How To Be A Good Guy in a Toxic Work Environment

So, you’re a good guy and you’ve just encountered your first toxic work environment experience, what do you do?

I’ve got stories. I’ve seen a lot. But how do you see without being a participant in what could be the demise of your work experience and outlook on the company? How can you be the “Good Guy” when faced with uncertainty? I call that uncertainty Toxic Turbulence. Do you have that “gut feeling” people say you should use as guidance on how to handle life’s decisions? How do you use the “gut feeling” and keep your cool at the office? If you’ve ever second guessed someones actions, or you’ve seen blunt favoritism, maybe even sexism, there’s good enough reason to conclude you’re experiencing a toxic work environment. If you’re going into your office and you feel uneasy every day or most days out of the week, that’s toxic.

When caught in a toxic work environment, we usually want to….

  • Run away as far as you can! I know that’s not the best option. You can’t really run away because it’s your career and that would be unprofessional and could have a lasting impact when you seek your next opportunity.
  • Turn a blind eye and pretend you didn’t see anything. That isn’t a solution either. What happens when it reoccurs and it’s worse?

The good guy can win in a toxic work environment. Here are 3 options to take to make sure you’re on par.

Option 1. Report the incident to Human Resources

Your boss may be the one creating the toxicity, so it’s always safe to get it recorded on neutral ground. Going to a co-worker friend could get you in trouble if your “friend” ends up playing both sides of the fence. I suggest emailing HR the details and then saving a copy for your own records. Forward the email to your personal account in case company emails are “accidentally” wiped. Write the details of what you’re experiencing without putting personal emotions into it. Ask HR for a timeline on when they expect to handle the situation. This gives you an idea on how long before you can expect a change or how the issue will be handled.

Option 2. Be the peace-maker

Being a good guy can make all the difference when you’re setting the example of how to behave in the work environment. If you find yourself surrounded by gossip, don’t participate. You can’t control the actions of the people around you, only your reactions. I highly suggest if these are your work friends and it gets to be too much, walk away. When appropriate tell your friend(s) how you feel. If they’re a true work friend they’ll respect you for being honest with them in a non-threatening environment. Being the peacemaker doesn’t mean being silent. Choose your actions wisely because the last thing you want is to be considered an instigator. If you don’t trust anyone you work with, you are truly in an environment unhealthy for professional growth.

Option 3. Have a “MaxBuddy”

No matter how “good” you think you are, someone in a toxic environment is going to find you offensive and possibly threatening. We all make mistakes. No one’s perfect. When I use “Good Guy,” in a nutshell, it means you are less likely to focus on self-serving and more likely to seek a team-building environment. This option is for the times the environment is too much to handle and you need to step outside. I suggest having a “MaxBuddy” – when you’ve hit the maximum you can handle, take a walk and phone your buddy. This should be someone outside your work you can switch topics with and get your head cleared from bringing you down mentally and emotionally. Some people thrive off of negative banter, but when you’re the good guy, this is what you want to avoid.

Being a good guy in a toxic work environment is probably one of the hardest things to endure. I believe it will happen on some level to everyone in this generation. Being a good guy doesn’t mean being silent when things get tough. Leadership is often required to get through the sludge. There’s no time limit for when to move on from your toxic work environment. You have to trust your gut and your health for how long to weather the storm. There’s no way to always be prepared, but you can spot it and take the actions to better yourself and those around you. I encourage you to be more than the good guy in the work environment. Be positively influential.

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