years I’d be just as bitter as she was, I just needed to have my eyes opened to the “reality”.

    It was…… jarring. And incredibly unprofessional. I caught on pretty quickly, and was able to suss out that she was just a very disillusioned and miserable person, even though she did have some valid criticism about how a sexism complaint of hers had been handled. But my goodness it was awful to hear in my first week, and in my experience I didn’t have the same negative interactions with all the people she thought were the devil. I distanced myself over time from her opinions about work, but I’m really just glad that I was not a new grad or a person otherwise new to the workforce, so I had some previous experience that sent up huge “warning” signs about what she was saying and how it was said.

  38. Utility gal*

    I spent a career managing (and working) overlapping shifts where I saw some employees face to face only once a week. Screwups in these industries could potentially start fires or kill a couple thousand people. We DID have a logbook that everyone had to read at the start of the shift and initial because we needed a failsafe way to make sure 3rd shift knew that valve B was closed due to a mechanical issue on 2nd shift and please use bypass valve B1 instead and place the equipment into manual mode on startup versus remote…and so on. Everyone needed to hear all relevant “lessons learned” …but the only name I ever disclosed was MY OWN. Examples …”I just found out that the brakes on truck 95 have been squealing and stopping poorly for a week. I have called the garage and they are coming to get it. The bigger problem is I need to know immediately when the truck or anything else is malfunctioning. I don’t want anyone to get hurt! Notify me of future problems ASAP – thanks”. Or….”Don’t do what I did and assume the water is shut off to pump X just because process Y is down. I got sprayed in the face while checking pressures! Please verify pressure is off at Dial Z on the red pipe

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