Book Review: Rising Above A Toxic Workplace: Taking Care Of Yourself In An Unhealthy Environment, by Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As most of us have been in toxic workplaces, this book is definitely a helpful one. Although this book is a short one at about 160 pages or so, it is practical and guided towards self-care. There is, ultimately, not much we can do about broken institutions as most of us lack the power to effect change for others, especially those in charge over us in some fashion. That said, it is possible that some people could come to this book expecting something different from the authors’ approach that people should care for themselves and look for somewhere else to go to get away from the toxic environment. Ultimately, the authors seem to view toxic environments as an almost incurable contagion that one has to avoid becoming infected by, and that is something that requires a bit of time to consider when it comes to one’s own desires to fix and improve situations rather than leave and start new ones. Undoubtedly, some people will not be happy by the book’s approach.
After a short introduction the authors talk about the rise of a toxic workplace and how it develops (1). After that the authors discuss the many faces of the toxic boss, as there are many ways that bosses and workplaces can be toxic (2). This leads into a contrary discussion on great places to work as a reminder that just because one may be familiar with toxic workplaces that not all places are like that (3). The authors then turn their attention to churches and not-for-profits and show how these workplaces can be as toxic as for-profit companies in their own ways (4). Then there is a discussion of “little murders” at work that result from humiliation and embarrassment (5). The authors now turn their attention to self-care and how people can retain their health in difficult circumstances (6) before looking at how great places can go down very quickly and become toxic (7). The authors then conclude with a prescription against cynicism (8) before providing a summary that takes up about 40 pages that contains the points the authors have been making throughout the volume. After this the authors make some concluding remarks and provide some acknowledgements and notes.
As someone who has been involved in a great many toxic workplaces while striving not to fall prey to the toxicity of those places, it is interesting to see the diagnosis made by the authors. Sometimes leaders are the problems, and that is something I have seen before. Are people not concerned with the well-being of their employees, not interested in keeping promises, inconsistent in the way that they look at standards, only interested in how they can use others? A lot of institutions operate this way. How do we keep care of ourselves? For one, it helps to have a strong set of friendships and relationships, and for another, it helps to have a good idea of what resources one has. It should be noted that the authors have no expectations that the situations will be improved by divine miracles, and that even past greatness of institutions cannot promise that things will remain good when personnel changes. By and large, this book is not cynical but it is certainly realistic and sometimes even grimly so. And that is something worth appreciating, because in life there is all too great a tendency to ignore problems and this book counsels knowledge but also awareness of one’s own limitations.