Toxic Corporate Cultures


I interned for a company (I’m not going to say which one, for reasons that will be clear in a moment!) last year that impressed me in some ways but, in other ways, really appalled me. They have a corporate culture that I can’t fully respect, one that really encourages a casual office atmosphere but often lends itself to upsetting encounters and inappropriate behavior in the office setting. The beer flows freely and people behave poorly--but the results are there, and the employees are very, very talented. This business recently offered me a position, and it’s in human resources, a department in which I might be able to help right the ship in terms of corporate culture. But I’m wondering if that’s even possible, or if I’m taking a risk if I take this position and try to help. Any advice?

The corporate culture that you’re describing sounds problematic, and it may not be easy to fix--especially from an entry-level position.

That’s not to say that the culture of corporations can’t be improved. Far from it: the reality is that proper training and smart policies can whip even a very troubled workplace into shape, say researchers at Training ABC, a company that specializes in training courses and sexual harassment training videos. Famous corporate culture course-correction success stories include SAP.

But, still, this is all easier said than done. Rolling back perks like booze in the office may be a good idea for productivity and health (if you or a loved one suffers from a drinking problem, please get help by turning to your doctor or therapist, attending AA meetings, or going to rehab), especially given that modern American drinking culture has shown troubling signs of encouraging unhealthy behavior. And even if you could be sure that such large-scale changes could save this company, you won’t necessarily be in the right position to make those calls: your job offer is likely for an entry-level or mid-level position, which means that your higher-ups will most likely be the ones deciding the big questions about corporate culture. And given how the company has operated thus far, what reasons do you have for trusting that they’re interested in a big change? After all, many experts say that corporate culture changes need to start at the top and work their way down.

If you take this job, there may be a chance that you can improve the company’s culture. But there’s a greater chance that you’ll be stuck with it, and poor corporate cultures can have serious consequences for employees--as well as for the business itself! Just ask the folks at Uber, who last year weathered a PR storm following an exposé of their toxic corporate culture.

Only you can decide if you really want this job, but be careful: you shouldn’t take a position with the idea of fixing the whole company to suit your needs. It may be better to find a company that already suits you.

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.” -- David Cummings

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