No matter whether yours is toxic, harmonious, creative or chaotic, you’ve got one at work. You are also responsible in part for the way it is and more importantly the way it could be. It may change slightly or greatly with each employee departure or addition. What is it? It’s the climate or atmosphere you work within.
Every so often you may hear of someone who loses their job or quits and says, “I’m actually glad it happened. I was suffocating there”. You can substitute the word, ‘suffocating’ for any number of adjectives such as: dying, withering away, frantic, isolated, overwhelmed, steamrolled, etc. The point they are really making is that the person they became was increasingly at odds with their authentic self, and the stress and anxiety they were under as a result of not being true to their nature was wearing on them.
Aligning yourself with the proper workplace atmosphere is more important than you might think. Some job postings make crude attempts at describing the atmosphere with phrases such as, fast-paced environment or sales-driven atmosphere. The problem with these phrases is that they are so over-used, applicants don’t really understand what they mean anymore; the words are almost invisible. How fast is fast-paced anyway? One company’s fast-paced isn’t another’s.
If you find on a Sunday afternoon or early evening that you are edgy or downright agitated as the thought of going to work on Monday morning pops unexpectedly into your conscious thought, it’s likely that the atmosphere you will enter as you walk into work is at odds with what you’d optimally like to experience in the workplace. If you find yourself having to be someone you’re really not to fit in at work, over time this can become easier to do on a daily basis but you run the risk of waking up one day and realizing you don’t really like the person you’ve become. If that happens, you’ll be unhappy, unfulfilled and disillusioned. Wait too long to decide you need a change, and you might find yourself feeling trapped by your seniority, the pay and benefits, the number of weeks you’ve got coming as vacation. Then you’re really facing a sentence of sorts; dragging yourself off to a job you don’t feel anything but loathing for, and hating yourself for being afraid to do anything about it.
In today’s economy where jobs are seemingly more and more difficult to come by, those of us with good paying jobs and seniority are increasingly aware that to jump ship and start with another organization comes with increased risks. If we quit one job for another and that new company cuts back its workforce, we might be number one on the chopping block as the newest hire. Then we’re out of work entirely and job hunting again. On the other hand, sticking around in a job within an organization where the atmosphere is eating away at us can cause us tremendous personal anxiety. Health problems may start appearing more frequently resulting in absenteeism, medical leaves and burn out.
It is for this reason that one of the questions many people ask at a job interview has to do with gauging the working atmosphere or chemistry of the workplace. It can be difficult to get at the information you want to really know however. Imagine the tired old question, “Can you describe a typical day?” and getting an honest reply like this:
“You’ll wake up agitated from a troubled sleep, rush around taking short-cuts to compensate for then sleeping through the alarm. As you inhale your last breath of fresh air in the parking lot and walk in to the office you’ll be greeted with unfinished work on your desk and a fresh new pile of invoices to deal with. Your co-workers in other cubicles will play their daily symphony of annoying sounds from flatulence, nail filing, sniffling, snorting, grunting, sighing and cursing. The tapping of keys on keyboards will only be interrupted with the popping of lids on antacid pills and headache medications. Eventually you will be given the combination to the chain around your leg – once at noon and again at the end of your shift. The combination will change daily. You will repeat this process for the next 6 years until you are mentally fried and your increased wages no longer make you an asset to the company. You will unceremoniously be removed and replaced by a leaner, hungrier version of yourself.”
Ouch! Well let’s hope this description doesn’t ever apply to you. However, what if this is exactly your reality and you’re sitting there saying, “Oh my gosh, you nailed me to a tee! But I’m stuck and can’t afford to quit!”
Perform a self-check with your work happiness. How well does both the job and the culture or atmosphere of the workplace fit with your personal preferences? If things don’t align up to your liking, update the resume – now. Look for other opportunities while you have your present job and start mobilizing your network of contacts. Outside your work hours, look into organizations that appeal to you, talk with people there and ask about the chemistry and climate of the workplace. Leaving when it’s your choice is preferable to leaving by termination; or worse yet, staying when every fibre of your being has come to hate your job.