When you go into business for yourself, you often have these grand plans to create a Zen-like workspace where you will feel energized by meaningful and purposeful work. All the time. You’ll be living the dream and feel calm and self-assured. You’ll feel the power of making the world a better place. Every. Single. Day.
Okay, maybe we go a bit overboard, but many of us are refugees from toxic or unsuitable environments where we just didn’t fit. Some may have even staggered across the finish line of corporate or agency work before sucking in the fresh air of business ownership. We wanted it to be different and maybe even healing.
The hard part about all of that? You have to be able to create a work environment that nurtures you and any team members you hire. And it’s really hard to know how to do that. Especially if you haven’t had a healthy work environment before.
Here are some common pitfalls I see (and that I’ve experienced myself) that can lead to a toxic work environment. I’m also going to throw in some tips on how you might turn it around.
You don’t acknowledge you’re running the show.
When you work for yourself, by its very definition, you are your own boss. We don’t often think about that. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do, but we aren’t necessarily thinking like a boss. This can lead to reacting rather than planning, running around like a chicken without a head. It can also mean that you’re recreating the wheel every time you do something. This leads to chaos, overwhelm, and high levels of stress. Definitely toxic!
The best bosses or managers set up systems for things that are done over and over again. They also provide their employees with the best tools they can afford, to make sure they can focus their attention on the important work. They invest in the best tools because they know that they’ll make the money up in improved productivity. They ensure that their employees take breaks and use their vacation time. They take time to slow down and plan. Make sure you do this for yourself as well as for any employees or contractors you take on. It’s the strongest way to empower yourself and your team to do their best work.
You don’t know how to manage others.
When you hire someone to do anything for your business (creating a logo, building a website, bookkeeping, insurance billing, providing direct services to your clients, etc.), you have now become someone else’s boss, at least in the short term. When you don’t know how to manage them, they often don’t do the work (or don’t do it well). Then, when you assume that someone’s poor work is a sign of being inept, lazy, or even evil – you’re probably not going to treat them too well. This can lead to misunderstandings, defensive interactions, frustrated emails or texts in the middle of the night, and people getting fired. Defensiveness can also lead to alienation and even worse communication. This continues poor work, negative interactions, and high turnover. It’s a toxic cycle that leaves you feeling alone and ineffective.
It’s hard to manage someone else. You have to understand what their skills are and see from their perspective. You have to communicate clearly what needs to be done, to the smallest detail, in the way that they can understand it. Even more, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they want to do the work well and that improved clarity and communication will get them there. That may not always be the case. However, being clear and communicating well will keep your side of the street clean no matter what.
You let panic and fear rule your decisions.
Being a business owner is stressful. You have to hustle to make enough money. You have to set your own schedule and decide what to do. There are a million decisions and there’s not a lot of certainty. It can feel terrifying that you’re going to make the wrong decision. When you’re that scared, you might make decisions based out of fear or even panic. I NEED TO MAKE MONEY! Or I CAN’T DO WHAT I REALLY WANT! These driving thoughts can lead to deciding to take on clients who don’t suit you, a side job, or even not taking a risk that could move your business forward. Acting out of fear keeps you from meeting your potential, leaving you feeling unfulfilled and, frankly, exhausted from all of the adrenaline that’s constantly rushing through your veins.
If you don’t have a way to figure out what to do and the coping in place to manage the fear, you’ll continue to make choices that don’t serve you well. Take a deep breath, slow down, and plan based on your big vision. If you’re still worried about making the right decisions, find a mentor, consultant or coach who can help you plan for success (and talk you off the ledge).
You fall prey to Sacrificial Helping Syndrome.
As someone who wants to help people, it’s likely you focus your attention on others rather than yourself. There are so many helpers who sacrifice their own well-being to serve others, that I’ve now named it as a syndrome. It’s easy to fall prey to. So many of us do it. The key elements are often not charging enough (or anything) for the work you’re doing, mismanaging your schedule by giving any open time to clients and others who “need” you, and giving more than you have (or not delegating or outsourcing gnarly tasks) out of misguided generosity. This leads straight to burnout.
Instead, set firm limits on how many clients you can see a week, what fees you’ll accept, and what you are able to do. Take good care of yourself!
Are you getting caught in any of these toxic pitfalls? It happens. To all of us. The worst thing you can do is judge yourself. Try some of the ideas above and see what happens. I promise, even just giving yourself some time to breathe will be a big help!
Let’s talk about how you can move toward a healthy, effective work environment!! I’ve a brand-new program that will give us an opportunity to assess your business and take a deep dive into planning the next steps. Find more about my Strategic Business Breakthrough program here.