Toxicity at the work place

In my previous column I wrote about mediocrity and sycophancy that have been pervasively infiltrating into every segment of our society of late and not only deteriorating our performance and progress but also transgressing upon the well deserved due of the meritorious lot. In this column I would be dwelling upon yet another ill that has been plaguing our society for long and that is the toxic and strained work culture at our offices. Most of our offices are unfortunately plagued by infighting, leg-pulling, rivalry, unhealthy competition, back-biting, lobbyism, jealousy, hatred and intolerance. Again sycophancy and mediocrity play a major role in encouraging this kind of an ambience in our offices and leading to a toxic work culture because mediocre and worthless people resort to sycophancy and flattery to rise in their career and try to pull the meritorious people down through dubious means. These are the people who vitiate atmosphere for their selfish ends and disrupt the peace and amity at a work place.

Toxic work culture is a disease that makes the entire system sick, stagnant and unproductive. In order to eradicate disease we need to understand its causative factors, modes, and mechanisms of sustenance, its ill consequences, preventive strategies besides policies and procedures to overcome the same. Toxic work culture stems from work environs where there is disillusionment, distress and dissatisfaction among employees. As a result of total disregard for merit and hard-work, such systems turn toxic. This distress and dissatisfaction in turn emanates from the frequent episodes of discrimination and disrespect that the employees experience for not resorting to sycophancy or for expressing dissent on genuine issues. A system that rewards sycophants and yes-men irrespective of their caliber, contribution and output towards the growth of the institution and ignores the hard-working lot for raising objections in the interest of the institution, ultimately turn into a hotbed of toxic culture and rivalry.

We must always remember that anything that costs us the peace of our mind is too expensive and worthless to be retained and nourished. We need to let go and live happily in order to stay sane in toxic workplaces because such cultures have a strong potential to drive you crazy and leave you deprived of your inner peace. Poor communication, unsupportive leadership, lack of clarity about organizational goals, no reward or appreciation for good work, negative outlooks and lack of balance between personal and work relationships are the hallmarks of a toxic work culture. When gossiping, incivility, rumour-mongering, misleading information, character assassination and false propaganda are allowed, encouraged or tolerated in an institution, one can easily presume that it is heading towards a toxic work culture. Discrimination and injustice on various grounds, taboos and vilification against expressing your opinion freely, unhealthy or dysfunctional competition, promotion of sycophancy, giving space to office politics, and aggressive behavior, are other prominent signs of a toxic work culture.

Causes of toxic work culture also include authoritarian management style, inconsistent or unpredictable supervision, acceptance of disrespectful behavior, lack of conflict resolution process, individual staff members with personal insecurity, fear of transfer or change in position, no single yardstick for promotions and incentives or even for dealing with day-to-day administrative case files. Toxic work cultures promote people over performance, mediocrity over meritocracy, personal relationships over work ethics, punishment over persuasion and proper guidance, castigation over encouragement, weaknesses over strengths, negatives over positives, secrecy over transparency, irresponsibility over accountability, lobbyism over equity, coteries over collegial environment, absenteeism over punctuality, groupism over team-work, closets over freedom, and silence over expression. Constructive criticism is a far-fetched dream in a toxic work culture as the bosses of such cultures are used to hear only a “yes” from their subordinates and there is absolutely no space for a “no” or an “if” or a “but”. Word “why” does not even exist in the dictionary of such institutions as well as their administrators. No matter where the institution is heading towards, one is not allowed to open his mouth in such cultures.

Employees of a toxic work culture do not live a healthy, happy and peaceful life themselves, and do not let others live peacefully too. They spend all their time pulling each other’s legs and pushing each other towards darkness and downfall through cheap tactics, politicking, character assassination and false propaganda. They neither progress themselves nor allow others to progress as a result of which entire work, career as well as institution gets paralyzed and suffers from sickness. In spite of the fact that a toxic culture does not benefit anybody, employees of such a culture continue with their negative traits of expressing anger, harbouring intense jealousy deep within, nurturing grouse and hatred against each other, feeling insecure and inferior upon seeing others achieve and move ahead in life, contributing nothing for their individual or institutional development, losing all their precious time brooding and throwing insults over those who progress by sheer hard-work, dedication and commitment towards their work. Such employees themselves become toxic and full of negativity to the extent that their thoughts, behavior, actions and decisions clearly reflect their negativity and vicious nature. As a result of continuous infighting and squabbling among employees such departments or institutions fail to make a mark for themselves, earn a bad reputation, fail to achieve anything substantial and remarkable, and ultimately turn sick and unproductive, even resulting into closure at times.

When there is a relationship of mutual respect, love, trust and friendship among employees of an institution, and the people don’t feel insecure or threatened by each other, then only it becomes possible to concentrate on work and progress of that individual as well as that of the institution. In absence of these positive social elements it is hard to meet the targets because all of the time, energies, thinking and activities of the employees get concentrated on damaging each other’s reputation, creating hurdles in their work, spreading lies and misinformation, taking revenge, seeking derogation and defamation of their rivals, bypassing their merit and seniority in promotions, pleasing higher authorities and spilling venom against each other. Nobody gains anything out of all such sadistic maneuvers and medieval mindset even though temporarily some of the yes-men and mediocre people might gain promotions and positions in their career but in the long run they fail to carve a niche for themselves and leave a remarkable legacy back in the society. At the time of retirement when they look behind there is only devastation and destruction in the hindsight and nobody in the foresight to wholeheartedly welcome them and appreciate their work. They do repent but it is too late by then. Therefore wisdom lies in introspection and taking corrective measures at an appropriate time while one is in active service.

Having policies and procedures in place that ensuring equitable growth and progress of employees purely on the basis of their merit and performance and leaving absolutely no scope for shortcuts and personal considerations in gaining promotions and positions can retrieve a department from the clutches of toxic work culture. Disruptive behavior and toxic culture emanate from the feeling that you can bypass your seniors and more meritorious colleagues and achieve success by resorting to cheap tactics of defamation and derogation and by keeping your bosses happy through sycophancy, back-biting, and gratification. Unity, amity, brotherhood, mutual acceptance and tolerance is the key to success of any institution and the opposite of these leads the individual as well as the institution towards a certain doom, not only affecting his own life and career but the peace and happiness of his family members too as well as the peace and progress of his rivals. Wisdom lies in burying the hatchet and living in peace with one’s own self as well as in peace with others in the world. Peace and contentment are the real measures of success in life.