Workplace toxicity is common but not enough gets recorded, say HR veterans

Workplace toxicity is common but not enough gets recorded, say HR veterans
Source: Unsplash

  • Shouting or screaming is common, especially by team leaders in the sales function, which is a high pressure job, says Varada Pendse, an independent HR consultant.

  • Startups and their founders who chase fast growth are also proponents of a fashionable hustle culture that’s often dangerously close to abuse and toxicity.

  • HR experts point out that the current law is also weak on harassment.
A recent video of an HDFC Bank employee abusing his juniors on video call, went viral on social media. Enraged reactions have been pouring in since then with concerns being raised about lack of decorum, crazy targets set for employees and the overall work culture of an organisation.

In the above case, HDFC Bank has suspended the employee, and initiated an investigation. “We at HDFC Bank have a zero tolerance policy for any form of misconduct at the workplace and firmly believe in treating all our employees with dignity and respect,” the bank said in a statement.

While the vile screaming in the video has shocked many, HR (human resource) experts are not surprised and in fact say that it’s common across companies. “Workplace toxicity is not a rarity,” says Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing company, adding that toxicity manifests itself in different forms across teams and individuals — across sectors, not just banks.
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Varada Pendse, an independent HR consultant agrees that screaming is common, especially by team leaders in the sales function, which is a high pressure job with specific deliverables. “Berating employees, abusing and shouting is very standard. The usage of a four-letter word is also very consistent,” she adds.

Yet another employee of a private bank that Business Insider spoke to alleges impossible targets which result in work hours that extend to 18 hours sometimes.

Whose toxicity is it, anyway?

Sales function, especially in banks and insurance companies, is a job of extensive pressures — and team leaders are mostly transferring the stress they feel from their seniors, to others down below. Most salespeople are high achievers who are also used to the culture of a toxic environment — and it has a cascading effect on the behaviour of the entire team.

“They believe that it can give them results,” Pendse explains. Also, sales which is the lifeline of any organisation — is also a function where effort need not necessarily match the result.

“If there is a role based on activity and not outcome there is a problem. A person may be working 10-15 hours a day, but the outcome may not necessarily reflect the activity,” explains A Balasubramanian, VP and business head at TeamLease Services.

Experts believe that there are better ways in which management can motivate employees without passing on the heat they receive to their juniors. “If they can break it down into actionables that the juniors can absorb and execute it is great, otherwise it leads to such situations,” says Balasubramanian on the HDFC Bank viral video.

Karanth says that startups and their founders who chase extensive growth in a short period of time —- are also proponents of a fashionable hustle culture. “It also rides dangerously close to abuse and toxicity. Good instructions empower individuals and their work, while abuse is debilitating. The thin line between instructions and abuse is hence the individual's intent behind the action,” he adds.

From complaints box to social media

Most organisations, be it large banks or even small firms, have HR policy that addresses most issues employees face at work. In most cases, complaints are encouraged. HR experts however say that the current law is also weak on harassment as such. “While there are provisions under the IPC for sexual harassment, there are no direct provisions for workplace abuse and harassment of non-sexual nature,” said Karanth.

He adds that employees do have the right to invoke provisions related to defamation, slander, intentional use of abusive language, criminal intimidation etc. “When internal enterprise systems fail to hear and act against abuse, employees do have their individual right to seek civil or criminal action,” says Karanth.

Pratik Vaidya, MD & CVO, Karma Global, a staffing & compliance organisation says that it’s necessary to have a workplace redressal committee within the organisation. “Generally, big organisations do have such a committee. The employee can approach the HR and complain of misconduct of the colleague and that can be recorded,” he added.

The best way to tackle this problem is that the top management should guide team leaders to be more empathetic, according to Pendse. “The palate is shifting and the pandemic has changed the extent of resilience in people,” she explains.