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When I was a nipper, the only thing “toxic” was toxic waste. In my mind’s eye, this substance glowed fluorescent green and lived in oil drums. Nowadays, everything is toxic. From masculinity, to relationships, to culture, to workplaces. Using the term “toxic” is now all the explanation required to describe a situation or environment that you don’t want to be part of. Like a mid-50s male boss being told by a female employee that they have “women’s problems”, it is the ultimate conversation closer. If I had a dollar for every time a candidate explained a short tenure by using the term “toxic” to describe either a culture or  person, I’d have..well..quite a few dollars. I write this as an observation only. In part, it is fantastic that people no longer feel they need to put up with shitty people or businesses. In part, perhaps our unquestioning agreement and unwillingness to probe all things described with the “T” word has meant we only care to see one side of the story.

My musings on toxic culture were inspired by a Stuff article this week. To summarise for the lazy, Canterbury-based company Gladfield Malt have found themselves in hot water following the posting of a job ad on SEEK. The ad, written with a sense of humour not appreciated by some, includes such gems as:

“Are you soft? Then keep scrolling elsewhere because this job is probably not for you!”

“To work for Gladfield and be part of our truly incredible team of resilient people who get things done and don’t suffer fools, then you need a thick skin, and a brain that is clever enough to know what side your bread is buttered.”

“If you have all that, and you have a partner who is smart enough to keep you well looked after and fit so you can perform at your best all the time instead of just some of the time, or no partner at all,” it continued.”

“If you don’t have a whole tribe of parasites (oxygen deprived family members) feeding off your hard work, making you a depressing person to be around, then you just may be lucky enough that our team will let you join us.”

The company, of course, claim that this was an internal rant that somehow made its way on to a Job ad. In the same way that Prince Andrew’s sweat-free penis somehow made its way into a 17 year old. Although the company claims to have received some applicants from this accidently typed, uploaded, confirmed, re-confirmed, and paid for ad, the overall response from the interweb has been negative. To paraphrase the article, responses include:

“toxic and disgusting”

“Crack up how unprofessional the job description is, all they’re really selling is that it sounds like an utterly miserable place to work,”

“How to advertise a toxic workplace,”

Now my view on the ad is probably typical of someone who has had to write too many job ads in my career. I actually don’t care that much. Write what you want. See who you attract. Live and die by your own sword. And to be frank, in this current climate of zero unemployment, I can understand why a business owner may have a Michael Douglas “Falling Down” moment when at the keyboard. And in terms of the toxicity of Gladfield Malt, I’m not so sure either. If you are a liberally-minded 20-something, who enjoys working in a progressive environment, then yes, Gladfield Malt would be toxic for you. If you wear gum-boots to the pub on a Saturday night and have never told your son that you love him, then Gladfield Malt is probably a real hoot. Toxicity poisons us all. What we’re looking at here is an allergic reaction from some.

Like most sane people, the majority of us here at Rice start the day with a coffee. With no set start time apart from a Monday morning Kick-Start at 9am, typically we all saunter into our favourite coffee shop between 8.30-9.15am. If we arrive any later than 9.15am, we get caught up with a group we have affectionately nicknamed the “Coffee Wankers”. Coffee Wankers are large groups of mostly young, mostly attractive, mostly well-dressed professionals who descend on the coffee shop between 9.15 and 9.30am. They are the type of people who went to good schools in nice neighbourhoods and laugh readily with open mouths displaying perfect teeth. They are probably junior lawyers or accountants. Like all people you irrationally dislike, we have concocted a back story for them based on our own prejudices. In our collective consciousness, they are corporate drones. They have coffees at 9.30am because they work in an environment where it’s important to be seen to be logging in at 8.30am. They then have some meeting about nothing, and then wander down to get in our way by ordering 13 weird and wonderful coffees. None of this is necessarily true, but that’s not important. Their concocted workplace culture is absolutely toxic to me. Having to be seen to be at work before getting a coffee, pretending to find my co-workers jokes funny, ironing a shirt each morning, doing that open-mouthed, carefree laugh thing. It’s my idea of hell.

We have a distinct culture here at Rice Consulting. We bicker like children. We go the pub on a Friday lunch time. We have flexible working. We all piss each other off often. People sulk. We stand in the coffee queue arguing with each other. To the Coffee Wankers, I’m sure we’d be described as toxic. Some ex-staff members would agree. Actually, the one who would agree has blocked me on LinkedIn anyway, so that’ll remain unconfirmed. The point is, very few things that don’t glow fluorescent green are truly toxic, they’re just not for you. And that’s cool.

Have a great weekend.