Dysfunctional, negative office is emotionally draining
July 18, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I am in a negative, dysfunctional office environment with very little supervisory support for all parties involved. I have been seeking other employment but that's besides the point of this post, I would like any advice on my immediate options in this situation and how to make it any more tolerable?

Customer service sucks in my office and it breeds negativity throughout the organization. Our clients are generally very needy people and it tends to drag the front line people down. I've been in their position and felt the same frustration and exhaustion, but I always tried to say please, thank you, just a moment, have a nice day, and if I didn't know something, find out for them or give them additional resources to find out. Sure I got a little testy by the end of the really long days but it seems people here are at that level all the time.

Our office is structured so there is actually no supervision on site. I am the same professional level as two other colleagues, then there are five front-line admin level staffers. I have no supervisory responsibilities, neither do my same-level colleagues. All supervision is remotely done and we're short one supervisor position. I try to chip in and help out when I can but quickly learned that too much of this means my own work responsibilities suffer. The problem is known in the leadership (I have brought it up myself but was kind of brushed off with "oh this is just the way it's always been). I think since they don't see it every day it gets ignored in the long term.

I try to lead by example when I do see clients but it doesn't seem to have an effect. I have tried to talk to my fellow level colleague and front-line colleague who have been here the longest and they absolutely refused to change anything even though they openly admit there are problems (and complain about it all the time).

Meanwhile our fellow staffers in different departments who work in the same space are always making negative comments about our office, to us and to each other. Particularly one person who I sit very close to and has really been an emotional drain on me and a huge distraction for my work. I have tried to stay out of it for a few months now but it's really heating up again and I'm not confident I can keep holding it in.

I am part of a union but even the union representative has made negative comments about our office and staff during a union meeting and I do not feel comfortable going to them.

Do I continue to figure out little ways to demonstrate leadership and perseverance and possibly help out in the midst of this s*** storm? Or just shut my door and get my work done? Something else in between?
posted by wannabecounselor to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Shut your door, do the best job you can, and ignore the people who aren't doing their jobs right. You can lead by example, but only if people are paying attention.
posted by xingcat at 7:56 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shut your door. You are describing major systemic problems that you do not have the ability to fix. You cannot demonstrate "leadership" to people that do not consider you a leader. Encourage clients to advocate for themselves in the face of poor customer service (seriously, full out a few annonymous comment cards yourself if necessary). The union leadership behaved inappropriately, have a meeting with the President of your local about the public comments; if unsatisfied then go above their heads. The negative person is an emotional vampire, wear headphones if possible to block them out. You don't have the power to make the necessary changes, focus on improving your career to the point where you WILL have that power.
posted by saucysault at 7:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of place where I would vote with my feet - find somewhere else to work, as quickly as you can, and in the meantime, put your head down and do what you can to let the shit slide off your back.

I have worked at places like this, and like saucysault mentions, the problems are systemic. The best you can do is be as professional as you can, keep your nose clean, and when you find something else, people will speak wonderingly about your ability to survive in such a toxic environment.

The good thing is, working in a situation like this can stock your toolbox with strategies for dealing with problems like this in the future. Learn what you can from the situation, mentally note what you would do differently, and in future, apply those lessons.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 8:05 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

When there's a major dysfunction like you are describing there's not a lot you can do specifically.

When other people come to you to bitch, be firm, "I know you want to vent, but I'm up to my ass in aligators right now." Smile as you shoo them away.

Keep shit piled up on the chairs in your office so people don't come in and sit down. Interact professionally, but as little as possible with the other people in your office.

When anyone says anything negative to you, shrug your shoulders and say, "It's awful, isn't it?" Then change the subject.

You've got to get your head out of the negative space. Be as cheerful as possible.

Take all of your personal stuff home. Don't invest any more time or emotion into your job than you have to. Spend a couple of hours each night applying for new jobs. Think outside of your current area. What transferrable skills do you have that you could use in a different arena.

I lived in Arizona and they always do this test when you're in school. You're stranded in the desert and you have these items, what do you do? People run around collecting edible items, trying to find water, etc. These people fail the test. The people who pass the test use the mirrors for signaling and the cigarette lighter to set fire to the spare tire.

The point of the test is that you don't spend time and energy trying to survive in the environment, you spend time and energy getting rescued.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

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