Undoing toxic work culture
I’ve written previously about work culture, and boy can it be rough. I’ve put in some thought as to how to roll it back, and there are no easy or obvious solutions.
Ultimately, it can start with us. We control the stress we feel and how we deal with it. So that’s a choice worth starting with.
But then we have a second choice, do we let our stress roll down hill to the people that work for us? Because nearly every company on earth is some version of a hierarchical bureaucracy. And in bureaucracies, rolling work down is what’s supposed to happen.
Do I let myself be stressed by others’ demands, and how do I filter the stress of those demands to the people who work for me? Those are the choices we all face. And those are the same choices our boss has, and their boss has, and their boss has, all the way up to the CEO of the company. And then the CEO (together with the company's board) face those demands from investors and customers.
Everyone in that cycle has a choice on what rolls down hill and what doesn’t. Everyone in that cycle has a choice on whether they’ll let the culture become less toxic or more toxic.
I am a manager, employee, customer, and investor. If you’re reading this, you probably are too. Which means we both have some ability to influence our respective cycles.
It’s obvious that as a manager I can treat my team with respect and work hard to be a better, more moral manager so that I roll less toxicity down hill. It’s obvious to me that if I try hard, I also have some influence over my own thoughts and how I react to what falls in my lap from people higher in the hierarchy than me.
What was an epiphany for me is that I also have the ability to decide how I act as a customer and investor. As a customer and investor, I can make the cycle a little less toxic. But that requires a sacrifice from me - I have to let some things slide.
When my flight is late, I need to not bash the airline on twitter or be rude to the gate agent. When my salad has onions and I asked for none, maybe I ask politely and patiently for it to be fixed or let it go, rather than hassle the restaurant manager and make them come down hard on the wait staff. Maybe as an investor I don’t demand results overnight so long term planning is just a smidge more likely to happen.
I complain a lot, publicly and privately, about American work culture, and to be sure, there’s a lot of big stuff that should absolutely change. And that big stuff requires way more power than I have. The buck does stop with the CEO and in some cases the government.
But at the same time - and I’ve come back to this idea a lot in recent years - maybe, just maybe, I can change the way I operate as an employee, manager, customer, and investor first.