Risk Management

Cultural Norms in IT Breed Toxic Employees

In interviewing CEO of Fierce Inc. Susan Scott, Don Tennant has made the gruesome discovery that not only are “toxic” employees not being reprimanded, but that the IT culture encourages them. How can this be the case?

Scrubbing out the Toxins

Tennant’s IT Business Edge interview with Scott spans both her personal experiences and a recent survey about toxic employees conducted by her company. The survey finds that only a surprising 40 percent of managers would fire a negative employee, likely under the reasoning that these employees are otherwise completing their work. However, 51 percent of survey respondents also believe that such negative attitudes harm employee morale, and 23 percent think it hurts productivity.

Scott believes, though it is not directly substantiated by the survey, that the type of toxicity might differ according to gender. She thinks women are likely to gossip and complain about situations and people without ever taking their grievances to the actual alleged offenders. Men meanwhile might be more prone to arrogance and talking down to people.

Although, sometimes people in IT do not need a reason to snub other people. Sometimes, people in IT just like to be left alone, and this is a problem Scott aims to fix:

I did some work with Microsoft years ago—I was doing some training for a bunch of programmers. One of the guys pulled out a large rubber rat, and he put it on the table. He said, ‘This is our mascot—we work in the dark, by ourselves, we don’t have to talk to anybody, and we like it that way.’ My response to him was, ‘Imagine yourself 20 years down the road—do you still want to be working in the dark, doing exactly the same thing, writing code and never talking to anyone? Or do you ever think you might like to get married and have a family?… If you have any thoughts like that, at some point you’re going to have to interact with other people.’ They did appreciate the formula that ‘conversation equals relationship’—they got that formula. People in high-tech, or engineering, typically want a formula.

Microsoft particularly used to have a system by which managers had to assign grades to team members, but only one person could receive an “A.” This and similar systems only generate unhealthy, spiteful competition between colleagues, which is the antithesis of what is needed to run a collaboratively successful IT project. Toxicity in all its forms hurts business, and you should assume the responsibility of cleaning it up wherever you find it.

You can read the full interview here: http://www.itbusinessedge.com/blogs/from-under-the-rug/cultural-norms-in-it-breed-toxic-employees-training-exec-says.html

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