The toxic working environments of some of the most well-known and successful tech start-ups has been well documented in recent times. What are the key drivers that seem to create these environments and what can founders, investors and potential talent do to identify and deal with these toxic environments. Whilst organisations in a variety of sectors have experienced toxic environments over the decades it does appear to have manifested itself predominantly in the tech start-up sector since 2010 with millennial led companies sometimes referred to as the burnout generation. In the same period traditional business sectors and employers have been promoting corporate responsibility and transparency and embracing Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Why do these millennial led tech start-ups seem to ignore some of these fundamental principles and good business practices.
The millennial generation has been saddled with student debt, a reduction in long term job stability and additional challenges saving any money. They also entered the job market around the time of the financial crisis which has pushed the idea of advancing or growing their careers fast to survive. With the increased availability of technology and the internet good ideas have been easier to develop and the number of tech start-ups has boomed. The culture of these tech start-ups has become cult-like with a ‘success at any cost’ philosophy which can be further fuelled by the demand from investors for rapid growth.
Signs of the Toxic Work Environment.
Those working in toxic environments often work insane hours for low pay and seem to turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour in exchange for future financial reward. Such environments can breed sexual harassment and behaviour that breaks every principle of DEI sometimes dressed up as cultural fit. Such environments also have a tendency for financial impropriety and questionable business practices which founders may describe as being disruptive.
There are those tech founders who mature with the growth of their business and develop into a responsible corporations. Unfortunately, there are also tech founders who just cannot adjust from their ‘grow at any cost’ philosophy to a maturing business. Wework and Uber founders being good examples of these failures to adjust where it has taken boardroom action to remove them from the organisation and address the toxic environments they have created. For talent looking for work in tech start-ups they can check online review boards like Glassdoor where honest employee feedback can be found. Any online search for news on the start-up and its founders will also show any past or pending legal cases too.
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