UBER’s Undoing . . . Who’s Next?

  • The recent events at UBER makes me wonder how many other companies harbor a toxic work environment? Although some people may think the bad behavior at UBER is an isolated case, I would bet there are many people who have experienced similar situations.  How do companies get away with it?  In most toxic work environments, there are three key factors that enable the toxic behaviors to exist.

First, there is a fear factor.  Most people are afraid of reporting toxic behavior on the part of their boss for fear of retaliation. Once you speak up, you might get labeled as a non-team player or having issues with ‘getting along’.   Once this ‘perception’ is established it can damage your chances for a promotion or future opportunity. It’s called ‘soft retaliation’ because it is done with such finesse that it would be hard to prove ‘retaliation’.  And if you did want to file a charge, good luck fighting those corporate lawyers.

The second factor is an outgrowth of the first. Employees learn that when toxic behavior is reported nothing is done about it. Additionally, they observe how those who reported it are treated and decide to keep their heads down else risk their own careers. As a result, the toxic behavior goes unreported and the behavior continues.  Those who don’t want to deal with it usually leave the company.

Where is the Human Resources (HR) department in all of this? In most instances they are either part of the toxic culture or afraid to challenge the culture.  Yes, they are the third factor that facilitates a toxic work environment. Their classic response is to side with management, soft pedal any complaints or simply look the other way.  Employees are smart enough to understand that going to HR won’t be helpful and will avoid reporting bad behavior knowing it won’t make a difference.

Based on the information published, all of these factors were present in the case of UBER’s undoing. And although their CEO, Travis Kalanick, is ultimately accountable for the toxic environment in his company, there were many people in leadership that either went along with it or looked the other way.  And many more employees who didn’t report it.

UBER is just one example of a company whose toxic work practices finally caught up with them. I would bet that there are many companies like UBER, who in some way or form, allow a toxic work environment to exist. But as people see how the courage of one young engineer was able to make a difference in the case of UBER, chances are that there will be more employees who will find the courage to step up and tell their story.  I wonder who will be next.


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