Toxic Beware: Bad Startup Culture

With scandalous stories about the less than stellar culture at unicorn startups like Revolut, Uber, Theranos, Zenefits, etc, it has a lot of us thinking about how bad culture can really get, why, and how to ‘fix’ it.

Nipping Bad Startup Culture in the Bud


First of all, What is a Toxic Culture?

Where the workplace atmosphere, the accepted way that “things are done around here”, the behavior and actions that are rewarded, and the ones that are punished, cause serious disruptions to employee productivity, happiness and interpersonal dynamics.

What are the signs of a toxic culture at the workplace?

High Turnover

It’s said people don’t quit a bad company, they quit a bad manager. In toxic workplaces, even a good manager may not be enough to keep you there. If a company you’re interviewing for has an alarmingly high turnover rate, start looking into those Glassdoor reviews and if possible reach out to people who’ve worked there and get the full story.

Yes – Men & Favorites.

If you are dismissed or even punished when you push back, or get accused of not being a team player – it’s a bad sign.

If you’re an employee, make your voice heard. If you’re an employer looking to avoid the Yes-Men trap, read this piece on appointing people who challenge you.

To read a few more telltale signs of a toxic culture, read this piece on Hackernoon.

Fixing a Toxic Culture

To save a toxic culture, you have to minimize the fear people feel. You have to create an atmosphere of trust, open vulnerability and honesty. Not only that — but just to make sure — you need to swap out the destructive people with constructive people. Ozan Dagdeviren

The above quote sums it up: at their core, toxic culture is about fear. In startups, where so many things are unknown and the stakes are very high, fear, resentment and mistrust can fester. Additionally, a single employee can corrupt a whole team, so nip it in the bud!

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