How to spot toxicity in your own workplace

EagleHeadline | Jun. 23, 2017

Uber has been plagued with scandals that led to CEO Travis Kalanick’s forced resignation. Here’s what you can learn from the fallout – and how to spot toxicity in your own workplace.

Uber has trailblazed the ride-sharing industry, spread to 662 cities worldwide and has made a billionaire out of founder Travis Kalanick.

But all that Silicon Valley-style disruption – which has turned public transport on its head around the globe – hasn’t safeguarded the company from immense turmoil. Because today, at the pressure of investors, Kalanick resigned as CEO.

His dramatic departure follows months of scandals about sexual harassment, macho culture and the departure of senior executives, and is a snapshot of one of the most stunning CEO roller-coaster stories in modern business history.

Unfortunately for the $70bn California company, its name has now become synonymous with many of the hallmarks of toxic work culture: HR fiascos, ignoring employee benefits, and an arrogant ‘bro’ culture that perpetuates sexism and reckless decision-making in the tech industry.

But these scandals are far from limited to Uber. The red flags of toxic work culture are all too common across all industries.

Here are some of the classic signs you should look out for – and what you should do if your company resembles a certain former start-up with a German-sounding name.

A boss who yells, bullies, or antagonises. This is different to ‘tough love’ or the rough personality of a ‘no-nonsense’ manager. A bully boss – one who manipulates and humiliates their staff – undermines stability and trust throughout the workplace. Before going over your boss’s head, though, consult with your colleagues to see if they feel the same way – if the team is unified, there may be ways to solve the problem as a group.

A ‘success at all costs’ philosophy. If the boss’s management style is no-holds-barred – as Kalanick’s was – be wary. While a slash-and-burn method may lead to meteoric results – as it did with Uber – it can lead to rapid, Icarus-like fall, too. Better to get out quick before the plunge.

Unfair treatment of workers. Nothing cultivates a toxic work environment more than withholding basic employee rights. Uber faced multiple legal blowbacks following claims that it failed to give its drivers minimum wage or paid holiday.

Your boss is a control freak. Or worse, he or she pushes out other top executives at your company, as was the case with Dov Charney, former CEO of American Apparel. “Entrepreneurs who never give up any control, or fail to bring in professional managers, tend to blow up at some point,” Sydney Finkelstein wrote. “Hubris never wins.”

Absent management. If your manager barely interacts with you – or isn’t even in the office a lot to begin with – this will definitely be a roadblock to your success. JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson “barely tried to connect with rank-and-file employees, who found his regular video broadcasts more self-promotional than motivational (for instance, Ron Johnson’s 50th day at JC Penney), especially when they were taped at his Palo Alto home.”

Bad press. If your company is high-profile enough to be covered in the news during its more challenging moments, ask yourself: How much are you willing to stick by the bad decisions being made? How much do you believe in the company’s mission? How long can you explain away bad management and constant turmoil? The answer, in many cases, is probably not very long.

When push comes to shove, though, there are only so many tips you can employ or stress you can endure. Remember, life’s too short to endure a toxic workplace – if your company isn’t a happy place to work, it may be time to start looking for one that is.

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