I worked in a horrible office once. I was there working on a project and for the five months I was there I had to write the brief, undertake the research and debrief it, getting it into implementation. Except for the five months I just kept presenting the approach every second day and getting the document rejected by the guy who had to sign it off. Every second day I’d walk into his office with the latest version, and he’d make a small change and I’d go away and fix it and bring it back. He’d make another small change – and make it in a horrible, nasty way. And it all began again. But it wasn’t just me. There was a whole team of us working together who like me would get a small revision made to their document. In the end the project was about 9 months behind. I left working in their office after the five months but kept working on the project for them. I had it wrapped up in three months – beginning to end. And my approach was the same. It was the same as day one. A word in a powerpoint slide may have changed, but overall, everything stayed the same.
The feeling in that office was horrible. I was only there four days a week, and I loved the people I worked with. But the culture sucked. We were treated like little kids, so in the end we acted like naughty children. We ate a lot of lollies, and laughed about our bosses behind their backs. There were tantrums and tears. And a lot of rebellious procrastination – the only things we really had to do were edit our project plan documents. They got the worst out of a very smart group of people. They got the workers they deserved.
One of our ‘games’ was to find our on-line alter-egos. I was thrilled at the time to discover I was a country and western singer (and male!). “Bob” was an LA celebrity hairdresser. “Tina” was a NY society princess. “Sally” was a track and field star. We thought it would be a great idea to have a party and come as our on-line personas.
Some of my friends are still there – and I want to shake them and tell them to get out of there. To run as fast as they can and go and work at a place were their thoughts are valued, where they can work hard and actually get something done. But there’s a point sometimes in a job where you begin to think about yourself in the same way you are treated. That you maybe aren’t so smart, that maybe you are a little stupid. That you have no power. That you have no role at the table. The point I really knew I had to get out of there was at a meeting when one of the big-wigs gave me a lolly in a meeting – and I was soooo appreciative. I can laugh about it now, back at my desk, leading a creative and very smart team, working for a company that really values the work we do. But when you are stuck in a horrible culture, and if you don’t get out quickly, then Stockholm Syndrome sets in, and you can become as toxic as the environment the surrounds you.