How attuned should employees be to what the outside world thinks of their workplace?
“Baby, can’t you see I’m calling, a guy like you, should wear a warning, I’m on a ride, it’s toxic.”
Sang Britney Spears on Grammy award winning hit “Toxic”, released back in 2004.
Was the Mississippi songstress making a bleak prediction about the dubious moral code of a man, Travis Kalanick, who back then was probably living in his parents’ spare room after seeing another of his much-vaunted businesses’ fail, but would go on to found ride-hailing Death-Star-tup Uber?
It’s doubtful, reader, but there is a serious point to be made here.
In a way, the name Uber says it all; the dictionary defines the German word “Uber”, as ‘a word meaning “over”, “above” or “across”’; rather clever, then, to name a ride-hailing service after it.
But it is also an undeniably bullish name, for an undeniably bullish company, that has re-defined what it means to be “disruptive”.
Pushy, aggressive, expansionist – these are traits that revile us and impress us in equal measure, and it takes a certain kind of person to represent these cultural values every day, as part of their working lives.
It’s never going to be easy to keep a lid on a culture that is bubbling under with naked ambition, a don’t-take-no-prisoners attitude, and well, drive.
And Uber’s senior management, it is becoming clear, have signally failed to do so.
Kalanick has been caught red-handed giving one of his “employees” a piece of his mind, when what they really wanted was a piece of his wallet; accusations of sexual harassment plague the company; and the leader has admitted that he has never questioned his leadership style…until now.
But during that period, Uber has raised $8.81bn dollars. Aggressive expansionism works, then?
Well it did, but now the inevitable backlash has come, and recruiters are reporting that Uber’s employees are beginning to desert the sinking ship.
So are these “rats” suddenly discovering that they do, after all, have a conscience, or have they seen that the writing might be on the wall for a company that may have expanded too fast for its own good, and want to be part of the contraction.
It’s chicken and egg. Are they leaving because the company is “toxic”, or because they are the ones who are, in fact, “toxic”?
To work for a startup is usually seen as a good thing. It means you are a “game-changer”, a “change-the-world-er”, a “do-gooder”, even – but the corollary to that is that maybe you left your corporate job because you were attracted by the prospect of making a fast buck – taking equity and “smashing it” until you became what you deserved to be all along. A billionaire.
Like it or not, where you work says something about you – it’s not as simple as saying, “all estate agents are obnoxious”, “all accountants are boring”, “all charity workers are do-gooders”, but the emergence of the “gig-economy” and the disruption of job roles all over the world means that it is no longer enough for us to simply say we “work for the man”, and aren’t responsible for the actions of the company that pays our wages.
And let’s be clear, we’re talking about Uber’s actual employees, here, not the poor drivers the company refuses to take responsibility for – because then they would be just like any other corporate, having to pay taxes, pensions, maternity leave – ugh! but the techies and managers that probably have more to do with shaping the company culture than its founder, who apparently spends most of his time locked in a war room deep in the bowels of Silicon Valley, plotting world domination.
It paints a lovely picture, doesn’t it?
In today’s world, we’re not just expected to vote with our feet when things get too hot under the collar – when we accept a job somewhere, we’re accepting that each company has a corporate reputation, and to join one is to make a statement that we are ok with its reputation, or at the very least, we have an opinion about it.
It looks like peer-pressure is making people think twice about who they work for, and that can only be a good thing. But be careful – walking out on an organisation because of something you read on Facebook also says something about you, and the strength of your moral fibre.
And if opportunism is your main justification for seeking pastures new, well that says more about you than it does about the company you work for.