How to Avoid a Toxic Employment Relationship

Feb 14, 2022 | Executive Coaching


In February, thoughts turn to hearts and flowers, cards and candies, sweet overtures for someone special to “Be Mine.”

Wooing is a heady experience. On one side, it’s the thrill of the chase and conquest.  For the one being courted, there is a euphoric rush when someone significant finds you desirable.

Can these two partners, who were so infatuated with each other before making a commitment, forge a healthy relationship that has any longevity after the honeymoon is over?

We’re not talking about dating here – this is all about how our brains can be tricked over finding a new job.



Love Bombing

Love bombing is a tactic used by individuals to quickly make the recipient feel obligated to respond with attention, affection, or loyalty.  To the one being bombed, it feels affirming and is received as a boost to one’s ego or self-esteem at first.  Once the trap is sprung, the recipient can be exposed to manipulations and emotional cruelty.

“Anyone is capable of love bombing,” says Ami Kaplan, a psychotherapist quoted in this recent article from Cosmopolitan.  When the initial showering of gifts is leveraged to control a partner, love bombing reveals the hidden motives to be insidious and abusive.

To see similarities in the HR and business world, keep reading.



They’re Trapped

Occasionally, a new executive coaching client comes to us about six months to a year after taking a new position as director or VP.  They’re not happy.  They perceive the job they were hired to do has vastly changed, and they feel they were sold a bill of goods.  They have all this other “stuff” piled on their plate with high demands and no resources or support.

It turns out the “family” culture promised during the interview process was code for “your family time is ours, too.”  When concerns are raised about work life balance, they are flatly rebuffed with, “this is the life you chose.”

“Oh! So now it’s MY fault that you guys want to monopolize my time?”

Pushed to a breaking point, the VP is ready to leave, but they don’t want a blot on their resume.  What will the next company say when they check references?  Does jumping ship too soon paint a picture of flightiness or inability to tackle challenging situations?

Maybe they’re overreacting; maybe not.  They only know they’re quite confused and the whole situation feels unfair.  They need a confidante with wisdom to help them sort through facts and feelings and to help them extricate themselves from the entanglements that control them.

They turn to an executive coach.



The Trap is Set

The last job before this one had lost its allure.  Passed over for promotions.  A few years beyond the last big raise. Annual salary adjustments lag behind the inflation rate.  Feeling more and more discounted with each pay stub.  Fatigued from dealing with COVID, family drama, personal finances, and work-related stress.

Then a headhunter taps them on the shoulder with a “dream job” promising a lot more money.  It almost seems too good to be true.

“Well, it couldn’t be any worse than what I have now,” they tell themselves.  So, they start talking with the recruiter.

It’s validating to have someone want you.  And because they want you, you want to work for them.  But just because someone attractive makes eye contact with you and offers to buy you a drink doesn’t mean it’s wise to rush to the altar with them.

When love bombing starts, our brains are under the influence of dopamine and norepinephrine, and we simply refuse to notice red flags.

The perks during the interview and selection phase were definitely commensurate with the position.  First class seating on the flight to corporate headquarters.  A limo from the airport.  Five-star hotel accommodations.  Dinners at Michelin-star restaurants.  Executive welcome gifts for the candidate and spouse.  Even swag from the local pro sports franchise in all the kids’ sizes!

How could you look a gift horse in the mouth?

The pitch was masterfully presented.  The gifts were distractions to keep the candidate from asking too many questions.

The first day on the job was a brutal departure from the expectations set prior to employment.



Avoiding the Trap

Go into every interview situation with the understanding that you have the duty to yourself and to your family to scrutinize the company as much as your prospective employers are evaluating you.

If hiring managers offer cliché recruiting pitches, formulaic interview processes, sketchy details on hours and wages, or if they appear too eager to hire – these are all red flags that scream toxic workplace.  Here is a Reddit thread dedicated to the topic.

Ask questions.  Dig into your immediate supervisor’s work habits and schedule.  In the case of the anonymous new hire who was wooed with fancy dinners and sports gear for the kids, the first day on the job ran 17 hours.  And so did the next.  Because the boss kept those kinds of hours, his direct reports were expected to keep pace.  The new VP never got to take the kids to see a game in their jerseys.  The company culture wasn’t family-friendly like that.


If you spot yourself in the run-up to making a career move, consider if they’re offering you a true market value and if the new work environment will be a good fit for your personal goals and values.

If you don’t have a trusted advisor to help you figure it out, get a coach!

Contact inclineHR for confidential, competent guidance in pursuing your personal and professional goals.


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