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Toxic Environment: How Do You Identify?
Old 05-24-2008, 10:26 AM   #1
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Toxic Environment: How Do You Identify?

I have a question regarding toxic work environments. How do you identify it? Any honest and self-aware person would first have to ask, "Is it because I'm doing something wrong, or is it because I'm just not too good at playing the political games?" At what point do you say that something is just wrong and leave?

Here are some potential areas of problems that I see with my current work:

I'm supposedly the group's finance guy, but I report to one of the managers. He takes a personal trip on the company dime to go back to his home state. I can't say anything. There are other questionable spending that just aren't supposed to happen, but they do. Mid-level manager keep asking to have personal pet projects be reclassified as legitimate spending. The money is not huge, but I find the practice troubling.

A lot of random yelling about stupid things. $150k is missing? Irrelevant. Twenty dollar extra on on a $100 order of materials that will be used exactly once? Get yelled at during the same meeting.

There are three sets of rules, one set for the management types in which they can and do literally say anything. There is one set for the engineering princes (didn't know such existed since I was an engineer just last year), and one set for the rest of us.

A lot of complaining about getting acquired despite big financial payoff and easier work schedule for almost all involved. Constantly implying that the people they hired since being acquired just aren't up to snuff despite the fact that I see more quality work being done by people who are not busy spending their new money.

Direct manager disappears for 2 months. I had no clue if he was moonlighting somewhere or looking for another job. He comes back. Yells at me for asking why he disappeared for 2 months.

Sales guy take a do not proceed recommendation from me, changes the spreadsheet to reflect unrealistically high numbers that can only be achieved if we were all smoking crack and pot at the same time and forward the numbers to upper management as if I had come up with the numbers.
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Old 05-24-2008, 10:29 AM   #2
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Take a long vacation. When you get back if it seems like everyone is an alien wrapped in semi-human skin, run away.

I've had a couple of jobs that were just ridiculous and I could see the stupidity going in, but then you become assimilated and it becomes a matter of how business is done.

After my 3 month sabbatical, I came back to a work to see with a clear mind that at least 50% and maybe as much as 75% of the work I was doing was internally and externally created very unnecessary stress that had no benefit to anyone other than individual ego stroking and people feeling like it made them "in the game".
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Old 05-24-2008, 11:00 AM   #3
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Direct manager disappears for 2 months. I had no clue if he was moonlighting somewhere or looking for another job. He comes back. Yells at me for asking why he disappeared for 2 months.
Sounds like a toxic job to me....Have you looked around to see what else is available? I took some time off like CFB suggested and it helps...It at least allowed me to confront some problems...
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Old 05-24-2008, 11:46 AM   #4
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Far too many alarm bells ringing for you to ignore. I'm a finance type and know what you mean - people keep wanting forecasts changed until they produce the desired answer even though you know what you are putting out there is total BS.

Plenty of jobs out there in the finance world, so if I were you I would not feel the need to stay.
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Old 05-24-2008, 12:02 PM   #5
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Go back to engineering. You are working in a nut house.
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Old 05-24-2008, 01:40 PM   #6
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Plan an exit strategy, NOW! I would not stay with this corporation because if you do at some point you will be sucked back into this group's issues.
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Old 05-24-2008, 02:12 PM   #7
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You might want to bail now before there's a criminal investigation.

I recall a Dilbert cartoon in which Dilbert asks:
"Is it a bad sign when you think that what you do for a living should be illegal?"
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Old 05-24-2008, 04:23 PM   #8
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Being a fellow engineer I can understand you current situation. Other than in the world of engineering, most of business is how much can you BS before someone calls you on it. I have worked at companies where management viewed engineering as a group to get around or conquer, not as a group that helps them do their job. When you get back from a vacation (and I suggest you take one soon to clear your mind), ask yourself the following question. "Is the deck stacked against me here in such a way, that no matter how hard I work, or how hard I try, that I will never be able to succeed? If the answer to that question is a loud emphatic "YES!", then you know it is time for you to leave. If it is impossible to win the game you are currently playing, then the smartest thing to do... is not to play.
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Old 05-24-2008, 06:47 PM   #9
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RUN!

Yes plan an exit strategy first. This place sounds like a mini Enron waiting to happen. You're the finance guy and your direct boss disappears for 2 months...no trace of him, no word left behind? You asked his boss I presume? Was he doing a short stint in the slammer for a little too much weed?

There are some things that MIGHT be reasonable in the scenario you described. For instance, the guy who went home on the company dime...is that part of his agreement with the company? (we have a lot of that in the company where I'm the boss, so it does happen and is sometimes sanctioned, so that the guy can go home to see his wife and kids, but only if it is part of an agreed issue).

Is your new parent company a public company? If yes, they are required under SOX to have a fraud and ethics hotline where you can anonymously report suspect behaviour. You should not have to worry about being fired over this, it is illegal to do that. It might make you uncomfortable for a while, but if there is real fraud going on, or if you are being forced to create forecasts out of thin air that you know will not come to fruition, then you should report this. Be ready to run if you must, but also be ready to stand up for what is right. You should never, and I mean NEVER have to put up with forced falsifying of financial forecasts or statements just because your boss or his boss demand it (it would be a different story if they were to be able to explain in specifics in a calm cool and collected manner why the forecast should be different).

Personally I am the CEO of a large multi-billion dollar subsidiary of a megacorp, and when I find any fraud or falsification of financial statements, forecasts, or expense reports, heads roll, and they roll very quickly. I have a process for investigating reports of these things, and a hearing is held whereby the accused than refute the charges, but in 99% of the cases we've seen where fraud is accused, it is true and easy to find, and the accused goes away (sometimes in handcuffs). BTW, while an investigation is underway, the accused is placed on administrative leave and is not allowed contact with his colleagues.

Hope this helps. Good luck to you. Feel free to PM if you have any questions that I may be able to help with.

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Old 05-24-2008, 10:41 PM   #10
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I admit I was skeptical that this was another - 'my job is so hard, my boss is an idiot, everyone is against me, I'm the only one who knows what I'm doing' threads, but....

there were a LOT of red flags there. And I didn't get a big sense of finger-pointing from you. A few were just common stupid stuff that is typical in business, but too many truly scary ones.

If it walks like a duck....


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Old 05-24-2008, 10:47 PM   #11
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If it walks like a duck....
... run away from it fast before it pecks your eyes out.
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Old 05-25-2008, 01:36 AM   #12
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Old 05-25-2008, 06:16 AM   #13
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There are many red flags here. If I were in your shoes, I would be looking to get out ASAP. I would also keep some personal records of what's happening just in case there is an investigation of wrong doing. These sound like the kind of folks who would be scrambling for a fall guy at the first sign of trouble.
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Old 05-25-2008, 09:13 AM   #14
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I'm supposedly the group's finance guy, but I report to one of the managers.
Sure sounds like a toxic work environment.

May not apply to your situation but, I've been with the same company for 31 years. I've had a few bosses that were unpleasant and/or marginally competent. However, the company is good overall and I believed that they'd catch up with him sooner or later. It took 3 years, but sure enough that's what happened, and his career and ultimately personal life were ruined. And while it can take a long time, I've seen it repeated over and over. I'm still here doing better than ever, and the schmucks along the way are gone. Now I'm in charge. YMMV...

Maybe you've answered my question, but isn't there a higher authority in finance above you somewhere? For the financial improprieties you mention, I'd be very concerned if the financial types above you are willing to look the other way.

If you have to leave, obviously get something you really like lined up so you can leave on your terms and better your world.

Taking a sabbatical/extended leave seems like an odd recommendation when one of your issues was your (2 month) disappearing Manager, but your call.

As for the inflated Sales plan, from my experience that's not unusual at all.
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Old 05-25-2008, 09:52 AM   #15
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Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to make valuable suggestions. Because of all the replies, I'm writing a single reply to summarize the situation. ERD50 is correct. Before I wrote the post, I asked myself several times if I should because two years ago, I left another job because I thought the management didn't play things right. Two in a roll just seems excessive.

As for the higher finance authority, there is the company controller, but the managers have been ducking his inquiries and meeting requests for a while. He's in the next major city some 3 hours away, so it's not like he has the time to pop over whenever he wants. The group managers have suggested in not so veiled terms that anyone found working with the guy will be fired. In fact, they have suggested that the controller should be fired. I'm incredulous because the guy is doing his job.

I understand the it's impossible to account for every dime. I have run a couple of small non-profits before, and even at a few hundred thousand dollars in yearly revenue, it was difficult to get every last dime accounted. The point though is the atmosphere. You have to look at the management and see what their attitude is.

As for being the fall guy, trust me, I have been sufficiently set up such that if we failed to meet our sales goal, I'm the first one to go. In no fewer than 4 occasions, the group managers have introduced me to senior VPs as the only guy responsible for the sales plans. Strange, but they made up all the numbers.

I don't think that my boss is an idiot. In general, nobody who has survived this long can be a complete moron. However, his personal style is such that it makes it very difficult to be loyal to him because you can feel that he thinks you're just there to do his bidding with no explanations from him needed even when you see glaring problems that should be discussed, and because you never know when the next blow up over inconsequential things is going to occur, you tend to just steer clear of him as much as you can. Let's put it simply, I can be having a very decent day, one conversation with him later, I'm pissed the rest of the day, and I'm a live and let live kind of guy.
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Old 05-25-2008, 10:13 AM   #16
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Yup, bad environment. When faced with a problem along those lines...one of two things has to happen. Either you have to change the environment, (move on). Number two is... change your way of thinking, (become one of them or at least play along and not let it get to you...put it in perspective).

I am in a work environment that is not the best, and use the adapted thinking approach. At least for awhile. Reward is retirement not too far off...
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Old 05-25-2008, 01:41 PM   #17
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Jobs can be replaced, reputations can't!

I quit a job in mid-2004 after 6 months because the company had an ethically challenged environment. That put both DH and I out of work (lots of time to clean up after the hurricanes) but that felt better than being around people every day who were not doing the right thing.

Within 2 months, my current OH employer contacted me (I have known them for 15 years) and offered me a job paying 2.5 times what I was making at the "challenged" company (a down-grade job I had taken for the experience). I guess my current employer figured that was the only way they were going to get me to move from FL to OH in winter.

Do the right thing and sooner rather than later. I don't think you need a vacation to figure this out. Save your vacation for interviews!
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Old 05-25-2008, 05:16 PM   #18
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Two in a roll just seems excessive.
Based on my experience, what you describe is the Standard American Dysfunctional Organization. It usually doesn't get much better than that, although it usually doesn't get much worse than that either. The only solution I've found that really works is to become financially independent and retire early.

How you transition from where you are today to the point where you can FIRE will challenge your creativity and may take many years to make happen. But the end result is worth the effort.

Once I realized I would never make it in Corporate America, for example, I became an independent contractor (and rather than incorporate, I work through a temporary help agency to avoid any hassles with the IRS regarding employee vs. contractor issues). Luckily, the temporary help agency I joined is run by someone who is honest and has integrity.

My income jumped 50% upon becoming a contractor and I had the good sense to keep my living expenses the same while investing the difference. Eventually, my investment portfolio became large enough to support me indefinitely at a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

I still take on work assignments from time to time, but I'm very choosy about what I accept. I'm in control of my destiny now rather than being the plaything of some boss who likes to use a variety of carrot and stick approaches to motivate the troops.

The longest contract I'll take is three months, although I'll renew the contract if I like the assignment (and, of course, the client also has to want to renew the conract). If anyone asks me why I left my last job, I always answer that I completed my contract.
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Old 05-25-2008, 07:37 PM   #19
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Based on my experience, what you describe is the Standard American Dysfunctional Organization. It usually doesn't get much better than that, although it usually doesn't get much worse than that either. The only solution I've found that really works is to become financially independent and retire early.

Once I realized I would never make it in Corporate America, for example, I became an independent contractor (and rather than incorporate, I work through a temporary help agency to avoid any hassles with the IRS regarding employee vs. contractor issues). Luckily, the temporary help agency I joined is run by someone who is honest and has integrity.
Roger, what I meant by "seems excessive" is am I being a complainer who can't deal with the really standard everyday BS, or am I getting myself into some really bad situation? That's what I wanted to know. .

I think I may have to go the independent route and semi-retire as ESRBob suggested in his book. I think if you're not part of the organization, it's easier to compartmentalize the bad stuff because you know there is a limit to the engagement.
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Old 05-25-2008, 09:34 PM   #20
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Roger, what I meant by "seems excessive" is am I being a complainer who can't deal with the really standard everyday BS, or am I getting myself into some really bad situation? That's what I wanted to know. .
My first reaction to your posts is the former -- that you are a complainer who can't deal with the standard everyday BS in the corporate work environment. I could be wrong and perhaps there is a bad situation developing, but your posts struck me otherwise relative to my experience in this kind of environment.

I also believe if you keep pushing the envelope, you will find yourself in an unpleasant situation. Asking your boss where he was for two months, for example, is really none of your business because if he is doing something wrong, it's his boss and not you who will have to deal with the matter.

My recommendation is to start figuring out how you are going to FIRE. The fact that corporate BS bothers you is a positive trait relative to my value system. But it's probably a negative trait relative to the value system of most of your current co-workers.

I also recommend not disclosing such FIRE plans to anyone. Once people learn that you are trying to get ahead and better yourself so that you can leave the organization and go out on your own, you will likely be the target of a backlash.

The analogy that was explained to me is the crab bucket. As long as your bait bucket is filled with crabs, you don't need a lid on the bucket to keep the crabs from escaping. Once one crab starts to climb out, the other crabs will grab it and pull it back in.

Once people find out you want to leave eventually, you will be under all sorts of social pressure to stay and if that doesn't work, you will find yourself set up so that management will have no choice but to dismiss you.

It's better to prepare for a departure quietly so that when you finally leave, it's too late for your co-workers to do anyting to sabotage your efforts.
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