Why do Indian students fear start-up companies?
"Nightmare start-up scene": exposed to the whim of the founders
The "start-up spirit" is infectious. It stands for a modern way of working: fun instead of work, self-realization instead of guidelines, friends instead of bosses. Start-ups promise future employees more co-determination, they offer them the prospect of being able to shape their own job and the company at the same time. This is what makes the start-up so innovative - and a role model for large, sluggish corporations. They are also a popular place to work for university graduates.
A lot looks very different behind the scenes. At least that's what Sam Gregson says. In his book "The Next Big Thing. Nightmare Start-up Scene", the 30-year-old Brit, who has worked for several years in Berlin start-ups, tells a story that will hardly be heard at start-up events. He talks about bosses who humiliate their employees, about exploitation and the constant fear of losing their job. He reports on sexism, racism and homophobia. External impact and reality are in a "serious disproportion" in the scene, he says in the foreword.
In Berlin to the start-up
Sam Gregson, whose real name is different but wants to remain anonymous, studied history in Bristol. He then started working for an advertising agency in London as an account manager. After a short time he began to get bored, to see his job just as work. Like many others of his generation, he longed for a job that created meaning, for a job "that interested me and in which I could get involved," he writes. Hierarchies seemed annoying and antiquated to him, and he did not want to submit to them.
Gregson was also drawn to startups and the way they supposedly work. So in 2014 he went to Berlin, the start-up city par excellence, and worked there for two different start-up companies. And indeed: there was no formal hierarchy there. But the promises associated with it did not come true.
Even the function names irritated Gregson. At the first company the Briton worked for, almost everyone was a "manager" - and if not a manager, then a "ninja" or a "guru". Gregson's business card said, for example, "Junior Marketing Guru". The roles and areas of responsibility of the employees were not clearly specified. Gregson writes: "My job was to define my job myself." So everyone can do what they really want, find meaning in their work, was the promise. "Everyone worked by feel in this glittering new world of data and hard facts."
Employees should no longer simply receive orders and do what they have been bought "from above". The motto: "You work as you think it is appropriate, you make your contribution to the company, help shape it according to your own ideas, make it your own, so to speak." How it works? Not at all, noticed Gregson. "In reality, of course, there is a hierarchy, and a very direct one." And without any structures, employees would be confronted with it in a very direct way. "Management still wants to make decisions, so power remains just as concentrated as in traditional corporations. They rule the company, give instructions, demand that certain things be done."
Without a formal hierarchy, the mood of the founders alone ultimately decides which proposal will be implemented, which project will be pursued - or not. The workforce was wiped out between two disagreed, vain bosses. The work in the start-up is "pure chaos, and no, not creative chaos".
Gregson also reports on how start-ups exploit their employees. He writes of working days that are far too long, a bad salary and insecure employment contracts. Many would, despite the work-intensive tasks, work in an internship or working student relationship. "I have never met anyone with a permanent contract."
What haunted him and his colleagues was constant job insecurity. "There is nothing long-term. No retirement provision, no stability." This also had an impact on everyday work: "You didn't want to take a wrong step." He describes expressing criticism in order to ask for a higher salary as an impossibility.
There were also no offers for further training, let alone a personnel department. "There was no one to turn to," said Gregson. Instead of a HR manager, a happiness manager has been hired. "She distributed sweets and cakes to the employees or announced when there was something to drink." She didn't help with problems at work.
The founders apparently came up with some ideas to cover up the grievances. According to Gregson, "the image of a big, happy family" should be created through table football, free drinks and wild parties. Alcohol, cocaine and other drugs should weld the workforce together. For the young man it was pure cosmetics. He thinks: "Working for a start-up is both financially and politically precarious."
Gregson also writes about sexism, racism and homophobia in his book. He reports most extensively on the condescending attitude towards women. He saw her being talked about as a "bitch", "slut" or whore. How female colleagues were treated as sex objects, at work and at parties. "Arms were put around shoulders, women pulled by men who obviously didn't want them near. I saw hands patting or pinching buttocks - and worse," writes Gregson. "I saw these guys asking women to come home with them or dress a little more provocatively."
Whoever stood up for the colleagues was called "fagot" or "wimp". The Briton sees "toxic masculinity" as the cause of the prevailing sexism: mainly white men with a certain idea of success who are looking for a connecting element work in start-ups.
From the macho culture
But Gregson is also not at a loss for solutions to the problems addressed. "Firstly, I believe that the unions need to play a bigger role in giving employees more freedom and authority." In addition, the employees themselves would have to address their problems and be supported by a works council. The "macho culture" in start-ups must "give way to a gentler, more inclusive way of working". There is also a need for better access to training and continuing education. "And maybe one should also be more critical of the supposedly creative chaos in these companies."
Gregson is certain that it is very possible to have both: "A foosball table and a socially responsible company. Beer in the fridge and a healthy, fair corporate culture. Nothing, absolutely nothing speaks against letting something like this arise. "(Lisa Breit, October 28, 2019)
Sam Gregson, "The Next Big Thing. Nightmare Start-Up Scene - An Undercover Report". € 18, - / 416 pages. Benevento-Verlag, Munich / Salzburg 2019
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