In our book Meaning-Centered Leadership: Skills and Strategies for Increased Employee Well-Being and Organizational Success, we share research to help organizations build meaning and purpose. By developing engagement, empowerment, and expertise, organizations are able to support the human need for meaningful work. An important question often comes up: How do employees respond when their workplace is toxic? How do they find the elusive markers of meaning when overwhelmed by dysfunctional workplace practices?
The following three-step plan provides a framework for rising above workplace dysfunction and the toxic behaviors that accompany them:
Release: When faced with toxic behavior you can either focus on that behavior or you can choose to release it. By releasing it, you do not ignore or allow continued behaviors to grow throughout the organization, but you do choose to not let that behavior determine how you respond to others. Releasing will allow you to reconnect and engage with others in positive and meaningful ways.
Reconnect: Choosing to reconnect with your organization, the mission, and the people you work with will allow you to shift your focus. Simply changing your focus away from negative and toxic behaviors, will create the space you need to shift your paradigm towards the positive elements within the organization. Toxicity often lies in the actions of a disgruntled few; creating space from them allows you to change your view. This provides you the opportunity to reconnect with your personal mission. Empowerment flows from focusing on daily tasks that align with your mission.
Recharge: By keeping a focus on your personal mission you can maintain a positive outlook. A positive approach that begins with making intentional decisions to focus on being your best will make all the difference. Recharging your own personal sources of strength and positivity will help the organization and perhaps more importantly, help you be the best you can be. Focus on building your expertise by investing in opportunities for growth. This will allow you to stay energized while others may be losing their strength and focus.
At times, the only elixir to workplace toxicity is to quit. If that is your plan you may find yourself on a Quixotic mission to find the perfect organization, or you can release, reconnect, and recharge to find the workplace meaning that we all so desperately need.