6 Ways To Cope With A Negative Office Environment
By CJ McClanahan
At some point in time, the negative office environment sort of became accepted as the norm. Most likely, you’ve witnessed this firsthand and it forced you to take a long, hard look at your future with that company.
In the spring of 2000, I quit my job working in a small manufacturing company and jumped head first into the great dot-com bubble joining a software company called Powerway.
At the time, Powerway had just received major funding from Chrysler to build a web-based tool to facilitate the quality control process throughout their supply chain. Upon joining, I received a healthy pay raise and stock options. In my mind, I was on my way to becoming a multi-millionaire….
I had a lot to learn
Over the next year, the company added dozens of bright, talented individuals and more than doubled in size. Everyone was excited for big salaries, equity and working in the booming internet industry.
People came to the office early, stayed late, and worked their butts off, hoping to earn more stock options, a promotion (the org chart evolved weekly) and big bonuses.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric.
Powerway enjoyed numerous glowing articles in the newspaper, threw lavish employee “gatherings”, and spared no expense in an attempt to take full advantage of the unique opportunity in the marketplace.
Nothing could stop us
As you know, this wave didn’t last too long. After hitting a peak in March of 2000, the bubble slowly began to collapse.
As the irrational exuberance began to wear off, the normal rules of business once again took over and Powerway began to lose some of its luster.
In other words, we were quickly reintroduced to the idea that businesses need to eventually make money.
Then the layoffs began
I’m not entirely sure why, but I kept making the cut and after many months the company eventually stabilized. As the remaining staff “retrenched” for the long battle ahead, it was clear that this was a very different place to work.
The atmosphere went from electric to dreary. From supportive to downright hostile. Where positivity and enthusiasm was once plentiful, one would only now find negative energy.
Instead of putting in the long hours, most people did the minimum amount of work possible to hit their deadlines and keep the company afloat.
In retrospect, what I found to be most shocking was how the people and the culture changed almost overnight.
In less than two years, a group of enthusiastic, hardworking professionals were transformed into lazy, whiny, 9-5’ers who spent most of the day bitching about the incompetence of leadership team.
I was right there with them.
My attitude got so bad that one day, I actually encouraged a peer to slow down on a project because he was making the rest of us look bad. Worse, this poor guy was so defeated that he took my advice.
Even if you’ve never experienced anything quite like this story, I guarantee you’ve been a part of a negative environment at some point in your career. If you haven’t, you will.
Most people are unsatisfied with their careers. This tends to lead to a lot of bitching and moaning in the workplace.
The question you need to consider is –
“How am I going to deal with all this negativity?”
After working with hundreds of companies, most of which have at least a little negativity in their office, I’ve put together a handful of tactics for dealing with this unfortunate aspect of your professional career.
1. Recognize the Reality
The truth is that at least one person in your office is going to be the person who looks for problems instead of solutions. It doesn’t mean you work for a terrible company, it’s just the law of averages.
No workplace environment is perfect, and if you join an organization under the pretense that it’s an incredible place to work and everyone works in pure harmony, you’re probably setting yourself up to be let down.
2. Clarify Your Mission and Values
One of the best ways to avoid being negatively influenced by the complainer in your office is to have a crystal clear vision for where you’re taking your career and the principles that drive your behavior. Focus on the positive aspects of each day and look for solutions rather than problems.
3. Pick Your Friends Carefully
There will be people in your office who are wired to find something wrong with everything in your organization. Although hanging out with them can be fun from time to time, eventually they’ll wear you down. Soon, you’ll be the one forwarding Dilbert cartoons comparing your CEO to the pointy haired boss.
As Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is the true, then you would be wise to consciously and carefully choose to be among people that lift you up, not those full of negativity and seek to bring you down.
4. Keep Quiet
No matter how hard you try, from time to time, you’re going to be in a conversation where the topic is the many problems with your company. Even if you agree with some of the complaints, it’s better not to engage and just keep your mouth shut. There’s no value in adding fuel to the fire. If you’ve got a problem, take it up with your supervisor.
5. Change Locations
Many times, if there is a particular person in your office that is causing you distress, a simple solution can be moving your desk to another location. However, if the person in question is your superior, this may not be an option.
Alternatively, many workplaces have begun allowing their employees to work remotely. If your role doesn’t require you to physically be in the office all the time, it could be worth a shot to figure out how you can work from home one day or more a week.
6. Call It Quits
Finally, you can do what I did at Powerway. One day, the realization finally hit me that I had two options, either quit bitching or quit. Two months later, I was gone.
Sometimes, the environment is so negative that it makes you absolutely dread going into the office. When that happens, get out as fast as possible.
The statistics are changing all the time, but what doesn’t seem to be changing is the fact that people are changing jobs (and careers) more frequently than ever.
At the same time, we’ve been in the middle of a hiring crisis for a decade-plus. If you look in the right places, you can certainly find employment somewhere else, though there is no guarantee it’ll be better or worse than where you are at.
By developing a crystal clear vision for your career and applying these six strategies when work becomes loathsome, you’ll be able to avoid most of the pain that comes from simply drifting through your career.