It’s a nightmare to navigate negative work culture when you’re a permanent employee but at least you have some power to change it. When you are placed on a contract it can be a demoralising slog with no hope of redemption!
Don’t personalise it
Before you assume that your dazzling personality has failed to wow your new colleagues take a moment to consider whether it’s you or them. When a team or department has lost it’s unity, the majority of workers come in, keep their heads down and leave. If there’s rivalry or infighting, most people just want to stay well away. Embracing you into the team with open arms may be considered too political an act. A professional distance could be the only way to go without accusations of favouritism or point-scoring. It sounds juvenile but this kind of culture can erupt at the higher echelons of corporate power at any moment!
Take it slowly
If you sense a negative vibe on day one, don’t assume too much from it. You don’t know what happened yesterday. Also all offices go through peaks and troughs – you may have happened to have started on a bit of an off day. Don’t panic and feel the need to initiate a celebratory drinks party for your happy arrival into the workplace. Remember to be polite and smile, even if the response you get is not so cordial. Most people are nice and if you are professional and friendly they will warm to you in time. Sometimes the quiet offices are where you make life-long friends rather than the party places where organised fun is always around the corner!
Recognise when culture is damaging you or others
Stress is part of life. You hit deadlines, you have unexpected issues, you have frustrating meetings. That’s life! However, a negative environment can add additional stress and actually make life pretty unpleasant. When you witness (or experience) bullying or generally unreasonable behaviour this can impact on your health and something needs to be done about it. As a consultant it’s tricky to work out what power you have. You generally don’t have the benefits of a permanent employee so if it’s determined that you’re ‘unable’ to continue you could lose the contract with little comeback. However also realise that you have the power to walk away when permanent employees may feel unable. You may be external voice that challenges the trouble-maker. It’s a difficult call but don’t assume that as a contract worker there’s nothing to be done.
Be the change….
We all know how one bad apple can spoil the barrel but why not turn that on its head? If you can join that environment and be strong enough to never be sucked in petty squabbling and back-stabbing you are making positive change. You are demonstrating to your colleagues that there is another way. It may bring you criticism from the worst offenders but it will garner respect from the best of the bunch. Keep your head, be fair, be professional and be kind and you will be hired every time!