Toxic cultures

Why do we continue to work for companies (or people) who make our lives hell?

Because we’re afraid of losing what we’ve got? Or we think it will improve on someone else’s watch? Or we know no different?

I wish I had the answer but I don’t.

Ask yourself though, why do you put up with so much sh*t?

Do you really have to?

No, no. I’m serious. This is life and death after all.

Do you really have to sacrifice your life for so little reward? I don’t mean the money; I’m talking about the personal satisfaction of knowing that your genius isn’t being annihilated by a climate of fear that, frankly, couldn’t give a fig about your welfare.

If I think back to my worst experience, it was one individual aided and abetted by his cohort who decided that his mission in life was to undermine, belittle and wage psychological warfare with anyone who didn’t toe the — I mean his — line. I lasted a couple of years and the only reason I left was that I’d been hospitalised and had had time to reconsider and recalibrate my life. Absent that I’m pretty sure I’d have been fired. As you might expect, I left an angry man if for no other reason than the people who were left behind to endure more of the same; and you won’t be surprised to learn that a lot of them are no longer there.

Again, let me ask the question, why do we put up with and endure so much mental torture? What if, en masse, we rebelled? You know, a sort of internal Extinction Rebellion. For the record, I’m talking about a non-unionised work environment which is what’s in play with most SMEs. I accept it’s fanciful but can you imagine everyone saying, “Enough is enough” and calling out the individuals who’ve added to or created the climate of fear, derision, sexism or bullying. I’ve no doubt something would happen. What they’d fire everyone? I don’t think so. They might try to pick off the ringleaders or work on the basis of divide and rule but in the end, I’m convinced, as naive as it sounds (and a little dumb, eh!), that something would happen. Whether it would address the issue, who knows?

To be clear, I know we’ve got whistleblower legislation in the UK and probably in many other countries but so many of the issues that I’m thinking of do not have a public interest component. Interestingly in the Guidance issued by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills it says:

“Getting the right culture: If an organisation hasn’t created an open and supportive culture, the worker may not feel comfortable making a disclosure, for fear of the consequences. The two main barriers whistleblowers face are a fear of reprisal as a result of making a disclosure and that no action will be taken if they do make the decision to ‘blow the whistle’.”

This seems so apposite to what I’m describing.

I recognise too that companies are likely to have a policy on bullying and harassment in the workplace but I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve know who’ve made a complaint of bullying. In any event, those that did had their cards marked and were got rid of, eventually.

I appreciate that this post is quite circular but if my experience is anything to go by, it’s high time that we found a mechanism to explore and change the toxicity that exists in so many organisations. In that regard, I’d say this. It’s amazing how one person — call them a leader if you wish — can make a profound difference to the culture of a business. As simplistic as it sounds, leaders should only be picked if their willingness to serve the employees is greater than making great gobs of a profit for a select few.

Take care.