5 Ways to Survive a Toxic Work Environment as a Product Manager

This is a big topic here at Product Gym, because when prospective students and students alike are investing their time, money, and energy into this program, landing the “right” Product Manager job is very important to them. Recently, one of my students in the West Coast has started a position that hasn’t worked out too well for her and is about to embark on the job hunt again. One of the perks we offer at Product Gym is allowing students to re-enroll free of charge should these type of events occur. I think it’s really important for people to take a few moments to consider the benefits of working in a toxic environment for a Product Manager.

Take Responsibility

This can be a tough pill to swallow, but you will be tougher for it. Ask yourself why you even took this job in the first place. You signed up for this. Why is a Product Manager position open? Why does the function of a Product Manager exist? What does a Product Manager do every single day? Why do companies employ Product Managers? The reason is your job is to solve problems (serious problems) that nobody is even going to bother to try to take on. Problems that nobody anticipated as well as problems that teams underestimated. The responsibilities of a Product Manager is to meet the unmet needs of customers as well as to manage the expectations of all the relevant stakeholders; just to name a few, because we all know Product Managers do so much more than that. I personally like to think of Product Managers as Battle Commanders, because leading people into war and doing battle is exactly what is expected of you. I laugh and cringe sometimes when people say that they want to go to an “established” product organization. I am sorry to say this, but most companies do not offer that. It’s your job and responsibility to make the situation better. All the great Product Managers that we all respect and admire have fought in the trenches. They have crafted solutions when others claimed there were none, turned the game around when all was thought to be lost, and yes, found ways to effectively work with difficult people. Is it possible for you to be a professional athlete and complain about getting injured? Product Management has become a very attractive title in the recent years. It’s okay if you don’t have all the skills, as you can learn them on the job.

Negotiate with the Source(s) of the Toxicity

Identify clearly what is bothering you and attempt to render the situation. If it’s your Head of Product who you have a problem with, let that person know. Let the individual that is responsible or has a say in the matter, know what is bothering you. Perhaps it’s not a person, rather a practice or process. Regardless of the issue, clearly identify it and create solutions on how to productively move forward. If you have a problem with your Head of Product, don’t just let the person know that you have a problem with them. Instead, attack the problem or issue and not the person. Stakeholder management includes all stakeholders, not just the ones you like.

Develop Clarity on Your Next Role

Adversity is success’ best friend, truly! It really is. Whether you believe in the law of attraction or not, I have found that our past students usually get what they “say” they want. Some students just want a Product Manager job, to break into big tech, or are just in it for the title (i.e., Director or Head) or money. What they focus on expands. I cannot scientifically prove that the law of attraction exists, but it seems to work out that way from my observation. If you jump ship now, the last thing you want is to end up in another company that is the same environment, and you don’t want that. I am very confident that is not what you want.

Get Some Grit

Appreciate tough times in your life and view this time as an opportunity to grow again. Recognize that how and what you are feeling right now isn’t ever really going to go away. It will come back at some point. Problems are constant in life. The only certainty we have is constant uncertainty. If you are able to find some meaning through the hardships, you’re going to come out of this experience a much better person.

Move On

Sometimes in life, you try everything and things still don’t work out. That’s fine. Start creating a roadmap on how you are going to create a better situation for yourself. There is no need to be emotional about this, but unfortunately, that might be difficult. This is why a community such as Product Gym can really help you during this time.

These are just a few suggestions that some of our past students have found to be very helpful. At the end of the day everybody is in a unique situation.

 

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