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How Toxic Egos and Expectations Make For Bad Workplaces

· 6 min read
Ron Amosa
Platform Security Engineer @ Salesforce U.S.

Having worked in I.T. for over a decade, in my experience ego is very much part of the technology landscape. I've had the privilege of working with and learning from some really smart people.Unchecked egos and badly managed expectations create a hostile workplaces people who could knew the ins and outs of obscure Unix systems and could work out IP ranges with a subnet mask or slash notation (I still suck at this).

They knew programming languages that I hadn't heard of, and would look down their nose at me running Redhat like a n00b when the 'leet' knew that Debian was where it was at.

Yes, they were smart. They knew systems better than the managers and the other lowly tech plebs. And so a healthy amount of ego was something you could come to expect in your I.T. workplace.

This industry attracts a lot of smart people. They know things. They obsess and learn and share their knowledge with people. And in some places this creates a culture of learning and knowledge sharing and growth.

But what happens when ego goes bad? (okay, that's probably not the right wording, but I'm not exactly a psychologist over here ☺)

Bad Ego. Bad Behaviour. Bad Work Environment#

When people see other smart people as a "threat" to them, their jobs and their own egos, you start to see some ugly and unhealthy behaviours in your workplace.

Workplace bullying, finding peoples mistakes and singling them out publicly, hoarding information and only sharing it when they can save the day, not documenting or transferring any knowledge, purposely withholding information and knowledge from team members.

This creates a hostile work environment. People don't feel safe in their work, they don't feel supported if these types of people are in their teams, and they get anxious about any mistakes made being used against them.

I've seen a version of all of these behaviours in my career (a lot of them from a single person to be quite honest). And while these people could easily go into the 'negative personalities' category but essentially, the root of all their bad behaviour is a fragile ego.

Bad for You. Bad for the Company#

When your ego sux, you're doing yourself a disservice.

I've been in a situation where a team member would hide his mistakes from the team and let a system break causing the company money rather than admit his mistake, or ask for help.

When doing a post-mortem on the incident this person had caused he would take little to no responsibility in any "fault". And would find something or someone else who might be, in his view, "more" at fault somehow alleviating him of any.

Is it because finding who is at fault, the most important issue?


Knowing what you did wrong so you recognize it next time is the price that was paid in an outage, or a bad customer experience.

If you already "know it all" and can't take constructive criticism, you don't grow. And if you don't grow and learn from your mistakes, you're a liability to the company.

Your time on the job versus someone who's growing, is less valuable.

Remember, this is a business. The company is not a "family". It might be close-knit but at the end of the day, it's a business. And you're giving less bang for buck than the next person because you don't think you've already got it all figured out.

That might be hard to hear, but its the truth.

What might be harder to hear is that you're stuck in roles you are because of your ego. That your reputation is crap. You're not learning as much as you could and you're not as effective in your role and you're costing the company money that could be better spent hiring someone you already know is better than you.

ouch. but it's true.

Ego Expectations#

The other side of the ego coin (again, not a psychologist, just go with me here) is when you happen to know this stuff better than anyone. The last few problems that came your way were solved in superhuman time and the expectations have started that you should be solving everything at this pace.

I have seen this create a lot of undue pressure on really good employees as they buckled under the pressure to deliver more, better, faster. Sure, these people were smart and hard working, but they were still human.

So, what can we do?

Goodbye ego. Hello, You#

There's no silver bullet here other than the personal self-help advice of sorting yourself and your own issues out first.

But when it comes to the workplace, starting with your own perspective of what your role is within the organization is key. What are the strengths you bring to the table? What are the weak areas you need help with? Where can you get this help?

Going through a checklist starting with yourself and how you add value to the team and the company is a good place to start. You need to know what you're working with.

Then you need to ask yourself what you want from this role and this company. This work thing is a two-way street.

What do you want in return other than your salary? Are you getting that? If not, why not? And is there anything you can do about it?

It's important to find work that you find meaning in, even if it's to know that what you're doing you're doing to the best of your ability. And that's fulfilling in itself.

Meaningful work is good for the worker and for the company — and that even employees in tiresome jobs can find ways to make their duties more meaningful.

With a healthy ego and an eye to finding meaning in your work you'll be doing your self, health and mental space a huge favor.

And the company does pretty well from happy employees too.