A Toxic Workplace Rests with Management, Not Workers

Wherever the toxicity stems from, I would call her. She seems to like “Toxic” things…

I read an article about how workplaces can be a toxic environment to be (shocking!). Some of the article correctly talks about narcissistic and self-aggrandizing managers who demean their employees. But the study it refers back to also relies on categorizing a type of toxic worker as (in part) someone who thinks rules can be broken so things can get done.

The way the study puts it, you would think the rules were handed down from On High:

An apparently straightforward factor for measuring the propensity of misconduct is whether or not a worker agrees that the rules should always be followed: It would seem that those who always follow rules are likely to follow ethical rules, as well. Indeed, those who embrace following the rules are often deemed conscientious, and it has been shown that this personality trait predicts lower incident rates of adverse behaviors. (Salgado (2002), Lee, Ashton,and Shin (2005), and Mount, Ilies, and Johnson (2006)).

If you always follow rules and rules are sometimes unjust (because they are made by fallible beings) then wouldn’t it logically follow that some businesses (or societies even) will have unjust rules? And if you’re following all rules (especially if it’s with no regard to content) then wouldn’t you be acting unethically at some point?

My experience in retail is that people generally follow rules up until it makes sense. For example, if you have a rule about using ladders at a certain height but you happen to be a larger than average person with a decent amount of strength, you might not use the ladder. But this wouldn’t make you toxic or more likely, at least not in a meaningful way, unethical.

Most of the managers at the store I work at sporadically check their phones, despite telling us that we shouldn’t use them on the floor. Some of the managers will go back in the office and hide there even though they’ve been busy telling the rest of us to work as hard as we can and try to not just stand around and do nothing.

Sometimes these rule breaks I can understand because I find the rules questionable or downright immoral anyways. Especially the phone rule, my phone doesn’t become the property of someone else’s just because I’m in their place. They aren’t allowed to confiscate it or tell me what I can do with it, so long as I’m not harming anyone.

You could easily respond “well, it’s their property” and under presumptions of capitalism being a just system, sure. But even with those presumptions (which I reject, but that’s another subject), you’d still likely think it’s reminiscent of a “technology free” Christmas at your relatives which seems rude, overbearing, intrusive and generally inappropriate.

But the controlling nature of corporations means that you can’t have your phones because they’ll promote people dazing off into things they find more interesting. Managers will say it distracts from the work and that it makes people distracted (at best) and idle (at worst) from their work. And yeah duh, that’s the point. I understand that this takes away from the companies profits and thus the managers have good incentives to stop it, but I still think suppressing it is the wrong way to go. Especially if managers often can’t even live up to their own standards to begin with.

Which, I’ll give the original article that it at least mentions this much:

…narcissistic leaders can encourage an atmosphere of negativity and intolerance in the workplace. The main characteristic of toxic leadership is managers who treat employees with disrespect, arrogance or condescension. These unfitting leaders view their employees and “subordinates” as beneath them, and feel that the rules only apply for those who readily submit to their judgments.

A few days ago or so I was filled with a toxic work environment that was absolutely horrid and dreadful (and furthermore sucked). The shift lead was snapping at me and my co-worker because their boss was snapping at them because their superiors up in corporate were yelling at them. This led to a very busy, stressful and altogether workday where the people beneath you really are beneath you and treated like that. The shift lead in this situation is usually fine enough and cheery (though too cheery if you ask me) and admitted later that she was sorry she had to be a jerk but felt pressured to do so.

I later ranted to one of my co-workers about this. How can people think this is the most efficient system possible? A system where everyone is stressed and snapping at each other? A system where people can get yelled at and then turn that yelling around to the people below them as a way to cope? A system based around circular abuse?

My co-worker didn’t have much to say to me but I know a lot of people out there feel the same way or at least feel a similar way. How can this system continue to be sustainable when it drags us all under the abusive ways of hierarchy?

Hierarchy is the real culprit here and not just capitalism. Organizing systems for the benefit of a select few against the masses and one that doesn’t even work that terribly well for the elites! As a friend and I were discussing yesterday, the system hardly benefits many managers given that their often stressed and seem on the verge of breaking down.

As an example, my favorite manager (who I’ve talked about before) often jokes about wanting to shoot herself from the amount of stress that she goes through. Other managers (as I’ve said) snap at us or get unreasonably upset when we don’t finish a task or don’t seem to be working on something at the very moment they happen to be checking in.

Those last two happened to me a few days ago with the more jarring being the former. I had been working my butt off (because I basically had no room to do much else) and my manager starts chiding me for not finishing a project. I tried to explain to her that she was giving me too many things and the store was very busy (post-Christmas return rush, I guess).

I snarkily told her, “Hey, if you think it’s so easy, how about we switch places?”

She said nothing as she walked away.


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