Symptoms of a Failing Workplace Culture and What to do About it

Strong workplace cultures help organisations to continuously adapt to the changing environments to deliver increased profitability.  Such cultures highly value employees and customers and encourage leadership from everyone in the business. We might expect then that a focus on workplace culture would be a priority investment for most businesses. This is not the case.

‘Culturing Success’ a 2015 report reveals the extent that workplace culture inhibits innovation and productivity. Comments shared during conflict management processes reveals that tell tale signs of problems with workplace culture are apparent long before they manifest in workplace conflict or formal complaints.  We’ve observed indicators such as:

  • That the focus and attention to culture is poor – staff left to their own devices to source information to assist them when needed with little information available,
  • Poor organisational communications ongoing gossiping and complaining but no one does anything about it,
  • That only the leaders have offices,
  • That when an issue is raised a ‘suck it up princess’ attitude prevails,
  • That the work spaces look unkempt and unloved,
  • That no-one in the organization talks about culture,
  • Staff use flexibility to absent themselves from the workplace so as not to be impacted creating vacant offices.

Does this sound familiar?

only 12% of projects focused on an early intervention response

Despite our understanding of the benefits of a strong workplace culture a review of our recent intervention services identified that only 12% of projects focused on an early intervention response – workplace cultural review, some 38% were informal interventions such as conflict coaching and mediation services while a significant 50% responded with on formal responses – investigations - to address these issues. While these conflicts frequently stem from a combination of internal factors such as poor interpersonal or communication skills, external factors including poor organizational processes and practices provide the context.  What is apparent in these projects is that workplace culture is a powerful contributing factor.

Some useful questions to ask about your own workplace culture might be the following:

  1. Do the actions of leaders consistently reflect the organisation’s values?
  2. Are the mechanisms that keep the culture in place – e.g. who has offices and physical layout of workplace, coaching and education programs - aligned with the desired culture?
  3. Are the rewards introduced culturally consistent?
  4. Right people on the bus. How well are we attracting, selecting and socialising employees – orientations, buddying systems etc.
  5. Do we keep an ongoing and prominent focus on culture – or is it merely intermittent? 

susan whillas