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I have just finished my first week with what I see as a great company that is poised for tremendous growth. Currently there are only 4 full time employees, including myself, within the office and around 8 outside in sales or operations.
Every company has that one “go-to” person that knows everything that’s going on, they can get away with a lot, I’ve been told that she has run every other female out of the company by bullying them and the boss leans on them a lot. I can see where all of this is true about her.
There’s the ”FIXER” employee that has come in recently, made some big changes that have resulted in big growth for the company. There’s me, the new guy that was brought in to complete a couple of key task that will open the door for my real reason for being hired to manage a new growth channel for the company. Then there’s the owner, the CEO, the boss, the Mac Daddy.

• The “Go To” person has the worst attitude, is always mad, looks tired all the time, complains when you need help, has been caught in a lie in my first week and she’s the only employee that has stayed with this company for more than one year.
• The FIXER has spent more time telling me about all of the things that he’s done to make the company better, telling me where the problems are with the company, who is the problem, complaining about his pay, continually trying to show me proof of all he’s done and pridefully boasts “I DID THAT”.
• The big cheese is narcissistic. No other way to define it. He will say “drop everything you’re doing and finish this right now and two days later he will ask how another project is going when you still haven’t finished the one he told you to drop.

I actually enjoy the company, I get along with each of them and all I have done is listen and encourage rather than jumping on board with one side - the Go-To or the Fixer. I just want to work, complete my task and grow the right way but it’s obvious there’s a problem now, that problem is causing me to feel awkward, if I need to ask a question I can’t get an answer because they complain so it’s going to cause me problems sooner rather than later.
Because of the future that this job offers me when we begin to franchise (which is what I was brought on to do) I know that this company has so much potential, franchisees will make great money, it will grow fast and hopefully I can grow that culture without the other two but they are bringing down any hope of us getting where we need to be.

How do I discuss this cultural issue with the owner? What do I say? I don’t want to complain, call others out or hurt myself in saying anything but I feel like I have to say something. It’s toxic and shouldn’t be. Yes, it starts at the top and maybe there’s no hope in saying anything and I should just focus on my work but when the other two are hurting my work, I am not going to let that bring me down or break me.

What do I do, how do I say it, should I say anything, can I fix this?
Please help because I see a great future that I don’t want to walk away from. I know I’ve repeated myself and I hope you understand my story. I just want guidance.

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    Well, its kinda obvious. Honeymoon period is over. For now, shut up and observe. These are your first impressions and they may be wrong. After perhaps a month, talk to the boss. Document examples (like a diary). Real people turn out to be surprisingly multidimensional if you observe them quietly for a month.
    – user135112
    Sep 17, 2023 at 20:19
  • To add to @Gantendo be very cautious of what you say as everything you say can and will be used against you. Watch and listen, then find ways to use bs against them intelligently. Sep 21, 2023 at 8:17
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    Oh, and even if you feel superior and think you know it all after one week (spoiler alert: you do not) try to have some empathy with the mortals. Always assume there are reasons why things are as they are; you just don't know them yet.
    – user135112
    Sep 21, 2023 at 11:27

3 Answers 3

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You seem inexperienced. This is regular old startup culture. The boss is not a narcissist, but a visionary with access to a little bit o' cash right now who has more ideas in his head than he has people to implement them. The go-to and fixer people, yes, every startup has those too.

Startups tend to be zoos, asylums-run-by-the-inmates.

You have fallen in love with potential, but potential is not going to save you from toxic work culture. The boss doesn't have the support, and likely the capital, to prioritize cultural issues. That could come later. The toxicity comes from the very foundation of this business. It's likely under-capitalized, which is the reason they have you around to do franchising in the first place.

The real question is how much you're prepared to deal with for the 95% chance of having a paycheck every two weeks. "Go-to" is burnt out, and has probably relinquished a lot of responsibility over to "fixer" as a result. Without an influx of capital to spread the load of running this business (with four people you don't even have an HR department) into more staff, it's not going to change very quickly.

The best you're going to be able to do is to set boundaries for work-life balance, and minimize how much chasing you do after Go-To and Fixer when their workflow impedes your responsibilities. Document, document, document. See if you can have a weekly one-on-one with the boss to communicate only the most severe things that are impeding you. You may get the boss to change some things up. On the other hand, you might get some angry pushback and orders to fix the situation without any support. If it's the latter case, you might need to evaluate your choice to work with this company.

Change comes slowly. Best of luck! And I'd really recommend you be careful where you use that word "narcissist" from here on out.

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Accept you don't know everything

You're new and trying to get your head around things, I get it - we were all there once. Trying to categorise people, turning them into one dimensional characters to try to make sense of a situation you're new to - it might help you think you understand what is going on, but it doesn't help you actually integrate with these people.

Start ups are often high stress workplaces - the odds of the company failing are fairly high and pay is often lower than the level of work required would suggest. Have a little empathy and consider your colleagues positions.

Is the "Go to" person always stressed because they have their own high work load and everyone keeps interrupting them? Doesn't give them a right to be rude, but maybe look for a better time or method of asking your questions. How urgent are they really?

Is the "Fixer" under appreciated (they're almost certainly under paid) and just wants to show someone what they've fixed?

Rather than a narcissist is the CEO just trying to pull together the company they dreamed of with huge personal cost? (I mean, everything sort of is about them, or at least their dream of a business). When they ask you to drop everything ask them for a priority list - remind them of task A they asked for and if it is superseded by task B.

I'm not saying don't make notes of their behaviour if you feel it is truly toxic, but its hard for us to dig through to the actual situation since we're only seeing it through the lens of your experience. Some empathy never goes amiss in a high stress situation. Going in with the intention to butt heads, or call people mad, boastful and narcissistic, just because others are on edge isn't helpful. It may be that you aren't suited to this style of work place.

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There is a lot here to address, much of it out of your control as the extremely new person. However there is certainly one thing which you can do something about:

[The Boss] will say “drop everything you’re doing and finish this right now and two days later he will ask how another project is going when you still haven’t finished the one he told you to drop

When he asks you to do this, the response is pretty straight forward, something along the lines of:

"Sure I can do Task Y. But I'm working on Task X at the moment, which is more urgent, Task X or Task Y?"

This will at least make them think even briefly about prioritisation of work. If you're happy to do so, you can always send a follow-up email confirming that you've started on Task X and give an estimate of how long you think it will take you. This creates a record of them asking you to change tasks, acknowledges that you have changed tasks but also gives a reason for sending the email beyond covering your butt.

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  • Yes, absolutely agree and you have to be very clear about this stuff. I worked for someone who had a new priority 1 job for me every day and was amazed that I never completed something else that was lower priority and also required a lot of work. With hindsight I should have been feeding him back all the things he asked me for and asking for guidance on priority. Sep 22, 2023 at 11:57

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