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A Workplace Therapist’s Approach to Surviving a Toxic Work Culture

Toxic Workplace

Financial services can be a hyper-competitive place to work in the best of times. According to Brandon M. Smith, an expert in workplace health and dysfunction, it’s also not uncommon to have a toxic work environment, especially in financial services and consulting. “It’s simply a cutthroat culture,” he tells eFinancialCareers.

Smith also serves as a faculty member at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to healthy workplace dynamics, leadership and communication.

Lack of Trust

Smith says that bankers, traders and those in the alternative investment space tend to be “driven and analytical” people—individuals focused on their clients, customers and, at the end of the day, their numbers. That doesn’t necessarily bring the group into the picture. One of the harder things to deal with can be a lack of trust between co-workers or between a supervisor and underling. Whether it’s taking credit for someone else’s idea or purposely trying to undermine a co-worker, it can be difficult to figure out a strategy to deal with the challenges at work.

If there’s a popular clique forming at work and you’re on the outside, it can hit you at bonus time, says Smith. “Either you’re in the club, or you’re not.” But it can pay to work to be in the “popular crowd,” says Smith.

If the Bully is Your Boss

He also relates some workplace environments to a middle school survival technique. Smith says you may have to stand up to the work bully, unless, of course, the bully is your boss or the managing partner. When you’re dealing with the boss, make sure you can bring hard numbers to the table, so you can talk about the value you add to the firm.

With the banking and investment space still laying off, it’s not surprising that many in the field are reporting that the environment at work has become more dog-eat-dog than ever. If you’re lucky enough to be able to pursue other opportunities, Smith suggests it might be time to throw in the towel. “If you can’t get your head in the game, and you’re too frustrated, it might be time to move on.” That’s especially true if you’re paid for performance.

Network to Find a Healthier Workplace

If you’ve worked with others who have moved on—others who are closer to your mindset—you might want to reach out to them for networking help to find a healthier place to work. Smith reminds that few people are getting jobs from open postings. He says there are many jobs that are required to have an open posting, but the position may already be spoken for by someone in-house or someone connected to someone working in-house. “Of course, there’s favoritism in the workplace, so you have to stay networking,” notes Smith.

That means that even when you feel comfortable in your role, you can never be too sure what the next day might hold if the management or your immediate supervisor changes. Personnel changes are often when the environment changes for the better or worse, he adds.

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