Bringing Sanity to a Dysfunctional Workplace
In this article, I answer the question of whether or not sanity and harmony can be brought into a workplace.
I was hired as an “administrative assistant” at a small company run by three partners. I now see why the previous assistant quit: The partnership is dysfunctional, the men disorganized, getting approval for mundane things can take weeks. I need the job and was aware of its challenges but now realize how onerous it is. Short of quitting, is there anything I can do to bring some sanity and harmony here?
These guys obviously missed lessons on how to play well with others. And, it seems in order to make your job better; you need to be the one who has to teach them how to be courteous and make compromises.
But your first task is to speak up and tell them what you see. This can be risky. Some people might not want to know about the elephant in the room-but someone has to tell them.
So, plan what you want to say ahead of time, and rehearse it with a friend to make sure it with a friend to make sure it comes across as constructive. Then, you must pick the right time to bring it up-namely, when everyone is getting along well, and there are no big deadlines looming. Be sure that what you are presenting is focused on solutions, not just the problems, or you could come across as a whiner.
Ideally you, you will tell them what is not working and tell them how you want to make it better all at the same time. They probably hired you to take initiative and figure out these kinds of details, so be assertive and pro-active with the stated aim of making everyone’s life better.
Help them to streamline processes, organize the office, and take mundane tasks out of their hands and put them where they should be – with you. A system needs to be created whereby their approval is not needed for each and every repeated task.
You may want to look for an ally in this process. Perhaps, they could hire an organizational systems coach, who specifically works with business teams to strengthen out the day strategic problems that are inevitable with growing companies.
It would be useful if you could be present for those sessions, to mention the challenges that the bosses can’t see, and to be part of the solution at the end of the day. Give it time to improve, say four to six months.
If you can be part of what turns the company around you may be able to expand your job role, say, into that of office manager, a role the company really seems to need.
However, if things aren’t getting better, you do need to consider quitting. Much as you might need the job, working in a toxic environment will eventually rub off on you, and leave you feeling poorly about yourself, which is not an ideal position to be in when looking for another job.
Remember, a good administrative person is worth his or her weight in gold, so while you are working on bringing more harmony to the company, you can also be looking at what other opportunities exist.
It is always easier to find a job when you are in a job, so keep both doors open.
Published in the Globe and Mail; October 15, 2008