Ask The Experts: I Like My Job But The Culture Is Toxic—Should I Quit?

Back-biting, gossiping, whispers about who will quit next—sounds like a nightmare work environment. But is quitting the only solution?

When you spend more time with your coworkers than your family, unhappy colleagues mean a lot more to your happiness than you'd probably think.

So when your dream job turns out to come with a nightmare company culture, is your only choice to cut and run? Psychologist Art Markman breaks it down.

Hello,

My problem is causing a lot of stress in my job—even though I love the work.

I took a position that, on paper, was a great opportunity, but now I realize the work culture is very toxic. There is constant back-biting, gossiping, and whispers about who will quit next. The turnover rate makes it nearly impossible to make a quality relationship with coworkers. If a good person is hired, they also realize it’s a negative environment and leave quickly.

Is this a hopeless cause? Should I quit a job I otherwise enjoy, or just keep my head down and ignore the negativity?

Ashley in Colorado


Dear Ashley,

This sounds like a tough environment. Let’s put this into perspective: Most people end up putting in at least 50 hours of work a week. Assuming you get about eight hours of sleep a night, it means that you spend about 44% of your waking life at work.

How do you want to spend that 44%?

That is not a rhetorical question, nor is it one with an obvious answer. There are several considerations for you.

Is there any hope for change? The way you framed your question, it seems as though the negative interactions are a deep part of the culture of the organization.

  • Is it possible that there are just a couple of particularly bad apples that are poisoning the work environment?
  • Is it possible that a small change in the attitude of a few people might make the overall environment more pleasant?
  • Are there other people who are also concerned about the current environment who might make good allies?
  • Can you see anything you might do to set an example that others would follow to make the office less toxic?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have some hope that things will improve. If not, then there have to be reasons to accept the negative culture as part of your work day.

That leads to the question:

Are you fulfilled? From the fact that you wrote this note, I’m going to guess you are not completely happy. But, are you fulfilled from this job? Is the work that you are doing enough to make you feel like you are making the kind of life contribution you want to make?

There are times where the answer to this question could be yes. Your company may be engaged in important work for society. Your role within the company may be crucial, so that you can feel pride in the success of the company as a whole.

If the work is fulfilling, then that is a reason to want to stay in a job in which the culture itself is not pleasant. You want to be able to look at your accomplishments at work with pride. But, if the culture itself makes it hard to do the work, or if the work itself is not as fulfilling as it could be because of the people around you, that is a good reason to start looking elsewhere.

What are the alternatives? In order to make it worthwhile to make a change, you have to know more about the alternatives to your current situation? How many other organizations are out there that would give you the same kind of responsibilities you have now? Is the culture at these organizations different?

There are some industries where the corporate culture varies significantly from company to company. For example, Costco is widely praised as a great place to work, while Sam’s Club, which is a similar retailer, has not had as positive a reputation.

In other industries, there is a lot of similarity across different organizations so that you run the risk of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Do some research about the environment at other firms you might consider joining. The warts from your current workplace are always the ones that are most obvious. There are few perfect workplaces—just about every company has some warts.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Perhaps most importantly, you need to examine the relationship between this job and your career path. How would you like to see your career progress?

  • How can your current job help you to achieve your goals?
  • Is there room for advancement within the company that might allow you to influence the culture (or perhaps take you out of the environment you are in right now)?
  • Are there skills you are still developing that would be useful for you to have even if you ultimately leave and go somewhere else?
  • Are there people within the organization you can still learn from that would enhance your future career?

Ultimately, if you place your current work environment in the context of your present life and your future goals, that will make it easier to decide whether you should stick around in this job or whether it is time to move on.



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