United Airlines was recently in the news for having one of their passengers forcibly removed from one of their planes. The passenger’s nose was broken and a couple of teeth knocked out because he would not willingly leave the plane. Initially, United’s CEO commended the action saying the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent.” The CEO later apologized, but his initial response was indicative of the toxic corporate culture at United. When the leader of a company approves of behavior that is so outside the norm of what is acceptable, there is clearly something wrong with the company.
The basic common element of a company with a toxic corporate culture is lack of respect for people. Often this lack of respect turns into a culture of fear. This might include yelling at and belittling employees, lack of openness to ideas, favoritism to the boss’s “friends”, and tolerance (or even encouragement) of misbehavior.
I worked at a company awhile back, Novellus, that had a toxic corporate culture. When I joined Novellus, it was a great place to work. The culture was open, and merit was rewarded. Then, a new CEO came in and changed the culture entirely. It was routine for people to be scolded and belittled by the CEO in public. People were promoted or brought into the company based on whether they were “friends” of the CEO. We even had a term for this — friends of Rick (F-O-R’s). It became a miserable place to work.
I remember something that happened at a management offsite. We were doing an activity where the focus was “praise in public, scold in private”. Two employees were doing a role play with one playing the HR person and the other playing an abusive manager. When the HR person told the manager that he should not berate employees publicly, he made a joke that he thought he was doing the right thing because that is what the CEO of the company did. We all laughed. The guy was no longer at the company within 6 months.
I stayed at Novellus for over 5 years after the toxic CEO took over. I know many people that stayed much longer. The question is why. One of the reasons is inertia. After awhile, we all tend to think that the toxic culture is “normal”, and it would be no different working elsewhere. It is only when we finally leave that we realize how miserable we were working in such a dysfunctional workplace. Another reason here in Silicon Valley is that stock options and RSUs can put “golden handcuffs” on us. We stick it out to reach the next vesting date.
For me, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave. I left a considerable amount of stock options behind, but, in retrospect, it was the right decision. After Novellus, I went to work for a Japanese company, Tokyo Electron. It was like night and day. One of the central tenets of the company was respect for people. I have another friend who left Novellus and went to Applied Materials. The Novellus CEO always talked about what a terrible place Applied was, with long hours and abusive conditions. When my friend got there, he found a professional culture where people were respected. He still tells me that he can’t believe he stayed at Novellus for so long.
Do you work at a company with a toxic culture? Does your company have no respect for you or their customers? Then maybe it’s time to consider other options. The tendency is to think that it will be no different elsewhere. My experience and the experience of many that I know says otherwise. There is no reason to tolerate a toxic corporate culture.
Feel free to contact us with any questions and your corporate culture horror stories at info@L2Wealth.com.
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