To grow a garden you basically need seeds, water, and lots of sunlight to help bring the eager seedlings above ground for all to see. But to grow a toxic workplace, all you need are a few controlling people to make sure things stay hidden and off limits … with the help of cover-up culture.
Interestingly enough, often the guiding principle begins as “the end justifies the means.” The folks employing these arguably Machiavellian principles tell themselves that their intention is a good one. And that the outcome will be worth it as a greater good. But people negatively affected in the process may not agree.
So what do I mean by cover-up culture?
Basically cover-up culture sets up a reward-punishment system that makes it clear you don’t step out of the lines drawn by leaders. In the workplace, these leaders are your bosses … and / or their bosses. And quite often, since HR works for the company, even your Human Resources department may become part of perpetuating this culture, where loyalty is valued above all.
This is not to say that good people in HR and throughout the company are not trying their best to help. Many may be. But in a cover-up culture workplace transparency and daylight are not the norm. There are lots of secrets. And a hierarchy of power, where a majority of staff are afraid to do or say anything that night rock the boat.
People who go against those in control are seen as dangerous. So they’re kept to the side … or gotten rid of. And instead of creating better methods and products, management winds up growing a toxic workplace filled with groupthink and fear — and choices that protect each individual and their job. As a result, finding a way to survive replaces the healthy flow / exchange of different opinions and ideas.
What’s really so wrong with cover-up culture?
You might think if things get done and the company grows, then there’s really nothing so wrong with it. People who don’t fit the management style can always leave. Or so I’ve heard people say. “Toughen up and get with the program!”
Well, not everyone can leave a job. And after a while of being in survival mode where fear and secrets rule, people lose their sense of self. And the belief that they have the power to make things better for themselves — either where they are or in a new job. This also translates into the quality of work and eventual products / solutions that a cover-up culture staff can create for the company. Not a greater good at all.
As with a beautiful horse (not to suggest they should be viewed in the same way), people’s spirits can be broken too. If managed with kindness, patience, and positive treatment, everyone benefits. But if needs and feelings become secondary to the obedience-above-all goal, you’ve destroyed the spirit and stifled the ability to fully perform.
Can job seekers spot cover-up culture or toxicity?
It would be great if we could always figure out exactly what we’re getting into with a new job. Some things are pretty obvious — a lot of pre-interview research can help with that. But others not so much.
To research a company, you can find articles about them online and employee feedback on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn. Maybe even speak to current or past employees by finding and connecting to someone in the know on LinkedIn.
Go to their websites and try to get a feel for their culture by how they present themselves and what they emphasize. Also some good old general googling can help you build a better picture. Even their interview process can help … although you need to know that their hiring process may NOT be the whole picture.
But in some cases companies are so good at presenting themselves as exciting places loaded with great opportunities that you won’t know until you get there. Hopefully, at least you’ll know this is a possibility so you can decide whether it fits who you are. And how long to stay.
More posts to help
And just in case you do need to leave