Founders — Why Creating The Best Company Culture Right From The Start Matters

Shiran Yaroslavsky
Apr 11, 2019 · 4 min read

One of the most exciting prospects for a startup founder is creating a company from the ground up. Building a team and creating a strong culture that echoes the values of your brand has its own rewards. But in the rush to launch a company and hit the ground running, a few things get sidelined and often overlooked.

There is hardly any workplace immune to offensive, inappropriate, and unacceptable behavior. In an average US company, 10% of employees will experience sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination in some form every year. And more than 85% of employees that experience offensive behaviors do not report it for several reasons, including fear of retaliation, while the founders are far too removed or caught up with daily operations to realise these issues that exist inside their company.

As founders or senior managers, it is important to be aware of the main factors that increase the risk for offensive behaviors among team members in order to be more attentive to these teams and address offensive behaviors before they escalate.

There’s no denying that offensive behaviors have a negative impact — they cause stress, anxiety, health issues, and drive high turnover and loss in productivity. According to research, it’s not only employees that experience offensive behaviors that are affected but it has a knock-on effect on their colleagues that notice these behaviors. Unless people are held accountable, these instances of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination lead to discontent, simmering tensions, loss of morale with adverse consequences on the company culture.

As founders or senior managers, it is important to be aware of the main factors that increase the risk for offensive behaviors among team members in order to be more attentive to these teams and address offensive behaviors before they escalate. While there are several factors, below are some examples of the main ones.

Workplaces with “Superstar” Employees

In cases where some employees are perceived to be particularly valuable to the employer — for example, a top sales manager that does wonders for your numbers or a highly sought-after researcher with a fair amount of clout with the top management. Here, the senior management team may be reluctant to challenge the behavior of their high-value employees for fear of losing them to their competitors. This ‘culture of silence’ leads to these high-value employees cultivating a belief that the general rules of the workplace do not apply to them and they act with impunity.

Decentralized Workplaces

A fair amount of our customers often reach out to us because they felt that, owing to the decentralized nature of their company, it is more challenging to raise awareness about any inoffensive behavior and for their management to stage a timely intervention. There is no dispute that decentralized workplaces often operate in relative isolation and are marked by limited communication between organizational levels. This may foster a climate where harassment may go unchecked. If there is a company with more than 10 branches in different locations, some managers may feel unaccountable for their behavior and may act outside the bounds of the workplace rules.

Workforces with Many Young Workers

Workplaces with many young adults that lack workspace experience often raise the risk for harassment. These are employees in their first or second jobs and are often less aware of laws and workplace norms. Their lack of experience often means that they fail to distinguish any civilized interaction that switches to inappropriate behavior. Young workers that engage in harassment may lack the maturity to understand or care about consequences. Also, vulnerable young workers that are targets of offensive behaviors may lack the self-confidence to resist any offensive conduct that makes them uncomfortable.

Homogeneous work environment

Offensive behaviors are more likely to occur where there is a lack of diversity. For example, racial or ethnic harassment often takes place where one race or ethnicity is predominant. Workers belonging to the majority might feel threatened by those they perceive as “different”. They could be concerned that their jobs are at risk or that the workplace culture might change, or they may simply be uncomfortable around people from other cultures who are not like them.

Workplaces with Significant Power Disparities

Although most workplaces have power disparities between different groups, a significant power disparity can be a severe risk factor. Workplaces where either the executives and administrative staff work closely together or senior managers frequently collaborate with outsourced employees, these pose opportunities for harassment and untoward behavior.

Low-status workers may be particularly susceptible as high-status workers may feel emboldened to exploit them. The power dynamics here often mean that low-status workers tend to be less aware or fail to understand how internal complaints channels work and are reluctant to report harassment as they fear the ramifications of reporting — they don’t want to be embarrassed or be branded as troublemakers.

Positions that rely on customer service or client satisfaction

In cases where an employee’s compensation is directly tied to customer satisfaction or client service, the risk for offensive behaviors is often higher. For example, a sales representative that receives a hefty bonus for closing the deal may prefer to endure inappropriate or harassing behavior rather than suffer the financial loss.

To conclude, though there is no simple solution to tackle offensive behaviors but creating and maintaining awareness about the risk factors is always the first step. Founders and managers should be aware of these factors and pay more attention to teams and individuals at higher risk of suffering from such behaviors. As the company grows, it becomes more challenging to observe team dynamics and to be aware of these problems that slowly get embedded in the company culture.

Overlooking these will eventually lead to an unpleasant and toxic environment that hampers productivity and efficiency. It’s better to set the guidelines and have the right infrastructure and technological tools to tackle this in place from the start.

APX Voices

Early-stage investor. Long-term partner.

APX Voices

The latest stories about APX, our portfolio and the European startup culture.

Shiran Yaroslavsky

Written by

CEO of Cassiopeia. Empowering leaders to foster an inclusive company culture by using communication analytics. A product leader and a lawyer. Forbes 30Under30.

APX Voices

The latest stories about APX, our portfolio and the European startup culture.