Working with toxic people
by Marleen Roch
I consider myself a good person.
I care about people and animals, I donate to charity, I volunteer my time, I drive within the speed limit and pay my taxes. My morals are sound.
My personal and professional values are aligned to achieving my personal best with integrity and ethical behaviour.
But I don’t consider myself to be special in any way, shape or form. I’m really no different to most people just making their way in the world to the best of their ability.
I am blessed to have a rewarding career in human services which I am committed to.
But what happens when you are forced to work closely with a person who is dishonest, and their values do not align with your own?
What happens when you are consistently trying to ‘do the right thing’ but knocked down and told you are inexperienced and unskilled in your role?
What happens when subordinates are told lies about your work performance and this changes how they take direction from you?
What happens to your professional reputation when you encounter this narcissistic behaviour?
I encountered this behaviour in the workplace and it very nearly broke me.
A narcissistic is someone who has over-inflated views of themselves.
They will display behaviours such as:
fantasizing about power, beauty and success
exaggerating achievements and abilities
superiority, specifically towards people perceived as ‘lower’ in status
inflated sense of entitlement
obsession with class and status
believing that others are envious of them
great pride in the accomplishments of children or family
expecting constant praise and recognition for achievements
unrealistic goal setting
Does this sound like anyone you currently work with?
The person I worked with displayed each and every one of the above traits.
During this time of my professional life, my blood pressure and stress levels roared upwards. I couldn’t sleep, I over ate. I felt sick most of the time thinking about dealing with this person.
Panic attacks, which I thought I had overcome years before, made an unwelcome comeback. My mood was generally depressed all the time which impacted on my family.
All the time I was thinking:
“I am a professional with many years of experience”;
“I should be able to deal with this!”;
“What’s wrong with me?”
My previously healthy levels of confidence and assertiveness were eroded to almost zero over time.
I didn’t know about narcissism as I had never encountered anyone this toxic before. I remember thinking they must have a huge ego but very low self-esteem as a way of explaining their inexplicable behaviour.
They would often announce to anyone who would listen about the inadequacy of the head of the organisation, they would declare they could do a far better job. They would loudly state the leadership team did not have the skills or ability to do the job they were hired to do.
The person would undermine anyone they were threatened by, they would use whatever underhanded approach to achieve their end game. They appeared to have no issues with telling lies repeatedly.
The decision makers within the organisation allowed the person to behave in this manner for a number of years without addressing it. This resulted in loss of respected employees along the way.
It is unclear to me why one person was allowed to influence culture in this damaging and destructive manner.
The consequences to the organisation can be described as vast and ongoing.
The legal costs alone are considerable, let alone the reputation to the organisation which relies on word of mouth referrals.
The person is no longer part of my working life and with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see the damage this person did to me and the whole organisation. I am well on the way to healing and I have learnt valuable lessons about myself. My confidence is returning, as is my mental and physical health.
No one should be placed in the position I was made to work in.
Organisations need to ensure they have a robust code of conduct and promote this often and widely.
Potential employees are encouraged to ask questions related to workplace culture prior to accepting a role. Do your research and do not tolerate or accept toxic behaviour. If it happens, document and report this straight away. Demand action from the organisation leaders.
Going to work should be satisfying and enjoyable, not intolerable and distressing.
No one can work under a toxic culture. Everyone has a responsibility to take steps to stamp out this behaviour.
Marleen Roch has over 20 years experience working in the human services sector. She is an experienced leader who is passionate about quality, safeguarding and a positive work environment. She has also led numerous quality improvement audits and service design programs that have resulted in meaningful outcomes for organisations and individuals.