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Seven Signs of a Toxic Organisation Your work is not just a regular job but it's your karma and you need to take care of your surroundings for your physical and mental growth

By Mukund Trivedy

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"How do I know that the next organisation that I join is not toxic?"

Genuine as it sounds, the concern definitely begs for an earnest response. There are enough studies carried out worldwide to prove that there are millions who suffer in silence at workplaces. They are made to live under a constant threat of losing their jobs. The stressful work environment seems to take a huge toll on their physical and mental health making them vulnerable to coronary heart diseases, depression, migraine, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and personality disorders. The ordeal of facing humiliation and emotional trauma also starts impacting their family relationships. People in such places lose not only their sleep but self-esteem as well.

Being able to stand up and speak up against injustice is definitely the best remedy. But let's face it. Not many are in a position to do so. There could be many reasons, which would refrain the victims from taking a stand. The situation is more acute in organisations where the problem is systemic. These are the entities where psychopaths rule the roost and sycophants win accolades. Prevention in such cases, therefore, is better than cure.

So how does one identify the malaise? While high attrition rates, increasing trend of absenteeism and unusual spurt in medical leaves are overt signs of a toxic workplace there are some covert symptoms that one must explore to get a fair measure of how ethical, healthy and employee friendly an organisation is before accepting any job offer. Evidently, people tend to join a new organisation on the basis of role, position, and salary. And, yet when they decide to quit, it is more often than not for completely different reasons. A proper due diligence is, therefore, not only desirable but a necessity as well. The idea is to ensure that one fits into the existing work culture. Most importantly, it's critical to find out how people are treated at the workplace.

Here are the 7 signs that one must explore about the new organisation:

  • Short career stint of senior officers

It's an accepted fact that even the best of professionals can't survive for long in a toxic work environment. Sooner or later these professionals find better opportunities and leave the organisation at the next opportune moment. So, a quick look at the LinkedIn profile of those officers who have left the organisation would indicate how long did most of them survive in that set up. It has been noticed that upright and capable people at the leadership level leave such bitter work environment within a year. A cursory look at the job portals would also indicate that the HR in that company is perennially searching for some key positions. Such entities are trapped in the cycle of hire, fire and hire again.

  • Absence of an alumni

Alumni are created only when people have the pride of association. The general narratives among the ex employees of such toxic organisation are so bitter and negative that they do not even attempt creating an alumni. People burn the bridges after leaving such entities. In fact, the HR in such workplaces does not arrange a farewell programme even for its CEOs and other senior executives, let alone simple workmen. On the other hand, it's a common practice among ex-employees of reputed organisations to form their own groups and alumni. Some even invite ex-employees to their events and celebrations.

  • Spurt in official e-mails on weekends and holidays

In a toxic workplace the employees are supposed to be available 24x7 for work. This shows the company's scant respect for people's work-life balance. In such setups, people are forced to work overtime and even on holidays. The number of official e-mails received by employees on holidays and weekends gives a fair idea of the work-life balance that the organisation believes in and promotes. No wonder, people at such workplaces feel burnt out with no personal lives.

  • Company folklore about management by fear

In an autocratic set up, usually the owner or the senior most person calls the shots and the professionals, right from the CEO to the junior most executive, are expected to execute the orders. By design, the professionals in such organisation lack the freedom to think and plan. No one can afford to differ or disagree. All the formal and informal communications and narratives in such autocratic organisations tend to accentuate and perpetuate the prevailing fear of losing jobs. So, people tend to focus more on what not to say in any crucial meeting. Worse, the fear of reprisal often produces false data, so detrimental to the health of the organisation. A simple walk at the corridor or a mere glance at the faces of people working would reveal the signs of distress palpable at the workplace.

  • Arbitrary method for handling people related matter

Even in the best of organisations, people are removed or reprimanded for their acts of omission or commission. However, in a professional setup it is done after following a procedure. In a toxic workplace, such orders are issued ad hoc at the whims and fancies of the psychopaths or the autocrats. The concerned employees are not even given an opportunity to make amends or explain their circumstances. Even promotion and transfer orders are issued as per the instruction of one or two individuals. Clearly, uncertainty and chaos are the norms in such organisations. Just a cursory glance at the Glassdoor portal would provide a flavor of existing work practices.

  • The track record of settling the full and final dues of outgoing employees

In reputed organisations, the full and final settlement cheque is handed over to outgoing employees within a month without any reminder. Settlement of final dues only after several reminders and/or after legal interventions may be indicative of intent to harass an outgoing employee. One would do well to find out the number of legal cases the company is facing in this regard as part of due-diligence before joining. Besides, one should also connect with some of the former employees on LinkedIn to find out his or her experience about the full and final settlement practices.

  • Willful delay in payment to vendors

The real test of one's character comes to the fore while dealing with the weakest. In an organisation, the vendors are usually at the receiving end. Some take undue advantage of the vulnerability of vendors and harass them by delaying the payment. Worse, the people concerned are rewarded for delaying the matter. While it is very difficult for an outsider to find out whether vendors are respected or not, one would do well to carry out some due diligence to assess the values of the organisation. Sometimes, even a casual conversation with people like the taxi drivers, the securities or the cleaning staff could reveal the truth.

These are just a few symptoms of debilitating work culture of a declining organisation. One would always do well to stay away from such workplaces where employees have to compromise with their grit, respect and dignity.

Mukund Trivedy

Senior Brand Consultant, Founder of HyWe Happy Workplaces Movement

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