If national studies on workplace bullying and job dissatisfaction are any indication, a lot of people are dealing with lousy workplaces. These experiences can cause no small amounts of anxiety and stress, resulting in significant human and organizational costs.
Of course, the easiest antidote to a bad workplace is to leave it, hopefully for something better, but the exit option often must be weighed against other factors, especially in this difficult economy. Indeed, we know that a lot of people are staying at workplaces they don’t like for lack of better choices.
In terms of energy levels, these realities can leave people in a state of utter despair or recurring anger and conflict. For folks in these places, getting to tolerance is a goal worth pursuing.
What do I mean by “getting to tolerance”? It means being able to deal with the undesirable aspects of your workplace without them constantly taking you down a notch, or at least bouncing back after a bad day there. It means being able to do your job well, perhaps even with some enthusiasm and satisfaction, despite the negative aspects of your work environment. It means not taking the bad parts of work home with you every day. It also means being able to develop and weigh future options in a constructive and hopeful way.
Compared to despair or anger, tolerance is a big step up on the energy level scale.
That said, getting to tolerance often is easier said than done. None of these possibilities are necessarily ideal, but here are some potential avenues:
- Re-negotiate, with yourself, how you regard your job and even your career. Zero in on what you like about your job. Or, conversely, consider the pros and cons of emotionally detaching from your work.
- Create an in-house, informal support group of fellow workers who share your values and concerns. Be smart and careful about advertising this.
- If you regard your job in the context of a career, create meaningful connections related to your profession or trade outside your workplace. Build a positive external network of people who share your interests.
- Plan exit strategies, whatever they may be, while revisiting the “Should I stay, or should I go?” question. Don’t make it just about removing yourself from the bad stuff. Plant the seeds for potentially significant, positive changes.
- Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, to take the edge off the most stressful aspects of your work experience. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day (2012), concludes with a chapter “Thirty Ways to Reduce Stress at Work.”
- Pursue hobbies and avocations outside of work that provide meaning, engagement, and satisfaction.
- Seek counseling or coaching if you believe that professional help and guidance may be useful.
A final point: I’m not suggesting that you stick your head in the sand and talk yourself into thinking that nothing is wrong. Especially if you work in a place where bullying and intimidation are standard operating procedures, you’ll have to keep your wits about you. There’s a sensible midpoint between willful ignorance and hyper-vigilance, and that’s probably the best place to be in a bad workplace.
I’ve been studying, experiencing, and writing about the world of work for too long to suggest that there are easy ways for people to deal with less-than-wonderful workplaces. For some, however, getting to tolerance is a worthy and achievable objective, and reaching that point may be the portal to something even better.
The references to energy levels in this post are inspired by Bruce Schneider’s Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core (2008), and insights from professional coach Kerri Myers.
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