One of the most undervalued aspects of leadership is empathy. Truly great corporate leaders know their workforce – they recognize that there are certain individual qualities that help to shape everyone’s role within the company, and they know how those qualities may guide interpersonal behaviors. For example, an IT professional might be predisposed to working autonomously and prefer an environment where he or she can concentrate intensely. Conversely, a sales or marketing professional might be gregarious and thrive within a more collaborative community. It is imperative that the workplace culture supports the needs of all of its diverse team members while simultaneously respecting their boundaries. Everyone should work in a safe and civil setting that allows them to be as productive and creative as possible.
Workplace culture can ultimately inform the development of a corporate culture, and it is critical that the workplace culture is healthy, ethical, respectful, and productive. When it isn’t, you run the risk of alienating your workforce as well as the consumers you wish to attract and nurture. Uber, United Airlines, The Weinstein Company, and Wells Fargo are all examples of brands whose horrible, toxic culture eventually caused erosion of public confidence, leading to massive restructuring, significant devaluation, and – in the case of The Weinstein Company – ultimate failure.
How can you tell if your workplace culture is toxic? Here are signs your organization may be hampered by an unhealthy culture, how it may affect your bottom line, and how you can fix it.
Your team is expected to meet impossible objectives.
There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations. However, when you refuse to acknowledge that some goals are unattainable and force your staff to continually achieve results or meet deadlines that leave them exhausted, stressed, and resentful, your team will eventually rebel. This rebellion may come in the form of high employee turnover, low productivity, interoffice tensions, leaving embittered comments on employer review sites, and becoming negligent or even committing acts of work product fraud.
When your team is desperate to make unrealistic targets or feels incapable of ever meeting expectations, they can react in costly ways. If you want to drive employee productivity, offer incentives, not threats. Make sure that your workforce knows that achievements will be rewarded, and that your organization doesn’t respond punitively when targets aren’t met in spite of sincere effort.
Your team is visibly unhappy, but won’t ever admit it.
A sure sign of a toxic workplace culture is when tensions are always palpable but never resolved. When team members execute their tasks with a sense of dread, or when they become reluctant to even come in to work, there can be a significant decline in productivity. When the source of discontent is never illuminated, there could be several factors at play:
- The HR or management team could be ineffectual at dealing with employee concerns.
- There could be an atmosphere of fear with regard to bringing up problems.
- There could be a lack of trust that issues raised will be kept confidential.
- There could be incidences of bullying or harassment from management or persons in authority.
If your team isn’t comfortable raising their concerns to management, it’s likely because they believe that their issues won’t be addressed, or that they might be penalized for seeming to be troublesome or uncooperative. You must root out the source of the problem before any meaningful remedy can be put in place.
Your team doesn’t value their experience at the workplace.
There are a variety of ways to extract value from employment besides a paycheck. Work experience can be rewarding for the following reasons:
- You gain marketable skills and experience you couldn’t get from a classroom.
- You meet influential people who may help you throughout your career.
- You have access to great products and services, and employee perks.
- You get to do something you love.
If it seems as though everyone on the job is there only for the money – if they view the experience as being otherwise worthless and don’t feel that they are learning anything while working at your organization – you have an unhealthy workplace culture. When your workforce is uninspired, they aren’t interested in working to the best of their abilities; they just want to perform a competent (or even sub-competent) job, collect their money, and go home. As a result, your business could be operating well below its optimum productivity levels, or failing to provide a high standard of customer care. Create an environment where excellence is appreciated, and employees have opportunities to advance within the company, as well as use the skills they’ve acquired in other personal or professional contexts.
Your company culture not only affects customer perception of your brand, it can influence the type of people who seek employment with you. If it’s healthy, you’ll attract stable, hardworking people with a great deal to contribute. If it isn’t, you’ll attract people seeking to exploit you and your staff. Take inventory of your organization’s culture, and correct what you find lacking. It can be a difficult and complex process, but your business will be more efficient and profitable, and you’ll have a happier workforce in the long run.