Frogs are tricky things. If you try to boil a frog by throwing it into boiling water, it will immediately try to jump out of the pot. The temperature difference between “normal” and “killing me” is massive.
On the other hand, if you take a frog, put it into tepid water and turn the heat up gradually, it won’t know it’s being cooked. It adapts to the higher temps until suddenly, it’s boiled from the inside out and voila, you have yourself Boiled Frog.
A client asked the question, “ How do you know when a situation has become untolerable? What’s the breaking point when you know you have to bail?”
As I mulled over the question the frog metaphor leaped to mind. In certain respects, people are just like frogs. When we first start a job we’re tenuous and if most of the variables are okay, we go along because we’re happy to be there. Gradually the temperature starts to rise and new factors present themselves; we stop being as happy with a co-worker, the boss starts to show his true colors, the CEO resigns and internal infrastructure collapses… anything can happen to turn up the heat.
So how do you know when to get out of the pot? I don’t know that there’s a pat answer for this, and if there were I wouldn’t trust it. Everyone has a different boiling point. We’re different from frogs in that our survival instinct kicks in when we’re truly at risk either physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. A toxic work place can put us at risk for carrying around so much stress that we can’t function in our daily lives. We make ourselves sick, withdraw from our spouses, stop enjoying friends, maybe we even turn to drinking or workaholic behaviors to try to drown out the heat of the message.
The client that asked me that poignant question has been considering leaving the company he’s with because he’s being slowly boiled to death. Numerous conversations with bosses haven’t changed any of the toxic workplace variables that have led to high turnover and burnout. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to make the hard decision as to what his tolerance level for the heat of the company is, because they won’t be throwing him a lifeline anytime soon.