Yet it seems unlikely it’s going away. In a recent survey of more than 16,000 business leaders, across 650 global organizations, seen by BBC Worklife, CultureX found political connections influenced promotions more than collaboration. Respondents were also nearly as likely to say there were factions among their top teams as there was cohesion. It implies that cut-throat culture remains widespread.
“Culture and toxicity are very obdurate forces,” says Sull. “They don’t change much unless they’re pushed very hard, or there’s a sudden shock like a major CEO-led culture change initiative. Even if the company wants to change, and knows how to, it’s a generally slow process that can take years in large organizations. ”
Across traditionally high-pressure and competitive industries, such as finance and law, however, there may be little appetite to overhaul the cut-throat environments that turn over huge profits, despite trends in other sectors towards building kinder workplaces. Many of the biggest firms are multinational institutions with decades-old working practices that have become baked in over time. Change, therefore, may be hard to come by.
In these industries, Taylor suggests firms should implement “guardrails” to keep cut-throat culture in check, creating healthier competition. “There should be an agreement that no individual can win at the cost to their colleagues or organization,” he says. “Management should establish what constitutes ethical or unethical behavior – guiding principles that articulate a good work culture.”
Without such measures in place, a win-at-all-costs mentality creates the kind of toxic environment that, ultimately, forces employees to quit. Although Anthony still works in finance, he says his cut-throat days are, thankfully, behind him.
“It was always, ‘We’re the best bank because we do the best work, have the best price performance and raise the most money’,” he explains. “I became so wrapped up in the money and lifestyle of it all until I eventually hit a wall. I was a mess, snatching a bit of sleep at my desk at night, pulling all-nighters. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore: I quit. ”
Angela’s surname is being withheld for future career considerations; Anthony is using his middle name for job-security reasons