August 14, 2022

10 Toxic Work Culture Hints To Watch Out For

Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of folks who were swept up into various hustle communities. All of them eventually ended up experiencing burnout, resentment, self-loathing, alienation, disillusionment and depression.

In today’s highly competitive business environment, hustle culture is increasingly becoming the norm for millions in the global workforce. In case you wonder, hustle culture is the ethos of invariably working your ass off in the pursuit of certain goals, no matter the cost, on repeat.

Millennials, especially fresh graduates and single folks often admire the 'hustle' and are especially keen on this kind of workaholism that glorifies non-stop labour, brute-force drive, and blind resilience. It’s all about how 'busy' they are, how many things they’ve been juggling at work. Hustle culture has become the model for many to gauge their productivity and performance.

Taking a break is for the weak. Work is done in the office, outside the office, at home, at coffee shops — anywhere.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of folks who were swept up into various hustle communities. All of them eventually ended up experiencing burnout, resentment, self-loathing, alienation, disillusionment and depression.

Here are 10 hints of toxic work culture you might want to watch out for:

#1. "This project will be your baby..."

A baby eats, breathes & sleeps on repeat. It has a beating heart. There's a reason you don't have siblings named Project A, Project B, Project C. While you must make an earnest effort to deliver on a project, it's nobody's 'baby'.

A project is a task delegated to you by your employer for a specific period of time. Even if you're in a creative role, read your offer letter carefully. It would say, loud and clear that every IP you may create while drawing a paycheque from your employer belongs to them.

#2. "We're like family here."

You can make good acquaintances, even friends beyond work, just as you would at the gym, the painting class, or while travelling.

It's also in a company's own interest to make you feel comfortable and encourage cross-functional collaboration. These are ploys to increase the collective workforce's productivity and overall worker output.

However, while you might spend nearly a third of your day with them, that doesn't automatically qualify your employer or your co-workers as 'family'. If spending time together is all it took to be 'family', everybody would have had an uncle called 'Mr. Bed'!

#3. "We have an always-on culture."

Hustle culture glorifies overworking. It pushes you to spend every minute of your waking hours working towards your 'dreams'. This dilapidates into (top-down) highly inefficient processes - where the middle-management & entry-level workers are expected to operate based on the timelines & hours supposedly put in by the leadership, who enjoy the privilege of better resources & help - at home, and at work.

A company that celebrates workaholism and 24/7 drive isn’t going to change into a feel-good centre of Zen-like collaboration and wellness overnight. Ask yourself, are you comfortable putting your mental & physical health as well as your relationships on the line for your employer?

If you can work sincerely for 4-5 hours, you're well on your way to be among the top 2% of any workforce. Don't get too busy making a living that you forget to work on making a life.

The kind of toxic narratives that end up putting you on the course to bad health

Also, if you're expected to take work home, you must be allowed to bring your home to work. Try lounging in the company boardroom in your PJs, or dancing to 'Roar' by Katy Perry as you would in the comfort and privacy of your bedroom.

#4. "We're on a mission. It's bigger than ourselves."

That's true for social workers, healthcare personnel, even primary school teachers. But if you're working at a startup that delivers food, groceries, or some such, it's important you find your work 'meaningful', but are you positive your 'mission' is worth working until late, stretching yourself to the point of burnout?

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While you may sure be a part of a brand doing some good work, it's important to not get carried away here. Paulo Coelho said it best when he said, if it's costing you your peace of mind, it's too expensive.

#5. "Designations don't matter around here."

This toes the 'not radioactive' line a bit, but it's fine to be wary of stuff that's a 'pile of bovine waste'.

Ever heard of a company without a CEO, CMO, CHRO or CTO? The Merriam Webster dictionary explains 'designation' as 'a distinguishing name, sign, or title', i.e. your designation is what distinguishes you in a workforce.

If you're a 'Manager' level worker who happens to do 'Director' level work, there's absolutely no reason your employer should have any qualms calling you a 'Director', unless it has qualms paying you fair compensation for the hard work you put in.

#7. "<Name of brand> is a way of life..."

A 'company' is technically a piece of paper with a bunch of folks' signatures on it, the rest is all fluff. A brand can own assets, hire & fire people, even declare bankruptcy. What it's most definitely not is some sort of 'elevated' being with deep & meaningful perspectives on life whose preachings you must adopt as 'a way of life'.

Also, if your way of life is all about slaving for 10+ workdays, your way of life needs a life.

Remember, if you died tonight, your employer would advertise your job role by the end of the month. While you may enjoy a great rapport with your colleagues, do question if being constantly overworked and exhausted is your 'way of life'.

#8. "It's a 'war' out there..."

This is a particularly dangerous thing about hustle culture - the war analogies. It’s dangerous, both to individuals and to a workplace environment in general. It may seem like a good thing on paper, but in practice, there is a lot to at least be extremely cautious about.

War is a horrific act of violence - often between two countries, which leads to the loss of human lives. A boardroom negotiation, a business deal, even a highly competitive environment is not 'war'. After a long working day, every person still comes home alive.

Stop trivialising war.

#9. "Work-life balance is a myth."

Believe it or not, a REALLY popular startup founder in India is infamous for such views.

In emerging economies, like India, employers exploit people by making them work for more than stipulated work hours. The desire for better living standards and senior positions make employees work harder and even for extended hours.

Unless you're at the brink of bankruptcy, when you're praying for that job, also pray for a working environment that won't lead to burnout, depression and regret.

#10. Senior: "Why can't you work on weekends? I do too.."

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Remember what your parents once said about your friend jumping off a building? Just remind yourself of that iconic analogy once. There's a reason it's stuck around.

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