Overworking and a poor work-life balance are the two major complaints found amongst Indian corporate employees. However, in today’s cut-throat competitive startup environment, figure-oriented organizations are further lowering the standard of Indian corporate work culture.
Beanbag chairs, foosball tables, and fancy terminology-hustle are often used to hide the torment of startup employees. Recently, a video of a sales manager belonging to unicorn ed-tech startup Byju’s from its Jammu and Kashmir network surfaced across social media networks, abusing his team member in the most unprofessional way with name-calling in abundance. Soon after the video emerged, many ex-employees started pouring posts and messages with similar or even worse working experiences with Byju’s.
A few ex-business development associates of Byju’s also agreed that the behaviour of mid-level management towards the associates is nothing less than mental abuse. Personal remarks and hurling derogatory slangs are allegedly ‘normal’ in Byju’s sales team. One ex-intern also posted on LinkedIn on the condition of anonymity that Byju’s didn’t even pay him what they had promised at the time of hiring. The firings are mindless, and employees are valued only through numbers, claimed another ex-employee.
As the uproar against Byju’s toxic work culture caught pace on various social media platforms, the company made an official statement and posted a copy of the termination letter of the manager in question. The statement reads, “Within hours of the matter coming into the light, we took immediate action against the manager and he has been terminated on the same day as per our zero-tolerance policy towards such behaviour.”
The complainants also accused Byju’s of collaborating with Twitter and YouTube to remove videos and posts demeaning the work culture. Byju’s management allegedly threatened employees personally to delete the posts from social media platforms. However, Byju’s has denied any such allegations of what looks like a highly toxic work culture.
The New Normal of Startup work culture?
The allegations of toxic work culture are not just limited to one Indian unicorn Byju’s. There have been numerous such allegations against the likes of OYO Rooms. A pattern of toxic work culture can be found in the startups that are revenue hungry to impress their investor bosses or attract fresh ones. The young and inexperienced entrepreneurs often fail to create a culture in their teams. Startups are usually run on a low workforce, and employees there have to don multiple hats. People often complain of working extra hours to get the job done for the same salary. In startups, the roles and responsibilities are rarely defined clearly, and employees are not aware of any performance measurement yardsticks.
Another major issue with the startup work culture is its unclear hierarchy. Startups often attract experienced professionals with the right skills who leave behind cushy jobs to create instant wealth through high packages and stock options. However, this becomes the foundation of hierarchical conflicts. Startups often have teams of highly skilled and experienced professionals led by inexperienced managers. It becomes an arduous task for the professionals to adjust. Gurinderpal Singh, founder & CEO of leading HR firm Talent21 explains, “Many times people fail to understand the difference between being progressive and aggressive. Bullying at the workplace — in any form — not only spoils the business, but it also destroys teamwork, commitment and morale.”
Investors Shouldn’t Care Less
With the startup culture lacking a robust system to check employee harassment due to toxic work environments, the role of investors becomes all the more vital. It is often seen that rarely any investors ever talk about attracting and retaining high-quality people and facilitating a friendly atmosphere prior to putting their money into a firm. Ashok Thakur, prominent educator and founder of Muni International Schools opines, “In education, improving subject knowledge should be accompanied by improving human ethics and values. Otherwise, this evil work culture deeply rooted in our society might help in making quick money but is akin to a hot air balloon which is bound to burst as it reaches great heights.”
As organizations gain prominence and investors see rising revenue share, employee welfare always takes a back seat. It has also been found that most startups don’t even have SOPs to handle sexual harassment charges. The absence of a dedicated HR department in small-sized startups makes the trouble manifold. But this isn’t a problem of size. Even the HR departments in the so-called unicorns seem like mere eyewash. Open discussions, proper checks, and awareness sessions are missing in most startups.
Investors should take ample time to know founders individually and ensure healthy interdependencies between them. Startups always remain on the toes, and they continually chase tight deadlines. A successful startup also needs to be gauged on parameters like lower attrition rate and excellent work culture.