How to stay safe from toxic work culture

Tuesday, August 1st, 2023 07:10 | By
How to stay safe from toxic work culture
Breaking the silence on workplace bullying.

When she applied for a job as a sales and marketing executive, Martha Wangare thought it was finally the end of her search for employment. The name of the company together with the benefits that came with the job was a clear indication that this was the job she had prayed for. After going through orientation after landing the job at the prestigious company, she admits that her initial days at work were pure bliss.

“Everyone was helpful to me and treated me like family. My bosses were readily available to assist me in learning some of the ropes I needed to learn in my role. I had never felt happier waking up to a job and my new workstation,” she recalls.

But things began to change a few months down the line into the job. She began noticing the changes and the once-upon-a-time dream job became a nightmare and a source of mental anguish.

“The longer I stayed, the more I noticed the manipulative behaviour that existed in the company. Whenever something went wrong or did not produce the results they expected, they would try to place the blame on a particular person or team. They would always urge people to own up to their mistakes, but they never did when they made the mistakes,” she says.

What Martha experienced can be described as a love bombing at the workplace.

By definition, it entails one partner lavishing excessive attention and affection on another before abruptly pulling away. While this term has gained prominence in recent years to describe such toxic patterns in a romantic relationship, now the word describes such behaviours in workplaces. Love-bombing at the workplace is a form of manipulation that is used by bosses to control and influence staff at the workplace.  It can also be used to lure candidates into an organisation by recruiters.

Special treatment

It is a game of power and control,  just like it happens in dating relationships,” explains Christina Chanya Lenjo, a psychologist and a human resource expert.

During the love bombing, the person is provided with excess praise, affection,  love,  special treatment and lots of positivity to manipulate and influence them. This could be out of personal or professional gain or even both.  “Recruiters can promise heaven to a potential candidate.  The person will be promised benefits, a huge salary, a promotion and other opportunities for growth during the interview process. They are also showered with praise for their knowledge,  skills and experience and how these would add great value to the organisation. They give you a psychological high. Once the offer is accepted, the potential candidate realises that what was promised is not what is being offered. They still feel obliged to take up the role because they are already high psychologically,” she continues.

Chanya adds that recruiters also use love bombing as a technique to lure highly talented job seekers to join a certain organisation.  “In this highly competitive job market,  recruiters will show the best version of themselves to potential hires so that their hiring process can be as effective as possible. Recruiters are in a competitive world themselves and they need to meet their revenue targets. They, therefore, must hire as efficiently as possible. To achieve this,  some of them will go the love-bombing way to attract great talent. They overpromise and underdeliver,” she notes.

In other instances, bosses or employers could also promise a worker lots of positivity,  and shower them with excessive praise and recognition,  giving them a false sense of security. They also use this to create a sense of loyalty and commitment. This creates unrealistic expectations, which if not met, leave a worker quite disappointed.

The psychologist says that once this sense of loyalty and commitment is imparted to the worker,  the employer pulls away,  revealing their true colours and when the worker reacts, they are gaslighted, thereby leaving them questioning their sanity and second-guessing themselves. And because the worker fears losing the ideal relationship, or the attention they have been enjoying,  they are forced to go out of their way to please their bosses to keep the relationship intact. Chanya says this is the point where the worker suffers even more because of lots of psychological stress and anxiety and overworking to prove themselves and their abilities.

Positive side

On a positive note, an employee who is love-bombed will feel loved, accepted and valued. They will have a sense of belonging. This increases their confidence at work and hence their productivity.

“The organisation will briefly benefit from this. Also, attracting the best talent will contribute to the growth of an organisation,” says Chanya. But on the flip side, once the honeymoon period is over and the true colours are revealed then the employee suffers.

She says the bosses are likely to start mistreating the employee by putting pressure on the employee to perform, giving them unrealistic tasks that may be difficult to achieve. When the employee complains, they are made to believe that they are the problem, which then leads to burnout and their productivity goes down and eventually resigns. “The other problem with burnout is that the employee might end up leaving the industry altogether because they will not want the same experience again,” she says. The organisation’s reputation suffers once an employee resigns due to workplace toxicity.  It also loses great talent and it becomes very costly to recruit and train new hires. Their bottom line is impacted negatively as their credibility also suffers.

According to the latest report by Brighter Monday, more than 40 per cent of employees, both in government and private entities, are unhappy about their jobs. Close to half of the employed persons in Kenya are likely to quit their jobs in the next six months, with women leading the pack. The study suggests that the top five extrinsic traits that mattered to employees in a company included; open effective management, strong relatable company values and goals, flexible hours, transparent performance management and health programmes.

Chanya advises companies to create a value-based culture where certain key values should guide their engagement with both internal and external customers. “Organisational culture should be such that employees are hired based on merit. At an individual level, bosses should be secure enough in their abilities and what they are offering to the organisation to avoid manipulating their employees to control and influence them,” she says. Recruiters too should be ethical enough to promise only what the organisation can deliver.

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