If you’ve never had to navigate the corporate world, you know that startups can be a great place for brand new professionals to begin padding their resumes with relevant experience in the corporate world. Startups can serve as a literal springboard for careers across all industries, but there is often an enormous drawback when it comes to small company just starting out—pervasive, toxic corporate culture. Professionals hoping to launch a startup have a duty to be vigilant of signs of toxic startups in order to preserve the longevity of the company in the future.
Ego in leadership
When those at the top of the chain of command fail to recognize the hard work of those employees working under them, it can foster an unfulfilling work environment. Executives with a history of taking victory laps that belong to their employees are sure to poison the well—driving up turnover, exacerbating burnout, and actively contributing to the decline of the company. In order to ensure ego in leadership does not interfere with the company’s mission, leadership should always go out of their way to acknowledge the hard work of their employees.
Another one of the signs of toxic startups is when those in leadership are unable to take criticism or hear ideas that might not be 100% aligned with their vision of a project or direction to take the startup. When there is no room for criticism from those heavily involved with the nuts and bolts of day-to-day operations, those operations will never improve or become more efficient over time. Consequently, this also creates a workforce full of sycophancy and yes-men who do not feel comfortable bringing problems or new perspectives to the attention of leadership.
Lack of diversity
When everyone in the company looks the same, they will be inclined to make the same mistakes over and over again. Even in workplace environments where criticism is welcomed by leadership, a lack of diversity ensures that the incoming opinions and perspectives will be limited. Without diversity, it’s also unlikely leadership will be able to anticipate or prepare for inevitable consequences as a result.
One of the most common signs of toxic startups is high degrees of turnover. Every business should expect some rate of turnover in the course of their operations, but high rates of turnover are a sign that there are pervasive problems with a startup’s culture that are not being addressed. When those problems are ignored, employees quickly become fed up with the inattention and seek employment elsewhere.
The “family” narrative
The smaller a company is, the more likely employees will develop close relationships in pursuit of the company mission. While strong working relationships are important for a business to thrive, no workforce should think of their coworkers as family. Even in the best-case scenario of the family narrative blurs the important boundaries between the employees’ personal and professional lives. Under the worst of circumstances, the family narrative can be weaponized against employees by forcing them to form emotional attachments with their work that prevents them from practicing healthy work-life balance, and distorting their own sense of identity.