This is Why Harry and Meghan Left: Will It Make You Leave Too?

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Jan. 30 2020, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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We’ve seen the headlines: Meghan Markle Found Royal `Life ‘Toxic’ and ‘Soul Crushing,’ or Friend Says Prince Harry And Meghan Markle’s ‘Toxic’ Situation ‘Might Get Worse’. Future episodes of the Netflix series The Crown are playing out in real time for us to dissect, without having to shell out a monthly fee. The latest arc in the story is that Prince Harry has made the decision for him and his wife to step back from their roles as working members of the Royal Family. Leaving behind the titles (they will no longer be using them), the money (no longer accepting public financing), and their positions (no longer representing the Queen and country).

Harry was born into this life and it’s the only one he’s known. For Meghan, it was a life she embraced with vows to “hit the ground running”. Which begs the question– what changed? What kind of environment creates conditions so toxic that it makes someone feel like leaving is the only option?

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3 Signs Your Work Environment is Toxic

Everyone faces some level of dysfunction and challenges in their workplace. But how do you determine whether your workplace is challenging, dysfunctional or toxic? These three signs are big indicators pointing the way.

You are being judged unfairly. A side by side layout of the negative headlines Meghan’s received for performing the same or similar acts as others in the Royal Family exposes the double standard she’s living under. As Meghan said, “I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.” Is there a double standard at your workplace? Are you being criticized and judged unfairly for engaging in the same actions as your colleagues?

Lies and rumors are constantly spread about you. Harry and Meghan are suing several British tabloids. In his statement announcing the legal proceedings, Harry said: “There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face–as so many of you can relate to–I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been…” Journalism professor Brian Cathcart in reviewing the lawsuit: “There can be no possible defense for national newspapers waging a war of falsehood of the kind alleged here.” Are you the subject of lies and misinformation at work?

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You have an abusive manager. Here the abusive manager is the British tabloid press. On the couple’s decisions not to pose on the hospital’s steps to present their baby mere hours after his birth, one senior journalist sneered, “This is the shattering of a tradition that goes back decades…There is a price to be paid for that, and that price is mockery.” Do you have a powerful manager who has turned on you? Do you work hard but receive no positive feedback or recognition in the forms of promotions, raises, etc.?

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Why You Need To Leave If This One Move Doesn’t Work

If like Harry and Meghan, you check all three boxes, the most productive move is to actively try to improve the situation. This can only work if you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions: “Do I believe I can successfully change the situation? Do I care enough about this team and organization to try? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you should work on figuring out the best way to do this – e.g. determining the right people to approach to get ideas for improving your situation. Or you can work on trying to  shift the power balance between you and your Manager by making yourself indispensable to them achieving their goals.

But, if you tried like Harry and Meghan to effect change and it didn’t work, then you need to leave. Harry made clear in his speech, “Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.” Sometimes, change is not possible and a toxic workplace can kill you.

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The Smartest Thing To Do Is Quit A Toxic Environment

Jeffrey Pfeffer writes in his book Dying For A Paycheck about toxic workplaces and management practices,” “In total, workplace environments in the United States may be responsible for 120,000 excess deaths per year – which would make workplaces the fifth leading cause of death.” For some of us, the effects on our bodies of toxic environments are so familiar, that we don’t realize that these feelings are not normal. Exhaustion, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, upset stomach, inertia etc., are accepted as the norm and not the debilitating, life threatening health effects of a toxic work environment. Pfeffer’s research estimates that this accounts for about $180 billion in additional health care expenditures.

We can be guided by Meghan Markle who states, “it’s not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive; you’ve got to feel happy. I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.” You cannot thrive in a toxic environment. The smartest thing you can do is to take care of your mental health, develop an exit strategy and leave for greener pastures elsewhere.

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By: Sonia Layne-Gartside

Sonia Layne-Gartside is an accomplished Global Consultant. She works with C-Suite and senior leaders in Fortune 500 companies as a strategic partner to lead Organization Development (OD), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and HR strategy execution activities. Sonia holds advanced certification in change management from Prosci®, and she is certified as a Master Trainer, DEI Specialist, Case Writer, and Instructional Designer. Her undergraduate degree is in Business Management and her master’s degree is in Education. She is an International Speaker and author of the book Workplace Anxiety: How to Refuel and Re-Engage. In acknowledgement of her work and innovative practices, Sonia was recognized as the 2021 “Leader of the Year” by the Pittsburgh Human Resources Association’s (PHRA). She describes herself as a cheerleader for people and ideas.

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