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How to Survive in a Demoralizing Workplace

A demoralizing workplace can be a symptom of a larger organizational problem or it can be caused by an unpleasant professional relationship. Either way, you can usually take action and make your workplace a happier place.

Low morale is not a mood most management teams create on purpose. Happy employees are productive employees. Yet, plenty of workplaces are so demoralizing that people are unable to work at their highest capacity.

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There are many causes of a demoralizing workplace. If employee morale and organizational culture are not purposefully uplifted, they can slowly slump over time. Or, management may have unintentionally bungled a critical organizational change, decimating people’s confidence in a matter of hours. Or, a demoralizing workplace could be due to poorly thought out hiring, promotion, or training decisions that inadvertently spawned a toxic culture.

Here are three types of demoralizing workplaces, and what you can do to survive.

When you’re forced to do more with less

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Being told you have to do more with less is demoralizing for many reasons. It removes your control over your workload. It forces you to make decisions based on scarcity instead of opportunity. And, it creates stress because, let’s face it, it’s more likely you’ll actually be able to do less with less.

Give this potentially demoralizing situation the slip. Take control by fine tuning how you get your job done to squeeze a little more out of each workday. First, review the list of all your larger job responsibilities. Prioritize this list to identify the work your organization, your team, and your role can’t do without. See if there’s anything you’ve been doing habitually that you actually could do less frequently or even stop doing entirely.

Then, analyze the efficiency of your routine tasks, processes, or workflows as impartially as you can. If you can make any of your daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly recurring to-dos even a tiny bit more efficient, it’s possible to save a lot of time over timeIf you can’t come up with any solutions, sit down with your boss, a mentor, job coach, or trusted coworker and together think of ways to streamline your routines or make tough choices about the work that’s no longer essential.

When your boss is the worst

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It’s a terrible feeling to love absolutely everything about your job—except your boss. The trouble is, your boss has a enormous effect on how you feel about your job and how successful you can be at it. Through their action or inaction, your boss can easily create a negative, unsupportive, and demoralizing workplace.

At one extreme, your boss might be a micromanager. This can fray your nerves, make others question your competence, and cause you to slip into a cycle of self-doubt. Or, your boss might not manage you at all. This can leave you floundering without an ally in a position to secure the resources you need, defend your decisions, and advocate for your professional development and job advancement.

If your boss is beyond hope, you can still survive. One way is to find a workplace mentor at the same level as your boss or, even better, at a level above them. Though a mentor might not entirely replace your boss, they may be able to help you cut through red tape and get the recognition you’ve earned.

Another way is to find ways to collaborate with other people and teams. This will give you a way to demonstrate your skills and adaptability, and develop stronger connections to your peers and those in authority. Once they’re familiar with you and your work, they’re more likely to let you know about the next great opportunty on your career path.

When a coworker is out to undermine you

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Perhaps one of your coworkers is dishonest, exaggerating or lying to make you look worse so they look better. Or, they’re a backstabber, casting doubt on your skills and dedication when you’re not in the room. Maybe they’re a saboteur, trying to impair your job performance by withholding resources you need, making sure you get blamed for the smallest missteps, or excluding you from important conversations.

Bummer. You’ve got a workplace bully. No matter how it manifests, a coworker who’s out to undermine you is a workplace situation that can demoralize the most confident of people.

Keep notes on each time your coworker tries to undermine you. For each occurrence, include the date, time, place, names of anyone else there, and a detailed description of what happened. Stick to the facts, and keep your emotions in check. Once you have a list that proves the pattern, ask your boss or HR for a meeting. Share your concerns and ask to discuss how you and they can diffuse the situation. Having your concerns on the record can also be useful if your trouble-making coworker gets even worse.

When all else fails

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A dream job isn’t all that dreamy when the place you work is a nightmare. If it’s clear that your demoralizing workplace is never going to improve, it’s time to consider other options. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile, iron your interview outfit, and schedule some covert informational interviews.

You just might discover that getting out is the best way to survive.

What’s got you down?

While these are some common attributes of a demoralizing workplace, there are plenty of other ways that workplaces make employees unhappy. What do you find demoralizing at your workplace? How are you trying to survive? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations and do-gooders engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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12 Comments

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Peter Stephen

Diversity? If people can not get along outside the workplace due to color of skin, etc How do you expect them to get along inside the workplace? The assumption in this article is we all get along, but culturally there is a disconnect. How do you address when the power structure of most workplaces lacks diversity, therefore there is a embedded inequality in most workplaces in the United States. In other words you can be efficient in your job duties, but your environment lacks the ability to connect with every workplace has a sensitivity issue that is the elephant in the room. I mean look around your work place Lauren how does the color shade of skin look?

Anna

This comment seems really out of place. The article discusses difficult interpersonal and organizational issues, not diversity issues. If skin color is the underlying issue that makes the workplace demoralizing then the tips provided still hold true. Having fewer resources in a position is color-agnostic. having a boss or coworkers who don’t support you or undermine you, regardless of skin color, can still be combatted with the solutions suggested. Especially if someone thinks they are being given more work, fewer resources, have an unsupportive supervisor, are being bullied by coworkers, etc., they should be documenting time, date, place, witnesses, context, and brining it to HR.

Irene Egan

The comment is not out of place and is an important consideration. Inclusiveness is difficult, it’s not yet our usual way of operating in the world, some of us have more or less experience with interacting across difference. Managers should be sensitive to the experiences of traditionally marginalized groups in the workplace; not only the interactions between and among employees, but how these employees are responded to by the public/customers.

Anna

Irene, I agree that diversity and inclusion are very important goals for the workplace, especially in government. My question/concern regarding Peter’s comment is that the article’s suggestions are skin-color, religion, orientation, etc. agnostic. The article makes good points and offers tips on how to handle a demoralizing workplace, not how to make the workplace more diverse. I maintain that the tips are solid advice if the demoralization is due to bias. He implies that these biases are the cause; I think they are possible causes in a sea of other issues that create demoralizing workplaces.

Jean Mayne

Issues of racial or other ingrained disparities (gender, political, religious, etc.) may not be the only issue at work here, but they are issues that may make any of these solutions harder to implement. If you are part of a group that is marginalized by your boss–how are you supposed to get a ally at equal or higher position than your boss to help you? Just what is your boss saying about you behind your back? And who’s to say that the person you go to is any more fair-minded than your boss is? I’ve been in companies where having similar prejudices to the boss was a way to get ahead. It’s not an easy situation.

Jocelyn Hart

The organization I was in was horribly toxic. I went through absolute hell with my boss and a supervisor from another division. What did I do? I first went through the Union and EEO, which were totally inundated with other complaints, so were not able to help. I ended up going through my congresswoman and filing a congressional.

Carmen

I am going through this at a Gym I work at. I’m a Sales Consultant at a popular Gym in Tygervalley, Cape Town South Africa. As a result I find myself being 10 minutes or more late for work, due to not sleeping at night…Constant worries & stress at work to meet targets & goals. My Assistant Sales Manager constantly bullies me or demoralises me in front of my coworkers. I feel at my lowest of all lows. Please help me? Who do I speak to about this at my work place? Please Help Me Urgently!