Unethical Employee Behaviors in the Workplace
What is Collegial Ethics?

How to be Happier at Work

Avoid a Toxic Workplace

For some time now I have thought about the advice I have given to others over the years about being happy in the workplace. For me it starts with doing something you love to do. If you come home each night depressed about things at work and are just going through the motions, then it’s likely to wear you down over time. There isn’t enough money in the world to make up for being miserable at work.

What is your passion in life? Is it to help others? Is it to express yourself in a way that touches others? Is it to make the world a better place after you have gone? Whatever motivates you to get up in the morning should guide why you choose to work for one organization and not another.

The key for my happiness at work is having respect for my co-workers, supervisors and top management. If I don’t like the people I work with and for, I find it is difficult to exert maximum effort. If I don’t buy into the goals and long-term strategies of my employer, then I expect to be faced with ethical dilemmas at some point in time because of goal incongruence. The worst is an environment where top management says, “Do what I say, not what I do.” This is no place for someone who believes in “walking the talk of ethics.”

How are you treated at work? Are you respected as an employee? Is your work valued? Are you given credit for what you do? Do others take credit for your work? Is performance evaluation fair and equitable? Are you given ample opportunity to learn on the job, better yourself, and seek promotion to a higher level?

There are certain unassailable red flags for me. I can’t work at a place that discriminates against another because of race, religion, national origin, sex, or sexual identity. I can’t work at a place where workers take to social media to air their grievances, criticize and bully others, or post inappropriate images. I know of one case where an employee took pictures of co-workers at a Christmas party drunk and destroying the office to let off steam when their supervisors were not looking. Everyone suffered the consequences of that one.

Perhaps the worst environment is a toxic one. A toxic work environment is any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things make you so dismayed it causes serious disruptions in the rest of your life.

Marcel Schwantes, Principal and Founder of Leadership from the Core, points to five sure signs you work in a toxic office as follows: (1) watch for negative cliques and gossipers; (2) watch for de-energized and unmotivated workers; (3) watch for people who hoard information (imagine if NSA personnel knew what Edward Snowden was doing and why); (4) watch for dictator management styles (i.e., ‘it’s my way or the highway’); and (5) watch for people’s health going down the tubes. I would add a sixth, which is: Beware of a workplace with rapid and widespread turnover.

What can you do if you work in a toxic workplace? Once the toxicity challenges your sense of self-worth and self-esteem, it may be time to move on. Don’t let the job define who you are. Remember, you cannot control what other people say and do, you can only control your own actions and reactions.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 8, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at www.ethicssage.com.

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