We’ve all heard the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.” In my case, it was the opposite: I didn’t realize how awful my work environment and the company culture was until I left it.

Promising beginnings

When I joined the organization the company culture was amazing.

Then, slowly over time and as management and senior leaders changed, the culture did as well – we all knew it, we just didn’t know how bad it was going to get. However, because the changes happened slowly and across all areas (the negative culture was driven from the top) we managed to convince ourselves that all workplaces were the same.

When I was no longer with the company, I realized how wrong I was.

I had a successful career. I was regularly taking on new roles and being promoted or having my portfolio expanded. In fact, I had been told I was among the top talent in the organization and was rewarded accordingly. After being in the organization for a couple of years the top management changed. Over the next couple of years so did many executives and other senior managers.

They brought with them a very different approach to leadership and what was considered right and wrong within the organization. As a result, the way employees were treated started to change.

A company culture shift

The focus shifted from decisions based on what was in everyone’s best interest to what was cheapest or supported by those with the loudest voice. Bullying and siloed behaviours were rewarded. Good people started to leave and exit interviews pointed to the worsening culture and damaging behaviours of senior leaders.

Nothing was ever done…Even when internal investigations determined complaints about bullying were founded.

(For more on effective bullying and harassment investigations, read this post next.)

After a while, I started to get ill. I got every cold that was going around and always seemed to have a headache. I was stressed all the time, which impacted my time with family and friends. Others that I worked with were also experiencing increased levels of stress and illness.

At this point we knew it was bad, but still convinced ourselves that it was like this in every organization. We were also feeling trapped as there was a recession and it felt like every month another announcement of layoffs was in the news.

We all knew people out of work – many had been for over a year.

So it felt like having a job – any job – was better than being out of work.

Company culture can bring out the best–or the worst–in a team

Sadly, in this case, the company culture brought out the worst in people.

Team members started undermining each other and trust totally eroded. As long as financial results were attained, bullying continued to be rewarded and thus propagated. People learned who had the most influence and focused their time on getting in those leader’s good books. No one took accountability and blame was thrown around.

(Does this type of toxic company culture sound familiar? Here are five ways to tell if your workplace culture is poisoning you.)

As someone who loves what I do, I no longer wanted to go to work. I was actually starting to get depressed. I came to realize my voice had been stifled and my opinions no longer valued. That somehow, insidiously, fear of what leadership had become, and was turning others into, had changed how I behaved at work as well.

Turning point

It came to a point where I felt I couldn’t turn a blind eye anymore. I couldn’t sit quietly in meetings or stand by and watch others turn on each other. I knew exactly what it meant – my employment would be terminated. In my mind there was no question of the outcome.

Essentially, the company culture was so bad I chose to be fired in the middle of a recession.

So, I started respectfully disagreeing with my boss. It felt so good to give an honest opinion again. I called out blatant bullying behaviours and wouldn’t let those around me shirk their responsibility. Then I stopped accepting accountability for my boss’s errors. And I respectfully questioned decisions that fell outside of my personal ethics.

As I expected, I was let go from my job.

I never questioned whether I had made the right choice.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the immense relief I felt when I no longer had to go to work in that environment every day.

My health returned, my self-esteem returned and my relationships improved. I am now happy and engaged at work. I learned such a valuable life lesson – no job, no career and no salary is worth suffering through a toxic company culture.

Regardless of the economy or your personal situation, be true to your values and leave because those you love are also suffering, because it can change who you are and how you view yourself and because you deserve so much more.

ACTivate HR would like to thank our guest blogger who has asked to remain anonymous due to the content of the blog.
If you have a story you would like to share on our blog, please contact us as info@activatehr.ca. Don’t forget to like us on LinkedIn for even more workplace insights!

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