Professionals often go into the gig economy to work for themselves because they don’t want to answer to a boss or manage employees. IT contractors know that, although their company and decisions are their own, they still need to answer to a client and, more dreadfully, work with their employees and put-up with their office shenanigans.
Most client workplaces are great. The weird employees, freeloading team members and awkward individuals will always exist, but for the most part, the environments are bearable and you’re capable of delivering on your requirements. Then, there are those other client sites. The toxic workplaces where nobody is happy, you can’t get anything done and, and it starts to take a toll on your mental health.
How can you tell if you’ve joined an IT project team that’s part of a toxic work environment? There are a number of common signs, many of which are summed up well in this Inc. article. Generally, you’ll notice that a toxic office has low energy and motivation among all the employees. They might seem happy and agreeable, but when you pull back the curtains, you notice that people are gossiping about each other, working in silos and cliques rather than teams, and having unofficial sidebar meetings.
Once you’ve been at the client site for a little longer, additional signs start to pop-up. The lazy people are still getting away with murder, others are getting promoted based on no merit whatsoever, and the few people who were an asset to your project slowly start to leave.
Now the bells are going off and you realize that there is no way you can be successful in an environment like this. Regardless of your experience as an IT contractor, there’s only so much you can do to make technology projects succeed. If the organizational support is not there, you’re sure to crash and burn, and your reputation will take a hit. So, what do you do?
Don’t Give-Up Too Easily
If the contract doesn’t have much time left on it, keep your head down and focus on your deliverables without getting sucked into the drama. Working from home when possible and avoiding the toxic individuals will help.
Cover Your Bases
You also need to think of self-preservation. An environment like this means employees are going to throw you under the bus whenever possible, so you need to be prepared. Document all your work and conversations. When somebody tries to point the blame your way because they didn’t complete a task or messed-up a deliverable, your notes and emails might be your only saviour.
Keep Your Recruiter in the Loop
Staffing agencies bring value to IT contractors in several ways, one of which being that they help you navigate these situations. Let your recruiter know that something’s sour in the environment as soon as you notice it so they can help you find solutions. Most importantly, be upfront if you think leaving might be the only option, providing plenty of notice. This popular post by Morley Surcon includes tips on how to leave a contract early, if it’s absolutely necessary.
A toxic work environment is a brutal place to have to spend 40 hours a week, but unfortunately, they exist across all regions, in all industries. If you find that yourself in one when you start your placement, act fast by either developing your plan to adjust and succeed, or preparing an exit plan that keeps your integrity intact.