Three Questions for Taking Stock of Your Career
Navigating the StartOver Economy

When Toxic Employers Promise They'll Change

I've been swamped with client work lately, but have not forgotten about you dear readers. I promise!

Today I want to have a chat about toxic employers.  Over the weekend, I got a message through The Bamboo Project  Facebook Page from someone who is struggling with whether or not to leave his current employer.

He writes that for the past four years, the corporate culture has taken a toll on his mental and emotional health and that he had finally made the decision to leave. However, when he told the company about his plans, they began serious efforts to get him to stay, including offering a pay raise. The reader's question is--"What do I do?"

Here's my .02. 

Pay attention to how you've been treated over the past several years, not to how they are treating you when they are afraid you are going to leave.

How they've treated you for years is more indicative of how they will treat you in the future than anything they promise you now. 

This is the dynamic of all abusive relationships. You treat someone poorly until they protest and say they are going to leave. You promise all kinds of things to get them to stay. Once they agree, you are on your best behavior for a period of time, but eventually (and probably sooner rather than later), you relax back into the old ways. 

This is especially true in organizations, where the culture is probably a big reason for the behavior in the first place. Changing the habits of one person is hard enough. Changing the habits of a bunch of people is exponentially harder. 

For those of us on the receiving end of toxic behavior, we always want to believe that the company is going to change. We think "Oh--they behaved that way because they didn't realize and now that they do, they will drop all the negative stuff." I wish this were true, but in my experience it isn't. It's usually larger, more invisible forces that are at work and it's very easy to slip back into the old behaviors. 

Another clue that there won't be lasting change in this particular case is the offer of a raise. Although more money is nice, in most situations, it isn't the issue. If someone tells me that they're emotionally and mentally drained from work, a bigger paycheck isn't going to change that. It may make you more willing to put up with bad conditions for a while longer, but eventually you'll be back where you started.  At some point, money just doesn't cut it. 

So, if you know in your gut that you are working in a place that is taking a mental, physical and/or emotional toll and it is ingrained in the culture, not just because you're working on a particular project, my best advice to you is to look for ways to get out. 

If they promise to change when you give your notice, don't let that sway you. Keep going. It takes years to fix a toxic culture and dedication to addressing the underlying issues that created it in the first place. Do you really have time for that? 


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