Pandemic-wrought change has not been easy for organizations, but it has opened up an opportunity for leaders to see whether they have healthy or unhealthy work cultures. What factors lead to unhealthy work cultures, and how can leaders turn them around? Read on for some helpful strategies.
Change has been swirling around us for the past two years, and it hasn’t been easy in many cases. Yet it’s given leaders the rare opportunity to discover whether their companies have healthy or unhealthy work cultures.
Contrary to popular belief, change does not cause dysfunction. In the vast majority of cases, it reveals it. Consequently, the disruption of the pandemic pulled back the curtain on dysfunctional environments at organizations around the world.
This is not a negative. It’s the chance for leaders to create highly effective cultures that sustain their unique core elements of identity under stressors. Rapid change is one of those stressors and can arise from a shift in customer presence and technological advances, not just a global healthcare crisis.
Companies with healthy cultures naturally evolve alongside those changes. Companies with unhealthy work cultures fall flat or begin to push back against the change.
What Factors Lead to an Unhealthy Work Culture?
As a leader, you can use this moment in time to evaluate and potentially improve your organization’s culture. A good place to start is understanding the factors that lead to unhealthy work culture. Typically, at least one of two factors is behind all cultural dysfunction: fear or exclusion.
A culture of fear can play out in many ways depending upon where the fear originates. Employees who fear their colleagues may be unwilling to share their ideas openly. Managers hold closed-door meetings and keep information to themselves. People rarely ask questions, raise opinions, or take ownership of decisions for fear of escalation or retribution. The result is a culture fraught with secrecy and avoidance. It’s fairly easy to spot.
In contrast, a culture of exclusion may be harder to pinpoint without digging deeper. On the surface, exclusion may not look like exclusion at all. For example, a company with an employee base that lacks diversity or recognizes some groups’ points of view more than others may not appear exclusionary. However, the absence of an intentional effort to seek and incorporate diverse perspectives excludes many people from discussions. It’s not uncommon to hear leaders from exclusionary cultures making distrustful comments like, “Let’s not loop in Department XYZ. We’ll figure this out ourselves.”
Whether you’re facing a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion, or a hybrid of both, you can turn your culture around with a few strategies. Implementing them will help make your company less likely to become a victim of the Great Resignation and more apt to weather future storms.
- Analyze your current culture honestly and openly.
It can be difficult to recognize and acknowledge the weak points in your currently unhealthy workplace culture. It can be even harder to talk to senior leaders about what you discover. Those leaders may respond negatively as if you are accusing them of playing a role in the problem.
You can help defuse this situation by having data on hand to make your case for a cultural pivot. Being able to back your points with data strengthens your position. After showing why your culture deserves attention, be sure to honor what was done in the past. Many unhealthy work cultures have been built on methods that made sense once upon a time. Honoring those methods can make your leadership feel more ready to let the past go.
- Outline the changes you want to make culturally.
No workplace culture will change without momentum from leaders. Map out what you want to do differently after looking critically at what doesn’t work now. Remember that even subtle changes can make a big impact on engineering your dream culture.
Consider your employees as you construct the playbook for your new, healthy workplace culture. Many talented people have used COVID as an opportunity to reconsider their career journeys. Make certain that you’re ready to show them the benefits that they’ll receive when your workplace culture shifts into a different position.
- Bring your whole organization into the conversation.
Now is not the time to fall into a culture of exclusion or fear. Be open with people about what you’re doing. The more you engage your co-workers across your company, the more they’ll take ownership of what you’re trying to do.
You can’t commit to change alone. At the same time, you can’t expect people to just switch up what they do culturally at work because you tell them they must. (Many will resign, leaving you in a lurch.) Accordingly, bring everyone on the path of discovery with you to ensure more widespread buy-in.
The coming months will be critical to businesses worldwide, especially as job seekers resettle into positions with different companies. Make sure you attract the performers who can help steer your organization towards success by rewarding them with a healthy work culture when they come on board.
Written by Mallory Meyer.
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