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Are abrasive cultures better?

Some companies with toxic workplaces, rude employees are thriving

By Todd Humber

At Canadian HR Reporter, we spent quite a bit of time in 2012 — and dedicated some space in the pages — on abrasive leaders and the toll they exact on workers and the bottom line.

We even conducted an exclusive survey of HR professionals. You can download a free copy of the survey results at

There didn’t seem to be much argument about the high cost of letting abrasive managers run roughshod over staff. It’s common sense that the carrot is more effective than the stick, and there are enough studies that show companies with high engagement scores outperform those with low scores.

But there are always exceptions, and I stumbled across a couple of them this week while conducting a bit of research.

The first is Dish Network, which last year was named the worst company to work for in America by the website 24-7 Wall Street. An article published in Bloomberg Businessweek on Jan. 2 carried the headline “Dish Network, the meanest company in America.”

If logic, common sense and research tell us mean companies don’t fare as well, it would be safe to assume Dish Network is probably in a death spiral given its toxic culture.

24-7 Wall Street used comments on job gossip site to come up with its list of worst companies to work for. Commentators griped about long hours and no holidays.

One sample: “You work all day all night. Your day starts from 6:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. You work every holiday that your day falls on.” Others expressed dissatisfaction with management, and griped about “mandatory overtime” and “no flexibility” with schedules.

But Dish Network isn’t failing. Far from it — the stock price was up more than 30 per cent for most of 2012.

Another headline on 24-7 Wall Street caught my attention. This time it was about employees being rude to customers with the headline “Are rude employees more effective?

A website called AirfareWatchDog asked about 1,000 people which airline has the rudest employees. American Airlines won that dubious distinction, followed by United and Delta. Those are three of the largest airlines in the United States.

Smaller airlines got less complaints — which could be because fewer people use them, and therefore they aren’t on radar screens. But that’s part of the point. The smaller airlines may offer better customer service, but going the extra mile carries a price tag.

“Rude employees probably move customers along more quickly. The customers may not like that, but it does create efficiency,” the article stated.

My gut still tells me that you attract more flies with honey. But it’s interesting to see examples where vinegar is still working.

Todd Humber is managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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