Startups face a moment of reckoning as employees ditch the culture of crowding

In March of last year, 35-year-old Paul (name changed), who worked for a popular e-commerce startup, fell ill for the third time in a month. He experienced a high fever, shivers, and low blood pressure for several days. It was clear that the pressure of increasing responsibilities at work was getting in the way of his daily life.

After a few days, Paul quit his job. In his 1,000-word resignation letter, he described how a seven-year tenure at the company led to burnout. He blamed the founders for setting unreasonable goals and working hours. “I chose to be honest with the founders because they created the problem in the first place,” he says. your story.

Paul’s experience is not an isolated one. Many Indian startup employees work in highly stressful environments and are expected to follow the unwritten rule of long working hours. Bombay barbering company CEO Shantanu Deshpande recently put the words in a LinkedIn post, suggesting that young employees need to work 18 hours a dayThis caused outrage on social media.

Many employees, especially those working in young companies, now resist toxic founders and cultures, and hold top management to account. Right from expressing concerns directly to the founders to sharing their experiences on social media, the uprising appears to be in the making.

This represents an important development in the rapidly growing startup field that glorifies the hustle and bustle culture and often looks down upon those who don’t become a part of it. The founders, who were largely accountable to their investors, are now facing increased scrutiny from their employees. Startups also face the risk of losing a large pool of talent from employees. Is the industry undergoing a transformation?

Hustle for health

Bustle culture is not just an Indian phenomenon. Employees working in young companies around the world are expected to work long hours (even on weekends), jumping from one meeting to the next without interruption. Even taking a vacation is a sign of laziness.

Take China, for example. Tracking its own infamous tech industry Work culture rule “996”, which means working 12 hours a day – from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – six days a week: 72 hours a week. Once adopted by business tycoons such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Richard Liu, the practice attracted criticism, especially after a young employee of a Chinese short video company Die of a brain haemorrhage after working during a week-long holiday earlier this year.

Japan too Praise her culture From exhaustion to exhaustion. In fact, this term was invented by the country Karoshi‘, which literally means ‘death from exhaustion’.

In India, poor mental health among employees is losing employers 14 billion dollars annually in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and attrition, according to a recent Deloitte report.

“It’s an endless cycle of expectations,” says Ishita Datta, a psychologist in Bengaluru. “Employees are tired and fatigued and struggle to perform basic activities.” She adds that the number of her clients who experienced burnout has doubled in the past year.

Exhaustion is reflected in the deteriorating health of young Indians. Heart attacks and cardiac arrest are on the rise among young Indians. India’s financial capital, Mumbai, has seen a Six times the height in heart attack-related deaths in the first six months of 2021, the main reason being stressful lifestyles.

change the rule

Many employees are raising their concerns now. “The first step is to put your foot down,” says another employee at a startup who did not wish to be identified. In his case, the company’s CEO refused to let him take a three-day break to visit his ailing mother. “The founder equated time between vacation and no responsibility, which it certainly wasn’t,” he says. In the end, after several honest conversations via email with the founding team, he was able to take a break.

Some employees also benefit from company-wide town hall meetings. These are meant to break traditional chains of command and allow even smaller workers to express themselves.

Says Satyajit Menon, Chief of Staff at a healthcare company Innovaccer. He points out that although smaller organizations have a smaller workforce, employees are increasingly demanding policies regarding overtime and paid time off that must be put into contracts.

“When expanding, everyone in the company wants to win together and you will find people building and working at the same time. In such situations, stress levels and work pressure occur across all teams,” he adds.

Some use social media to express their concerns.

newly, Pristine Care CEO Harsimarbir Singh listed some of the company’s controversial interviewing practices in the now-deleted LinkedIn post. These included scheduling in-person interviews for the night, and asking outside candidates to show up the next day—which many netizens deemed too toxic, and many took to Twitter to share their own experiences.

“Working long hours definitely gives you speed. We’ve seen this through 996 cultures in China. But it doesn’t necessarily give you speed. Also, job burnout is a corrosive factor,” one tweet read.

Solve the problem

Vivek Jayaraman, People Success Officer at SaaS Leanpitch, says founders have become aware of the pervasive problem of a toxic workplace culture. “There is no way to say that the culture of crowding will fade away, but we can expect the founders to make workplaces employee-friendly,” he says. However, he believes that progress will be slow and uncertain.

Ishita also believes that it is important to humanize the workplace. She says HR managers now have a bigger role to play and founders should make sure they hire a dedicated HR professional to handle all of these matters.

“Since returning to the workplace recently, we have been on a mission to reintegrate and rejuvenate people (who grew up with us albeit remotely in the last couple of years) our core principles, our values ​​and the foundation upon which our success has been,” says Satyajit of Innovaccer who manages a staff base of over 1,500 employees globally. .

Although there is little chance of the bustle culture going away, it is clear that employees will no longer accept toxic practices.

(Story has been updated to correct a typo)

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