How To Identify If Your Company Has A Toxic Culture

annoyed woman wearing a white shirt with her hair up angry at her laptop work email

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Guest blogger Ross Kimbarovsky is founder and CEO at crowdspring and Startup Foundry.  In 2007, Ross left a successful 13-year career as a trial lawyer to pursue his dream of founding a technology company by founding crowdspring – one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services.

Are your employees tired? Discouraged? Burnt out?

If the answer is yes, you may have a toxic culture at work.

That’s a problem.  Unhappy workers are less productive, make more mistakes, and are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Work culture exists on multiple levels. It isn’t just behaviors. It’s also an infrastructure of beliefs and values. To create real and lasting change, your business must tackle cultural issues on both levels.

You must act quickly to improve a negative work environment before productivity lags and employees abandon ship.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you turn-around a toxic work culture.

1. Identify Problem Behaviors. Every company is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for repairing a damaged work culture.

The first step is always to examine your business’s culture to identify your specific challenges.

Start by taking a critical look around you. Before you can change for the better, you have to face these uncomfortable truths head-on.

Here are some common problems:

  • Gossiping and/or social cliques
  • Aggressive bullying behavior
  • Poor communication and unclear expectations
  • Dictatorial management techniques that don’t embrace employee feedback
  • Excessive absenteeism, illness or fatigue
  • Favoritism and imbalanced working conditions (discriminatory policies/wage gaps)
  • Workaholic behavior that sacrifices healthy work/life balance
  • Unrealistic workloads or deadlines
  • Little (or strained interaction) between employees or employees and management
  • Unsafe or morally questionable working conditions
  • You probably won’t find all of these; and, you may find problems we haven’t listed. Whatever problems you find – take note. Those issues will inform your plan to rescue your work culture.

2. Evaluate the Underlying Support Network. A toxic culture can’t take root without a fertile environment, and its symptoms can’t survive without a supportive infrastructure.

So, it’s time to dig deeper. What shared values and actions are helping to support those behaviors?

Examine your company’s leadership and their values. Then work your way from the top of the ladder to the bottom looking for issues like:

  • Discriminatory beliefs
  • Treating employees as assets, not people
  • Information guarding (poor communication/unclear expectations)
  • Aggressive or hostile leadership styles
  • Belief that employees are lazy, stupid and/or expendable
  • Resentment of Authority
  • Contrariness
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of appreciation for (or recognition of) good work
  • All of these are problematic and set the foundation to build a negative work culture.

3. Plan Your Repair Strategy. With a clear understanding of the illness, you can now strategize your treatment plan. And remember – change is hard. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Prioritize.

Tackle the problem behaviors that have the biggest impact first, and smaller issues will likely begin to right themselves. Here are some strategic antidotes to many of the most common workplace problems. More on this tomorrow!

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