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A few years ago, I moved to the UK to study, motivated in large part by a desire to leave India after working in the IT Industry for more than a year. I would like to use the Secret Tech Blog as an opportunity to elaborate on my views, and those of the majority of my colleagues around the same age (we’re mostly in our mid to late 20s), on what we call India’s Toxic Work Environment, or ‘TWE’ problem. The views expressed in this blog represent the ‘word on the street’, a summary of my own experiences and that of my friends and peers working in the IT industry.

A toxic workplace is a characterised by significant in-fighting, where personal battles end up impacting productivity; mainly in a negative way. This is often blamed on toxic employers and/or toxic employees who, it’s assumed, are motivated by achieving some kind of personal gain, whether that be power, money, fame or special status.

The following signs are indications that you are, in fact, working in a Toxic Work Environment, or ‘TWE’.

1.You only find out people’s true thoughts in the meeting after the meeting

Employees stay silent during the meeting and then bash the meeting afterwards. This could be a sign of a toxic workplace.

2. Only one type of person gets promoted

Maybe those who get promoted are all cut from the same cloth, or it’s down to the boss who does the promoting, or maybe only those who are shameless self-promoters get promoted. Whatever the case, it’s a sign that bias runs rampant, the wrong things are valued, and that diversity is ignored.

3. Underperformers go inexplicably unaddressed

Few things kill morale faster than when an employee who everyone knows is a drain on the workplace still sits there day after day without action taken. It might be because of a spineless or out-of-touch boss, but whatever the reason, it’s sure to drive the hard-working, high-performing workers (who carry their weight and that of the slacker) totally nuts.

4. Nobody asks for your input on anything

This is a sure sign of silos in the workplace. Small groups of people doing work within their own little world and keeping to themselves, even within that. It signals a lack of openness, collaboration, sharing, and ‘inviting others in’. It’s a sneakier, less obvious form of toxicity.

This is a sure sign of silos in the workplace. Small groups of people doing work within their own little world and keeping to themselves, even within that. It signals a lack of openness, collaboration, sharing, and ‘inviting others in’. It’s a sneakier, less obvious form of toxicity.

5. The workplace has little or no forward movement

Sometimes, toxic work environments grow from some sort of seedling. Whether the seed is a bad manager, a damaging fiscal year, or an organization-wide failure to uphold the company’s mission, this is where things start to go south. If you find that you once described your job as “so great!” and that now you can hardly muster a good word about it, you’re probably experiencing a brand new form of toxicity; one where you’ll no longer be able to move forward. If your movement stalls, halts or comes to a complete stop, it’s usually the symptom of a larger problem.

6. Your workplace leaves you feeling burned out

There are 3 main types of burnout:

  • Frenetic burnout: Frenetic burnout is experienced by employees who put a ton of energy into their work in the hope that the output will be rewarding. After a sustained period of dedicated work, the frenetic worker doesn’t receive any positive outcomes or reward for their effort. They just end up burned out.
  • Underchallenged burnout: This type of burnout occurs when an employee feels underchallenged and bored at work. Unable to find any satisfaction through their work, the underchallenged employee finds themselves in a depressed state.
  • Worn-out burnout: The worn-out employee is someone who has resigned themselves to the sorry state of their work life after experiencing consistent work stress over a long period of time. Having experienced negligible rewards, the worn-out employee feels disillusioned and uninspired by the work they do.

7. The workplace typically has no work/life balance

You work hard, and deserve to have a full life outside of work. You should be able to toggle your Slack notifications to OFF and leave a work email unread after dinner on a Tuesday evening, but you can’t. You should be able to make a dentist appointment without feeling guilty, but you do. You’ve joined the TWE club, even though you didn’t ask to join and never saw the invite.

You work hard, and deserve to have a full life outside of work. You should be able to toggle your Slack notifications to OFF and leave a work email unread after dinner on a Tuesday evening, but you can’t. You should be able to make a dentist appointment without feeling guilty, but you do. You’ve joined the TWE club, even though you didn’t ask to join and never saw the invite.

In conclusion, I gave the Indian workplace a ‘fail’ grade after a couple of years spent working in a large IT company in India. I decided to go and seek my fortune abroad, as the prospect of choosing between different types of burnout and navigating a workplace environment where hard work was unlikely to lead to reward wasn’t appealing. That doesn’t mean I want to live abroad forever. I want to come back and be close to friends and family, but not at the price of my happiness, health or freedom. Unless the Indian IT sector takes a good look in the mirror and gets its house in order, people of my generation are looking to work in small companies that we know – through word of mouth – offer a genuine start-up style culture, or we’ll start up our own businesses. The corporate sector has lost its appeal.

But it’s not all bad news. At least there’s one good outcome from India’s toxic work culture. It’s fuelling the rise of tech start-ups. Ironically, as it offers an escape route from the Indian Tech industry.

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