I remember my first internship at a reputed English daily in India, which I took up to fulfill academic requirements. I was very young, a girl who had never worked in a professional setup and was led by the fear of messing things up. The internship was unpaid, which translates to 'exposure', and honestly, I felt grateful to have the opportunity to learn and work in a newspaper firm for the first time. But this internship taught me life lessons of work culture and every time I think of a job, this image used to pop up in my mind. It was an atmosphere of tension, which barely let me be myself. I did not get opportunities to explore and I was simply put in front of a computer to come up with articles on my own. There was a systemic fear running through my mind while I approached anyone at the office, contemplating on every minute action for hours. The strange factor here is that none of them ever shouted or made a fuss about anything. But there was always an air of seriousness, a hierarchical order of power that made me, an intern, almost invisible. This power hierarchy heightened my fear of the work environment and I was mostly very silent.
Years later, after almost a year of the pandemic, I decided to take up an internship again to brush up my writing skills and experiment with different work atmospheres. This time, I took up the position of an intern at Lights Out design studio, an organization that largely focuses on brand designs and product management. This was a remote job, and we began to connect over the internet.
While my previous internship experience rests in my mind, I realised soon that this design studio did not have power positions. Naturally, there was no 'real' boss. It is a small team of multi-talented people, who took up different roles and projects. Incidentally, a free flow of communication took place between the whole team, because there was no fear of messing up. In fact, everyone in the organisation was encouraged to come up with their own ideas, take up new projects and share knowledge.
A lack of a boss culture, however, does not mean there is no responsibility for actions. It was in fact, the opposite. Every employee had to be responsible towards themselves. It made me, particularly, hold more accountability and it came as a form of self-discipline rather than through a system of fear of repercussion.
Toxic boss culture has led to several work related issues in many places. It creates an unhealthy work environment, disturbs work-life balance and also causes mental health issues for employees. In fact, many studies have revealed that a large number of people leave organisations not necessarily because they do not like their job, but instead because of their boss, who had been insensitive towards them. Toxic boss culture is inherently a form of oppression, wherein people holding power positions control their subordinates and quite often, purposefully cause problems for them.
There is no easy route to end this toxic work culture. It requires a dismantling of the whole hierarchy and power distribution at the workplace. This means that the entire organisational structure would have to go through contact changes. But at the same time, baby steps can be taken in every organisation to make things better for everyone involved.
While the word 'boss' may be difficult to erase, it is still possible to end toxic boss culture. The idea that anyone who is working in a subordinate position deserves lesser respect needs to end. Every person at the workplace should be treated equally and respectfully. After all, running an organisation is a team effort. It is a collaborative process of several people coming together to make things happen, to change things for the better. Thus, every person and their work is valuable.
A relatively flat organisation with no power structure is the ideal working environment, which can be easily brought about in smaller companies. This would end the boss culture in itself and create a workforce that is collaborative and comfortable with each other. After working in such an environment myself, I doubt if I will ever be able to fit into a place where I will be required to call people 'boss' and once again put myself through the killing silence and mental torture of the typical corporate world in the country.