April 5, 2019
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Mat Vogels

Troubleshooting a Culture Change in the Workplace

Company culture can grow in mysterious ways. Read on to learn how to counteract a negative culture change at work.

Company culture isn’t something that’s physically tangible; it isn’t air hockey in the breakroom or a soccer field on the roof. It’s more of a concept or principle. But if you look closely, you can see its manifestations all over any office.

Many successful companies owe much of their success to their workplace cultures and are widely known for those values, like REI and Google. Your company’s culture is one of your greatest tools. Though we can’t all be Google, anyone can benefit from honing in on this asset and shaping it into what’s best for the business and its employees.

Company culture is organic—it can shift while we aren't looking, and not necessarily for the better. As an administrator or part of the leadership team, you have the power to develop culture and change it should it take a turn for the worse. You need only know how to assess it, and where you can go from there.


The importance of company culture

A company’s culture is the embodiment of its goals and values as a whole. The company’s mission may not be identical to its executive’s, but the two are inseparably intertwined. The executive’s ideals influence the company’s, while the company’s progress can affect the executive’s goals in turn. These two strands form the double helix on which an organization’s culture is built.

The benefits of good workplace culture are plentiful. It promotes positive attitudes in team members, which boosts productivity by about 12 percent. A positive, supportive culture also makes it easier to implement other changes in the future, with employees more receptive to new suggestions.

Corporate culture autonomously develops from the seeds that you plant, and often, it will grow in unexpected ways. Sometimes, these surprises are for the better—but in other cases, they can become the company’s downfall.



Problematic changes

Much like toxic relationships, toxic company culture can subtly develop in the background, unnoticed until it’s suddenly and alarmingly obvious. In many cases, this shift may be the result of a fracture at the top of the chain.

A rift at any level of a company can have a trickle-down effect. Victims of undermining in the workplace are likely to become perpetrators themselves, a subconscious “pay it forward” mentality that results in a continuous negative cycle.

When employees feel mistreated by management or coworkers, 66 percent of them report a decline in their performance. Toxic workplaces can damage self-esteem and increase stress, and lead to employees having to put extra effort into managing their emotional wellbeing.

For your company to succeed, the ideal environment is one in which people feel motivated and creative. A stifling, negative culture can snuff those qualities out in no time at all.


Troubleshooting

Let’s say you’ve noticed that your own company’s culture has been on a downward trend. You’ve overheard employees advising each other to keep their heads down and do as they’re told, performances have stagnated, more people are late and anxious to leave, and the office’s air grows heavier with each passing day.

Acknowledging a problem is the first step to recovery, so how do you talk about an intangible concept? You’re going to have to apply some culture-building tactics, not for a foundation but to patch up holes and restabilize the structure.



Engagement & communication

To engage your employees is to maintain their interest. We’ve covered how to improve employee engagement in the past, so we know that an engaging environment your employees want to be a part of is vital for everyone to produce their best work. But what do you do when that environment has already gone in the opposite direction?

To boost engagement in a broken culture, you as a leader have to engage first. Open up communication around the workplace, while establishing your trust in your employees. Ask for their opinions, and be open with any company decisions you make.

You can’t force everyone to reciprocate the sentiment right away, nor should you expect it. It may take some time, but when you lower your own walls, other barriers are sure to follow in time.

Appreciation

One vital form of communication is the simple act of showing appreciation. By expressing gratitude to your employees, you’re providing a boost of dopamine, which improves sleeping habits and metabolism while decreasing stress.

On a less physiological level, expressions of gratitude improve interpersonal relationships. For a manager, showing your appreciation motivates your employees to work harder and can boost their overall happiness in life in the long run.

Feedback

Beyond merely showing gratitude for jobs well done, it’s important to provide proper feedback in order to help staff members reach their full potential. A lack of helpful feedback at work can result in feeling stagnant, not knowing what you’re doing right or how to improve, and such feelings only lead to further negativity in workplace culture.

As we’ve explained before, feedback should always be constructive, not destructive. You’re there to help people grow, not tear them down for shortcomings.

Describe to employees what they’re doing right and how they can take their success to another level, and present performance critiques as opportunities to improve, with which you’ll gladly assist. With consistent feedback, you can impress upon members of the company that their work matters and you’re here to work with them.

Security

When people spend nearly every day in an environment that doesn’t feel safe, they’re liable to enter into a survival mode. Rather than focusing on their tasks at work, they’ll be preoccupied with concerns over keeping their jobs or even being sabotaged by coworkers and superiors. That constant fear and insecurity can prevent them from taking risks, rationalizing that the safer option is for the best.

Coaxing someone in survival mode into turning off the constant alarms in their head can be a hefty task. This condition can go beyond normal stress, to the point of potentially debilitating anxiety.

First and foremost, it’s necessary to establish the work environment as a safe space. Actively listen to your employees, and support them both personally and as an organization. Buy them coffee, or even acknowledge that things have been high strung and offer company-paid therapy sessions for anyone who might need a little help coping with stress.

Most importantly, however, give them time. A culture transformation won’t happen overnight. Be patient, and let everyone go about their own processes to adjust.



Make your culture something to be proud of

Your company’s culture is the backbone of its success. Sometimes it can go a bit awry, and it can’t always be blamed on anyone in particular. Rather than sitting around blaming yourself or others, figure out what’s gone wrong and how you can fix it. Try to adjust your own behavior, talk and listen to your employees, and provide them with an incentive by using Zestful.

Reclaim a healthy environment, and get that company culture ship-shape—for the sake of the business, and all of its people.