Why Negative Work Environments Don't Work

Hell's Kitchen - a great example of work place harassment

by Catherine Pratt

Negative work environments are everywhere but if you want to see an excellent example of a truly horrible work environment, you need to look no further than an episode of the reality television program, “Hells Kitchen”.

“Hells Kitchen”.
Chef Ramsay

If you've had a chance to watch an episode, then you’ll understand what I mean when I call it an extreme negative work environment. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a reality TV show where Chef Gordon Ramsay, as the show's website explains, “grills the ambitious hopefuls as they attempt to prove they have what it takes to run their own restaurant. He will slice and dice the contestants, keeping only those who possess the right combination of ingredients to ensure success.” [Fox Television]

The “slicing and dicing” should really be called work place harassment as it consists of name calling, humiliation, yelling and basically any other nasty treatment Chef Ramsay can think up. I’m not sure if he really believes he's finding the most competent chef or if it’s just done for the television ratings. Either way, it’s a great example of why a negative work environment doesn’t work.

If you take a closer look at the workplace environment within Chef Ramsay’s kitchen, you’ll notice that his favorite techniques are:

Fear Through Yelling
He constantly screams at all the contestants to keep them on their toes. It doesn't matter what they're doing, he'll find a reason to yell at them and they've been told that no matter what, their only response is to be, "Yes, Chef". He believes he's running a tight ship when really what he's getting is:


  • The contestants get flustered and make mistakes
  • They can’t concentrate or focus on what they need to do
  • They’re more focused on not getting into trouble rather than doing the best job they can
  • They don’t trust one another
  • They attack and blame each other for any problems
  • They have accidents (at least 3 contestants in the season I saw had burned their hands and one had to leave the show due to extreme stress symptoms)
  • They're completely stressed out
  • They're not happy with themselves nor their work. In fact, they even start to doubt if they're capable of cooking at all.
  • They're in such a constant state of fear that they'd rather hide their mistakes than own up to them so that a fix can be found. This is an attitude that could end up being potentially deadly for a customer.
  • They're completely exhausted when they return to their apartment at the end of the day
  • Some of them have their spirits broken and just don't care anymore
  • They're all very close to burn out
  • Even on good days, they’re all walking on egg shells the whole time hoping that he won’t notice them and yell at them.
  • They're really only concerned with basic, daily survival rather than how to improve their skills or how to do their jobs better.

Another one of his favorite strategies to use is the:

Total Lack of Respect Technique
Chef Ramsay has a complete lack of respect for his apprentices. He calls them demeaning names, puts them down and makes them feel worthless. Combine this with the fact that they're not even allowed to talk back and you have an environment where the employee's self esteem and confidence is quickly destroyed.

It's a fact that if you’re not treated with respect, you’re not going to treat that person back with respect. One contestant even said he'd like to hit Chef Ramsay. You're definitely not going to be doing your best work and wanting to push yourself harder if someone doesn't even respect what you're doing. You also start to believe the abuse and feel that maybe you are useless. Out of frustration and fear, you'll most likely end up also treating your other co-workers with the same lack of respect. It definitely isn't going to be bringing out the best in you.

One other technique you'll notice is threat of violence. He will throw things, he will kick garbage cans, and threaten to hit or kick the contestants. All techniques meant to intimidate his employees into never questioning him or talking back to him.

End Result of this Negative Work Environment
The end result of Chef Ramsay’s leadership skills is that he’s not happy, his staff isn’t happy and his customers aren’t happy. Not one single person wins in this situation. It truly is an excellent example of why negative work environments don't work.

Also, whoever wins this competition is going to have a tough time in their new job. Why? Because they haven’t been taught what they desperately need to know which is leadership. They need to learn how to get people to do their absolute best no matter what yet all they've experienced is management by fear which doesn’t work.

It Could Be Different
Think how different this workplace would be if it was turned around to be a positive work environment.

First, they could stop and consider what they want as an end result and work to get that. For example, I'm assuming they want to provide the best tasting meals in a timely manner to their customers. Right now, that isn't happening so they need to figure out where things are going wrong, what would fix it, and how they can work together as a team to make it happen. If it was an environment where people were internally motivated to do their best and believed in themselves, this restaurant would quickly turn around. They would also be helping their co-workers whenever it was needed rather than sabotaging them which is what often happens within Chef Ramsay's kitchen.

One of the biggest mistakes Chef Ramsay makes is that he doesn't allow any feedback from the apprentices. It's the contestants who have a much better idea of how things could be improved because they're the ones doing the cooking. They see where the bottlenecks are and they know how things could be improved. It's a great loss when management doesn't have any interest in hearing solutions from the ones actually doing the work. The role of management should be to remove all obstacles to the workers so they can get their job done. Not be an obstacle themselves. And definitely not to destroy the spirit of their workers.

If You're in A Similar Negative Work Environment, Don't Accept It
Conflict makes for great TV but it doesn’t make for productive work environments. It's also not acceptable behavior.

Fortunately, many workplaces now have harassment policies where you can take action if you work in a situation where you’re called names, threatened or put down like this. This is not acceptable behavior and you have the right to speak up.

If you believe you're dealing with harassment, document the incidents by writing down the date, time, and details of any incidents that occur. Try to keep it as factual as possible and remain completely professional. Always take the high road and don't stoop to name calling or trying to get revenge. Take it to your HR department or your manager (as long as it's not your manager doing the abuse).

This is not acceptable behavior and you don't have to work in an environment like this. If you don't get any satisfaction, then try to find another job as soon as possible. The mental damage this kind of negative work environment will have on your self esteem and your confidence could take years to overcome. The sooner you're out of it, the better. It's not worth allowing yourself to be treated this way no matter how much they pay you.

The most unfortunate part of this show is that I’m sure there are now millions of people who believe that Chef Ramsay’s leadership style is the way to go. It’s not. All he has is a negative work environment which might work to attract viewers to a television show but it doesn’t work as a productive or healthy job site.

Use this show as an example of what behavior to never accept from anyone else whether it's a work relationship or a personal relationship. Nothing good comes from this type of attitude and you definitely don't deserve to be treated this way. Know that you have rights and you can take action to protect yourself from this type of treatment.

The most important question to ask on the job is not "What am I getting?" The most important question to ask on the job is "What am I becoming?"
Jim Rohn

Yes, But What If...

If after reading this article, you're thinking something like, "Yes, but what if I tried harder [or was smarter or was nicer] then they wouldn't treat me this way. They'd like me." Then, you may need to work on not needing so much approval from others. A great place for you to start to believe in yourself would be to read my book, "How Do I Stop Caring What People Think Of Me?". In this book, you'll find lots of easy to use tips and strategies to free yourself from always feeling guilty or anxious that you're not doing the right thing. You'll also gain an inner confidence so that you feel strong enough to stand up for yourself. You'll also end up finally being free to follow your deepest dreams because you'll no longer worry about pleasing other people first.

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