My experience with toxic teams

Jenn on November 28, 2018

I've quit my job several different times without anything lined up because of the working environment. It is never on a whim or because of a sin... [Read Full]
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A very appropriate tweet flew past me this morning:

“if you hire people into a broken culture, you don’t fix the culture, you break the people.”

Life is too short.

 

I've wound up with a bunch of health problems with some problematic teammates.

After one engineer joined, we frequently butted heads, and after a few months, I started to get heartburn whenever I had to talk to that person. That person was laid off for unrelated reasons, and my heartburn went away. I was pretty shocked that it could affect me like that.

Later on I started grinding my teeth, and have slightly chipped a molar from the grinding. After that I started prioritizing my health instead of work, and coincidentally the problematic person left the company, and things vastly improved after that. I would have left the job, had that person not left.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

 

Thank you for sharing this.

One that's related to what you shared about what to watch out for is the only people who get rewarded are working ridiculous hours and also very unhappy.

I give up on getting recognition for those places because I have gotten to a point where I refuse to sacrifice my health for any job. I'd rather get my "promotion" from moving on. I can show I am right for a promotion without working myself to the ground.

 

I've experienced the what to look out for in myself as well, I've experienced almost all of them at certain jobs I've had. Really sad proud that I know that's not how it has to be.

 

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I find this reading comforting :)

My current job is toxic. I work in a small startup (we are 6 and one trainee) and the toxic ambiance it's because of of the choices of the two founders of the startup. They are always changing their mind about important decisions, and they never listen the advices of their employees (even when they know nothing about a subject). Since I am here (it's been one year and a half) there is 5 people who choose to left the company, and it's been 7 month that they try to recrute a developer but they don't succeed.
I planed to quit at the end of december but I sometime ask myself if my colleagues are thinking like me or if I am the only one in the current team who can't work like that anymore.

 

Crying because of work

Being passionate about work is a good thing but being frustrated enough to cry at the walls and roadblocks that are happening every day is not.

The next stage is laughing.

I remember working to the bone at one of my jobs, being angry first at the inefficiencies, then crying about being exhausted and hating work, then laughing in the end because I probably lost my marbles. You should probably quit before you reach here.

I made it a point to make sure people who work with me don't contribute to this culture. People are really workaholic in Asia... I sometimes need to scold people for not resting when they are sick and tell them to chill because the work can be delayed or that other people in the team will help them pick up the slack. It is unfortunate that it's become a habit some people grow up with because of the unhealthy obsession with academic excellence here. It's also sad that some people relish in bragging about how busy -and important- they are.

 

"You should probably quit before you reach here." I'm not sure why this made me LOL.. probably because I'm already there. T_T

 

I recognize a couple of our own red flags here as well as items I think we should be proud of.

Really hits the nail on the head.

 

When you quit without anything lined up, how was your experience interviewing while you were unemployed? Did it come up during interviews? I realize there is a big fear around this - that you are "supposed to always be employed!" - but wonder if it's really as big a deal is it's made out to be.

Great post!

 

Both times I have been able to get a job after quitting without too much hassle. Shorter gaps (< 3 months) in my employment history I don't explain. Longer gaps I stress the open source online communities I worked with while searching.

If you have the safety net to quit a toxic environment without something lined up, I recommend it. In my opinion it is better to have a gap in employment than to bring the mistrust and stress with you into the next job.

 

It's not the fear that surrounds supposed to be always employed. There is the pressure of skipping bills and payments of the month which disrupts the financial management of the next month and starts a disastrous chain of events which is quite difficult to recover from.

 

Thanks for this !

One of the projects I worked on had every single one issue you mentioned!.

Literally, everything. On top of that, the manager/product owner had the internal pride of being "technologically agnostic". The frequent drop-ins of "just add salesforce integration" were on the daily.

Every single meeting was drawing the same diagram over and over and over again, due to him not being able to communicate with slack or trello. No documentation as well, not to mention the fact that that the PM expected no tests due to the fast and dynamically changing work environment.

The thing I won't forget was how he described the product : "You walk into a bar and immediately find chicks to bang". In the end, his rhethoric was disgusting.

I quit. I'm so much better off now.

 

I believe that we attract everything to our life, when someone is bad with us, we feel bad, and that's your inner self feeling bad, we create our own feelings and we're responsible for that.

Life is a long travel, and is so good to be/feel in charge, no one can hurt you when you deep understand it. Of course, we're not a machine, sometimes "shit happens", but the main point is how we deal with that, we have two opportunities, feel bad with the situation, or learn and get stronger with the issues.

And no one is bad, it's just their best, and everyone is trying to be better everyday, understanding that take us to a peaceful way of thinking.

 

Thank you for this post. My previous boss expected me to work on Sundays. Everything had urgency but nothing was getting accomplished there. I kept blaming myself for six months before realising that I wasn't the problem. I quit. I am in a much happier place now.

 

Wow, reading through this made me realize how toxic my job actually is. It’s my first job as a developer so I never really considered that other jobs weren’t like this. That’s something i’ll Have to consider now

 

This is really well written and accurate. Being exposed to many toxic workplaces in the past, my first reaction is to ask, "how does one fix a poor culture?" I do believe that is your point, though... while some people may be able to change cultures, those of us that aren't suited for organizational transformation need to move on and be productive elsewhere.

 

Everyone faces a toxic team at one point or another (and if you don't either you didn't notice, or you were one of the lucky ones). The biggest problem is that, as you've pointed out, it isn't always easy to recognize. Or worse, it seems that you aren't in the position to improve that situation. I have found, though, working together with others does help, especially if the whole team is on the same page. In our team, we've recognized the issues with this and want to stay ahead of the game. To do that we've spent time invested in finding tools which help us keep track of our teams. The one we've found to help us the most is Teaminator, it has some simple things, but we use to make sure our team is working effectively. I've tried thinking back to some of the things you mentioned, and I've found we we were able to pull ourselves out of those trouble spots only because we were paying attention.

 
 

The "crunch time" theme definitely came up on my last job. It was a mix of designers having skewed priorities on what should be fixed, and arbitrarily strict deadlines by people who didn't fully understand the complexity of the goals. Plus one team member did plenty of "mock the user, not the tools" behavior to much of the staff themselves, which made them exceedingly tough to work with. The work itself wasn't a huge issue despite it being my first job, but it was toxic behavior like that which made me eager to always escape each day as soon as possible.

 

Thanks, Jenn.
This post brought about something I haven't considered when looking for a new job.

Would there be a way to find out if the team is toxic when you are looking for a new job?

How could one spot/smell the toxicness during an interview?
Any tips you would recommend?

 

Ask about things like overtime, time off, hour flexibility, and remote working and see how they respond. I've found these three things to be quite telling, regardless of your personal stance on them.

How often are people working overtime? What are the reasons for working overtime? How much overtime is being worked? How do you prevent the need for overtime from happening again?

How much PTO is available? If it's limited, are sick and vacation days combined or separate? When was the last time a non-management employee (or level to your position) took a week or more off?

How flexible are the working hours? Do people get reprimanded for coming in at 9:15? Is it frowned upon for someone to come in at 10 (if they're getting their work done)?

What's the remote work policy? How often do people work remotely? How many full-time remote workers are there? How often do remote workers get promoted in relation to their peers?

It's rather likely you won't get straight answers for most of these questions, which alone will tell you a lot (you're not just looking at the answers, themselves, but how the person answers them). Limited + combined PTO discourages taking time off. Clock-watching encourages presenteeism and a "turn the lights on in the morning, off at night" culture. Remote friendliness requires certain cultural elements that foster things like communication and breaks down very quickly under certain toxic elements, so even if you choose to be in the office full time, knowing their stance can be a good barometer for culture. Making excuses for overtime (things like "that's just how this industry is") is a huge red flag. Hour flexibility indicates trust in people's ability to do their job and work when they're most productive, instead of some arbitrary time (shift-style work notwithstanding), which indicates more focus on results.

Additionally, look for signs of discomfort when they go to answer these questions. How they answer the question can betray a lot about their trust level in their workers. Also, don't just ask this of the hiring manager, but of any peer-level employees you interview with. Remember, the interview is a two-way street. It's just as much about you assessing the company as the company assessing you.

Tour the office and make note of the environment. If they have the stereotypical "startup" perks like ping pong tables, see how much they're actually used (many times such things are recruitment bait, but people are discouraged from actually using them). Are the desks decorated with fun stuff, or are they sterile? Do the people look comfortable or on edge? Regardless of your position, find the tech people, particularly QA, documentation, production support, infrastructure, and development. These are the ones at the end of the production lines and who see all the nitty-gritty things going on, and the ones most likely to get blamed when things go wrong, even when it's beyond their control.

 
 

When you are in it, it can be difficult to see you are in a toxic environment. This outlines it nicely.

I agree that a job should not sacrifice your health, mental or otherwise.

 

Perhaps the problem could be "ourselves" not the team or the culture.

It is easy to quit a job but I think try to create a new environment is a step up in our careers.

"Don't sacrifice yourself trying to fix them"

I think if you wanna be a success people sometimes you must to sacrifice yourself.

 

Very good and interesting post. I hope everybody facing those issues get's fine - being unhappy just because of work isn't worth it.

 

The part about vacation time, is I hate it. If I go on vacation its hard for me to get back into work mode. Also I think companies that allow employess to work from home also plays a role

 

Thanks for your text, Jenn.

This is such a terrible feeling that I keep asking myself if I am the problem...

 

In my country, half of that list is not toxic it is directly criminal.

Any sane person should have a list like that and not be miserable because some managers are tyrants.

 

And what about abusing the knowledge silos created by toxic teams to take adventage and become "essential" for the company? It is using bad things to create worse things. ;)

 

Logical points. I agree with most of them. Because of stress, I have developed health problems and I am taking care of my personal health now.

 
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