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Working in an Asshole Free Zone

I originally wrote this article a few years ago (link at end of article) and during some recent correspondence with a colleague I reflected on the article again as being relevant to their situation. As I re-read it, I thought it worthwhile sharing here, as I'm sure it might resonate with you also. I hope you enjoy.

One day, after more than 25 years working in corporate companies I came to an awful realisation – some of the people I worked with were assholes! I know! It was mortifying. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends in life were work colleagues first. And I did work with some amazing and wonderful people who I am forever indebted for their support, friendship and advice. BUT there were others who were political animals who had no issue with bare faced lying, breaching confidence and back stabbing if they thought they could benefit.

You know, I was convinced that most thought ethics were people that had migrated to Australia from Europe.

And the only values they cared about were the values of their share options and their employment package. I realised then, it only takes a few assholes to make a work place toxic and suck all the fun out of your job.

So here I was … I had crafted a good reputation, a successful career, had a good salary and a pretty good LinkedIn profile… but it was not a lot of fun. The reason it wasn’t a lot of fun was due to my work environment.

Now I realise, complaining about not being “happy” whilst having a good career, salary and all the associated executive perks, sounds like such a selfish and self-absorbed first world problem. But for me it was real, and I couldn’t see an easy way out.

I came to the realisation that the title on my business card, the postcode I lived in, the brand of my car, watch, etc. etc. and my salary package, were nothing more than material trappings. I had become a slave to my work, and embarrassingly, my status.

These were things that I had sworn would never happen to me – I was better than that. Yet here I was enslaved to working 10-14-hour days, a prisoner to the corporate grind like a hamster in an exercise wheel – running like crazy and going nowhere.

My boss was a narcissistic, self-absorbed megalomaniac (and they were his good points) that delighted in telling me how much money he had. His status was everything and despite demanding loyalty to him, he would throw any of his team under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or benefit himself. He may have been in a leadership role, but he was no leader.

After numerous clashes and having my morals and integrity challenged I couldn’t imagine working for him any longer. An opportunity to exit the business with a tidy payout came up and I took it.

I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I secured some outplacement support (which was the best thing ever!) and took some time out to learn more about who I was and what I wanted.

My initial thought was that I would step into another corporate role – but for a better company, with a better boss who shared my values. Don’t laugh, I thought it would be possible.

As I went through the self-reflection and analysis of my career, the things I had enjoyed and the things I hated I started to get a sense of what was important. My outplacement coach (Heather) asked if I had ever thought of running my own business.

Well I think we all do at some point in our lives, but I hadn’t really ever thought of it seriously. So, I did an assessment to determine my suitability and whether I had what it would take to run my own business. I was surprised to see the results come back as positive – but I was not convinced.

Self-doubt consumed me.

  • Do I have anything to offer that people would value?

  • What would I sell?

  • Who would I sell to?

  • What if it didn’t work? I’d be a very public failure!!

  • Could I make enough money to survive and maintain my lifestyle?

  • Could I work without my team and the social banter of a busy workplace?

So, while the assessment said I could do it, I didn’t believe in myself enough to give it a go. At the outplacement agency I refined my cv, tricked up my LinkedIn profile and networked my ass off. I rang all those headhunters and super powered recruiters who had chased me for work or had leveraged my extensive network for leads over many, many years.

Surely, they could help me! After all, I had been a very good client. If not a client, I had given them introductions to dozens and dozens of awesome candidates that generated thousands of dollars in commissions – for no return for me, other than a cup of coffee.

Well, the support I received was underwhelming to say the least. Very few were prepared to give me any time, let alone advice, support or a “leg-up”. All I could think was “You bastards!” Best buds when they wanted something, then it was crickets and tumbleweeds when I needed something.

I’ll show them I thought and started applying for jobs. Now that is a soul-destroying process. So many of these agencies (and yes, yes, I know they aren’t all the same – but I am talking about the majority) didn’t even provide the courtesy of a response.

If I made it to an interview I found their lack of experience or knowledge about what it takes to perform the role they were recruiting for astounding. So few recruiters have ever worked a “real” job, yet they pass themselves off as experts on what it takes to be successful and believe they can gauge suitability from a cursory read of a cv and a brief chat.

I realised then that recruitment is fundamentally broken. Sure I found ways to game the system, but it left me cold.

After getting angry and disappointed I went back to my notes and found the assessment that said I was well suited to running a business.

I went home and spoke to my wife and she said if it was what I wanted to do I should do it – I had someone who believed in me. Whilst still on gardening leave I started to apply over 25 years of experience into creating my own business.

It was hard to believe, I was stepping out of corporate and setting up my own business – “You’re insane!” I would hear myself muttering. I registered my business and when the business certificate came back I took a deep breath and in the words of Julius Caesar said to myself Alea iacta est – the Die is cast!

There are loads of stories and learnings I can share about setting up a business. I made plenty of mistakes, but I made a lot of good decisions too. I’ve learnt plenty and I’m sure there is still heaps to learn. And guess what? Almost seven years on, I’m still running my own business.

One of the first rules I made for myself and my business was that my workplace must be an “Asshole Free Zone” or AFZ for short. That meant partners, colleagues and clients. I was open with sharing this rule with my clients who were warned that if they turned into assholes we wouldn’t be able to work together. I was a little surprised to hear back from them that they loved this concept and asked if they could borrow it for their work place – “Go for it!” I said. The less assholes ruining days the better is my view.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing and I’ve had a few assholes sneak into my work life masquerading as friends or business partners – usually just to leverage my network or my experience for themselves. But they can’t hide their assholeism forever. As soon as they show their true colours, we part ways. Not always in a nasty way or acrimoniously – I don’t necessarily dislike them. I just know they aren’t people I want to work with or be associated with.

Now I can tell you, working in an AFZ is a good thing and it’s a rule that is still important to me and I won’t compromise. Life is too short to be working with assholes who don’t care about you or share your values.

If any of this journey resonates with you, join the revolution and get away from the assholes in your life – surely, it’s time that your workplace became an AFZ!

Reading this post, you may think that I am "anti-corporate" or against "working for the man". Not so. I have had some amazing work experiences. I've learned plenty from talented bosses, colleagues and staff. I've been given some amazing opportunities to work on major projects and ground-breaking initiatives that have been transformational within an industry.

Indeed, much of what I have learned has been through working in a corporate gig as an employee. I credit my employers (good and bad) for the wealth of experience and knowledge I have accumulated over my career. This experience has enabled me to set up my own business, and I now get to work with some truly amazing people and companies across a variety of industries. Many of the businesses I work with have great cultures, exciting brands and are loaded with terrific people. So, there are good companies and good jobs out there - but finding them can be a challenge!

Now it's my time to share my experience and impart my learnings and advice to others. The grey hairs and corporate battle scars I have earned over the years have provided hard, but valuable, learnings. If my experience and advice can help others create fulfilling careers, then it's all been worth it.

I've worked in start-up ventures, large corporate entities, government business enterprises, privately owned companies (large and small), across different countries and a variety of industries. I've been the lowest employee in a large company and I've been the CEO of a global company. From being a lowly employee to managing a team of over 200 staff - I've traversed many different company hierarchies.

Today I am a business coach, mentor and advisor to many companies, and many of my old colleagues and staff. What I noticed was that I was often being asked the same types of questions and helping people on very similar issues. I realised, we may all be different, but the challenges are often the same.

So I created Cazoot! Rather than try to download all my advice into one post, I decided to create guides, tips, resources and posts to share my experience, knowledge and story via Cazoot. I hope you find Cazoot informative and interesting as you build your career. I'd love to hear your story and comments as I'm sure you have learnings that we can all benefit from. So don't be shy, leave a comment, share these posts And please don't forget to subscribe to Cazoot for stories, tips, guides and weekly inspiration - let's make the workplace fun again ;-)

Today, I still mandate working in a AFZ and try to ensure I only work with people of like values and interests who I enjoy working with. It's not always 100% that way, but more often than not.

So the question for you is are you working with assholes? If the answer is "Yes", then my next questions is.....


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