Expert Offers Tips On How To Navigate A Toxic Workplace

The Norfus Firm

Natalie E. Norfus, founder of The Norfus Firm


Nov. 7 2023, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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In Tinseltown, the spotlight often shines bright on celebrities due to their abundance of talent. But, behind the scenes, a complex dynamic unfolds. Frequently surrounded by dedicated support staff — a byproduct of demanding schedules — some even form lifelong bonds with members of their team. Still, there is a growing trend of A-listers becoming less-than-ideal employers, resulting in public criticism (cancel culture is real folks) and legal woes.

Case in point: the recent Rolling Stoneexposé, which shed light on the toxic workplace environment allegedly created by famed late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon during his tenure on “The Tonight Show.” According to the write-up, former employees claim they experienced “outbursts” and unpredictable, inconsistent behavior from Fallon.

What’s even more troubling is that despite surfacing their concerns to HR, they felt vulnerable to retaliation. In this article, we dive into the reasons behind these internal breakdowns and explore strategies for navigating challenging and toxic workplace environments.

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Understanding The Role Of Human Resources

“If you look at it from the HR side, I think a lot of times people don’t understand the role of HR,” Natalie E. Norfus, founder of The Norfus Firm and co-host of the “What’s the DEIL?” podcast, tells Her Agenda. She adds that if you take a step back and look at the role of HR holistically, “it is to advise and recommend.”

“So it’s to say, ‘Hey, we’ve gotten X, Y, Z number of complaints with XYZ allegations. We’ve investigated them. This is what we are seeing. This is what we recommend. And if we don’t, here are some of the risks that we face,” she continued providing an example of how HR typically operates within a business.

As Norfus myth-busts the age-old belief that HR is pulling the strings, she adds,“It’s important to understand this because HR can’t make the decision. So in the average organization, HR does not have the power to terminate someone, discipline them, or decide what the discipline is.”

In addition to serving as what Norfus dubs “advisors” — “similar to lawyers and accountants” — she explains HR, when “performing at their best,” is “helping employees understand how to mediate certain conflicts.” While avoiding conflict may be preferred by some, candid, respectful communication — going straight to the source of one’s frustration — is often the best course of action. Of course, this begins with building a foundation of trust, an area Norfus believes is an opportunity for HR staff.

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“HR professionals do fail a lot in that they don’t build enough trust and credibility with their business partners,” said Norfus, emphasizing that creating a foundation plays a crucial role in their day-to-day and, further, aids in ensuring when bringing concerns to their business partners, they are taken seriously.

So, how does one navigate a toxic workplace environment, and what have some HR professionals done to successfully execute? Let’s tackle four tips to overcome said predicaments.

Raise A Red Flag

“Number one, I always recommend that someone raises a concern to HR or to a member of management that they feel comfortable with,” suggests Norfus regarding toxic workplace environments. “Because the reality is no matter which way you slice it, no one can do anything about something they don’t know exists,” she adds, sharing how often senior leadership is blindsided by concerns that arise as it’s the first time they are hearing of it.

Norfus continued: “We deal with that a lot. When we do assessments, and we’re sharing what employees are feeling, we give disclaimers. ‘You may hear things that make you feel uncomfortable because you haven’t heard them before.'”

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That said, Norfus suggests leaning on “HR, an anonymous hotline, or going straight to a CEO or EVP of operations” — whomever you are most comfortable with, understanding (and assuming good intention) they want to help.

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Go Straight To The Source

That’s right! Avoidance will get you nowhere. Instead, Norfus recommends speaking directly with whom you have a grievance. “Now, of course, if you don’t feel safe doing so out of fear of being retaliated against, don’t do that,” Norfus explains. “But I think the more in which we can find ways to talk to each other directly, the more some of this gets addressed.”

“I can’t tell you how often we deal with people being very conflict-diverse,” she explains, emphasizing that “having a direct conversation with someone is not a conflict.” Healthy conflict is needed in some organizations — it’s what brings lasting change.

The flip side of avoiding tough conversations? Individuals walk around with a chip on their shoulder. “So I think to the extent that we can start getting comfortable with having direct conversations with one another — not where I’m cussing you out and calling you names — that’s not appropriate,” adds Norfus.

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Go Where You Are Feel Heard And Valued

While the prospect of finding new employment in this (semi) post-COVID era may seem gloomy, Norfus reminds individuals that they have the power to walk away.

“The last piece is to leave if you’ve tried and put the effort in and [your place of employment] is no longer a place that aligns with your values,” Norfus shares. For example, she says that she had a recent meeting with an executive who expressed having to stay with her employer. However, Norfus explains that it’s up to the executive to make that decision, to which she agrees.

“You do not have to be here,” Norfus says. “If this is not something that works for you, and you’re fighting, and you feel that you fought and you’re not getting anywhere, then sometimes you pick another place to work.”

It Takes A Village

Meanwhile, speaking on “basic” things she believes HR professionals can execute for better results — build trust within one’s organization, is to “be responsive” — i.e., don’t ignore your inbox. Whether understaffed, burned out, etc, simply responding with a timeframe for a response is better than someone walking away from a situation feeling unheard. Norfus also suggests consistently keeping your eyes and ears to the ground by way of “climate assessments or engagement surveys.”

“Ask people, ‘What is your workplace experience like? So that again, as a business partner to your clients, you are going back and saying, ‘Here’s what we’re hearing, here’s what the data is telling us, and this is what we’re recommending we do about it,” Norfus says. She suggests HR professionals go back to clients and share that their concerns have been heard and plans for change.

Lastly, “let people know you appreciate their candor and feedback,” Norfus shares. After all, it takes a village.

The author’s content and opinions have not been pre-reviewed, approved or endorsed by Discover.

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By: Truth Hawkins

Truth Hawkins, a seasoned wordsmith with over a decade of experience spanning entertainment, culture, and lifestyle news, navigates the dynamic landscapes of pop culture, lifestyle, and music. More than a reporter, Truth is a dedicated storyteller, unearthing narratives that deeply resonate with readers and invites them to engage in meaningful conversations.

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