Choosing Self Care and Avoiding Toxicity, an Anecdote.
Have you ever considered how far you would go for the right employment opportunity?
My story begins after several months of job hunting and submitting hundreds of applications. I finally landed my first interview. Excitement doesn’t begin to describe the energy coursing through me as I prepared for the first day of the rest of my life. I know I may not look great on paper, but my winning attitude, aptitude for adaptation, and passion for life give me an edge whenever I finally land an interview (well, that, coupled with my experience in sales). I knew this would be how I got back on track: I would get this job and start building something again. . . I was wrong.
In preparation for the interview I researched the company. It was small, and its online presence was desperately confusing. I found three different websites, one of which was obviously no longer being hosted. The others were not user friendly. Surprisingly, I found this encouraging as the role I was applying for suggested they were looking to fix these incongruencies. I walked into the interview confident that I possessed the skill set necessary to help this small venture shift to doing more business online. I didn’t realize then just how right, and how wrong I was with that singular thought. The interview was casual, with an open office door. I was treated as a guest in the office. There was a great deal of socializing before we finally moved to discussing the position I was interviewing for. As he described the role (stepping in to manage an intellectual product launch) I grew more excited. I knew I would excel in this role and expressed that confidence. It immediately stood out to me that the gentleman interviewing me wanted to focus on my lack of specific experience, current unemployment status, and my need for the opportunity he offered. I did a fair job pivoting with each jab to point out the value I offer to his business. It is clear in hindsight that the boss was intentionally seeking to undermine my confidence and my value from the beginning. Finally, although we did discuss salary, when the final offer was emailed it was lower than we had discussed.
What should my next course of action have been? What would you have done if you were in my place? I chose to take the offer. I knew I would be able to prove my true worth given enough time. I decided I could always pursue an appropriate pay raise after a few months, once I had delivered on the campaign I was being hired to manage.
Then, things escalated more quickly than I could have anticipated. On my first day I was introduced to the individual I was being hired to replace. The boss had repeatedly stressed the fact that it was because of her negative attitude and inability to deliver on the project she was hired to manage that she was being fired. It was further stressed to me that this young woman had been given this excellent opportunity as an immigrant on a student visa but was ultimately too inexperienced to handle the work. Now, imagine my confusion when she was then tasked with my on-board training! It didn’t take long to realize that she had given her two weeks notice and had not in fact been fired. The boss still never missed an opportunity when she wasn’t around to stress how negative he thought she was, “I had no choice, I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I had to let her go.”
While processing that, it took me less than two days to understand the project outline, and immediately there were massive red flags. This project that was allegedly “ready to launch” was little more than an idea with no managerial oversight. There was no final product either. I recognized the opportunity, however, and began to organize a plan of action.
I conducted multiple meetings to review various issues with the boss. He was terribly misinformed about all the preparation necessary prior to launching a successful marketing campaign. From my first day, he repeatedly commented, “We should be able to launch tomorrow; I have everything I need to start once we have some clients”.
After three days in the office I entered the weekend with a lot of work to process through. It was over the next two days I began to see how my 9-5 Monday to Friday salaried job would require much more time and effort outside of the office in order to accomplish the monumental task ahead of me.
To make matters worse the Boss immediately demonstrated a complete lack of boundaries as he continued to call me throughout the weekend (several times late at night) insisting on progress updates. He pushed me to ensure that the young woman I was replacing had everything ready for launch by the end of day Monday, as it was to be her last day. He continued to discount the significant amount of man hours required to resolve the number of problems I had brought to his attention.
Fun side note, he insisted that all official business had to be communicated in written form, then later explained that he would never read anything that was more than a small list bullet points. So, everything had to be explained verbally, but he would not acknowledge a conversation happened without written confirmation.
The kicker was that over the course of that weekend, everyone else under his employ prior to my start date quit. When I arrived in the office on Monday, I was there with the other new hire I was to be managing the product launch with. Just the two of us. Alone in the office.
We spent the morning going over various files on the network and familiarizing ourselves with the project materials available while waiting for the Boss to make his appearance. It was at this point my co-worker found some incriminating materials; past employee reviews. They were all scathing, and not available online. I found out later that the Boss had paid to have these reviews taken down. You can see one here where the Boss is accused of sexual harassment and assault.
I knew that I was in a losing situation, and that I would have to fight tooth and nail in order to accomplish anything of value under this tyrannical management. Quitting was not an option. Without alternative employment, quitting would mean I no longer qualified for unemployment benefits. I immediately doubled down on my employment search. The next day I opted to work from home in order to increase my productivity. I was learning new software in order to guarantee we would be able to launch a campaign for clients by the end of the week; however, I found myself unemployed before noon that same day.
This is how it all happened: I joined a conference call with the Boss and the only other employee in the company. We were discussing tasks we would be responsible for in preparation to launch a campaign ASAP. I listed off my responsibilities and provided timelines for completion; I had several tasks I guaranteed I could have completed by end of the day, with additional tasks that would subsequently be completed by the end of the week.
The Boss then asked pointedly for the specific number of minutes it would require for me to complete the tasks at hand. I was performing these tasks for the first time, with software I was teaching myself to use. I explained this and expressed that I would be unable to provide a more accurate timeline until I had completed the required tasks. The Boss insisted we end the conference call, and that I stop working immediately, as he began to get heated after I repeatedly explained my position. Our conversation was to continue over the phone, one on one. He needed to put me in my place.
He was the boss. How dare I question him? I was expected to do exactly what he required without question with his exact timelines. He even tried to argue that because I am an American living in Canada, I was just unfamiliar with Canadian business practices and that he knew employment law more thoroughly than I could as an immigrant.
A moment came during this discussion when I uncomfortably pointed out how unprofessional it was for him to be screaming at his employees.
“I’M NOT SCREAMING!” He screamed at me.
“Sir, please take a moment to ask the people around you at that Tim Horton’s if you are screaming.” (He was purchasing a coffee at the time of our call)
He quickly and quietly submitted that he had been screaming.
In the end, he decided to terminate my contract because it was clear I was not going to submit to his manipulation. I believe it is important that we do not allow toxic people, including employers, to manipulate and abuse us. I stood my ground because I recognized this person displayed a pattern of harassment and exploitation; I refused to allow it to be perpetuated in my life. Unfortunately, many who came before me endured this tyranny for months!
So, what is the take away? Don’t ever allow yourself to be devalued, manipulated or abused by toxic people, even in the workplace. It has been a couple weeks since I experienced the shortest employment venture in my professional life, and I do not regret how things turned out. I am glad I was able to recognize the signs of toxic management because my professional career over the last decade has taught me that healthy management provides structure, support, and mutual respect. For any of my [other] previous mangers that chance to read this article, thank you for teaching me what a positive working environment looks like. Thank you for your encouragement as I took on new management roles under your mentorship, and for shaping me into the kind of leader that can foster a healthy and motivating environment. Most of all, thank you for helping me find the self awareness in the workplace to know when I am facing a toxic individual, and how to handle the situation professionally.