“But you and I both know who our true enemy is. It is important for you to know that this is just a job to me, not a calling. I have a family to feed and nonmilitary employment is hard to come by. Surely you understand.”
From The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke
When theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in Nazi Germany in 1943 this is a quote from a prison guard to Bonhoeffer. This brief statement is very telling in several ways. First, at the outset it sets the tone they are both like-minded in their feelings about what is going on in their country. Second, there is almost an expression of despair (hopelessness?) on the part of the prison guard for the circumstances ruling Germany.
Often some people feel locked into their jobs. They feel locked into their life without any control. Their current job pays the bills and nothing is changing in their lives with little, if any, excitement attached for working in an environment that is supposed to express satisfaction in using their true gifts, skills, and talents. Why?
Remember the excitement people feel with starting a new job? What happens over time? At what point in time does management take responsibility for the slow decay of morale for not only individuals but the overall organization? I can spend five minutes talking with someone about their job and in that short amount of time I can get a good sense of the overall employee attitude. Further, this is typically a mirror image of what is going on in top leadership.
All to often, leadership gets bogged down in the nuts and bolts of running the organization and fails to see the bigger picture. In some organizations I have literally seen dozens of pages of metrics and the numbers that are redundant and (here’s the scary part) measure variables neither the rank and file employees or anyone in the organization for that matter can do anything about yet people are held accountable in some fashion for the metrics. That’s like saying to an employee, “By the way, you’re in charge of world peace and if you can’t get that, then be prepared to have a good reason why and what strategies you will use to improve next quarter.” This is a great illustration how to blow up employee morale.
You can’t survive in a toxic environment without getting poisoned a little at a time. It shows up in productivity. It shows up in a lack of creativity and initiative. It shows up in personal attitude. Nothing good ever comes from working in a toxic environment. This is especially tough on second chair leaders who usually are the stalwarts in an organization and do well many times not because of leadership but in spite of it.
The most logical way to deal with a toxic environment is to leave it and leave it cold. No part-time. No continuing relationship as a consultant. Just leave. Short of leaving employees who feel stuck need to find an outlet for their skills, gifts, and talents that used to be valued but are not. I know some pretty good employee actors who put on an exceptional show but inwardly they shake their heads at staff meetings and organizational webinars. How sad. Employee options are limited in this type of environment but the best advice short of leaving is to focus personal fulfillment outside the work environment all the while making preparations to go on to something more fruitful. Consider the time spent in a toxic environment as a “wilderness” where one can learn lessons in leadership for what NOT to do all the while looking to the one day you will really make a positive difference someplace else.