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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

04 May '11

Signs you work in a toxic workplace

Too many people work in toxic environments that destroy their joy, kill their creativity and cause great anxiety. Unfortunately this also happens in the ministry marketplace. Toxic workplaces rob us of the satisfaction that God intends for us to experience in our work. Staying too long in such an environment can bring with it depression, cynicism, a mistrust of others and “coping behaviors” that are unhealthy. If the following descriptors are true of your workplace you ought to consider whether it is time to leave.

Lack of respect from your supervisor or leadership. Respect means that you are valued, that your opinions are taken seriously, that you are not taken for granted and that you are acknowledged for your contribution. Lack of respect eats away at our sense of self-worth and that you are not valued for your work. Lack of respect is often a sign of arrogance or even narcissism in a leader who needs to devalue others in order to add value to themselves.  

Abusive behavior. I just spoke to an individual who has been the target of profane laced diatribes by a well known Christian leader whose conversations to those outside his organization are spiritual and uplifting! His words to his own employees are often demeaning, caustic, often angry and certainly don’t fit the definition of uplifting and encouraging. Abusive behavior whether with words or actions create uncertainty, anxiety and loss of respect.

Unpredictability. A hallmark of stable work environments is an element of predictability in leaders. You understand what their values are, what you can expect from them, where the organization is going and what is expected of you. Leaders who are unpredictable and whose behaviors or values or direction is subject to regular change create anxiety in their staff. That unpredictability is not just a “behavior quirk,” but often a symptom of an unhealthy leader. His or her unpredictability creates instability among staff and that instability is destructive to a healthy workplace.

Leading by fiat. This is the leader who rather than building a shared leadership culture and team simply tells people what to do, how to do it and expect others to jump at their command. They don’t respect boundaries, time, and opinions of others and treat employees as their servants. One thing they rarely keep are the best employees who refuse to be treated like chattel and who want a voice in the work they are doing. This environment leads to high turnover as the best choose to leave if indeed they come in the first place.

Cultures of fear. Unhealthy leaders often create a culture of fear where staff feel that they need to walk on eggshells, cannot be honest with their views and live with constant anxiety that they will not live up to their leader’s expectations. Ongoing or regular fear on the part of staff is a sign of a toxic environment which usually goes back to the leader. Another way of saying this is that where there is constant “drama” there is something toxic taking place.

Narcissistic leaders. The theme here is that it is all about the leader. They take the credit when things go well and blame others when things go south. They are always right and as long as you agree with them you are on the inside. Once you choose to disagree you are marginalized, demonized and placed on the outside. With a narcissistic leader you are either good or bad and that is determined by whether you agree with or challenge them. Narcissistic leaders create paranoid workplaces.

Lack of trust. Where there are significant trust issues in an organization, it is usually a symptom of deep leadership issues. Mistrust indicates that there is not a true team, that collaborative leadership is not possible and is usually a symptom of leaders who are unhealthy. Healthy leaders create trusting cultures and model what trust looks like in their relationships, behaviors and conversation. Lack of trust is deeply toxic and has the affect of creating deeper mistrust.

Bottom line? If you work in a toxic workplace you often don’t even realize how much anxiety you live with or how unhealthy your environment is until you choose to leave and all of a sudden realize that you feel free and are no longer carrying the heavy burdens you have been living with. If your workplace is characterized by any of the seven descriptors listed above, you ought to seriously consider leaving. Life is short and God wants us to use our gifting in positive, meaningful ways that bring joy and satisfaction rather than fear and anxiety. Choose to be courageous and find a healthy workplace.