We can’t be excited to go to work every day, and sometimes we may even drag our feet getting there. That's just normal. But when you feel stuck in a bad or toxic workplace culture, you start to dread the beginning of each workday, and that can take a serious toll on your outlook and work ethic.
It’s not often a single thing that makes or breaks an organization’s culture. A combination of leadership, traditions, values, attitudes, beliefs, interactions, and behaviors together set the overall tone of the work environment. From an employee's perspective, rarely does a bad workplace culture start out that way. Little by little, things that seem insignificant in the moment can start to add up until one reaches the proverbial last straw. By the time employees feel overworked, under-appreciated, and burnt out, it’s probably too late to go back and reset the culture of the office. Instead, it’s important to proactively build the culture and make appropriate changes and tweaks as needs arise.One essential component to a great culture is open and honest communication within an organization. No one enjoys feeling like they don’t know what’s going on around them, even if it may not directly affect their job. If you’re hiring, let your current team know. If you’re changing the way something is handled, explain why. You don’t have to go into details and shouldn’t call someone out if it’s a performance situation, but you don’t want to leave your employees worrying or suspecting that they’re not pulling their weight. And if you have let someone go because of a performance issue, let your team know where the expectations weren’t being met. Give them the opportunity to check in on their own performance if they’re concerned. This also means embracing workplace transparency and sharing the organization’s goals, wins, and losses with the entire organization.
Employees also want to see an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, and they appreciate the mentality that everyone pitches in when someone needs a hand. In many organizations, this can be the difference between feeling supported in your job and feeling like you’re up a creek without a paddle...or even a boat. This may involve some cross-training for critical functions. Maybe everyone on the administrative staff knows how to process outgoing shipments or record the voicemail greeting, even if it’s normally one individual’s daily task. Or maybe you hold a (brief) weekly team meeting to check in with everyone and see how projects are going; to brainstorm solutions for a particularly challenging tasks. This cultivates a team atmosphere where no one is worried that their request for help will go unanswered or be met with frustration. It also gives people an opening to pitch in before a situation gets out of hand. It’s important that these meetings are interactive and that everyone is invited to bring things up as opposed to a lecture or sermon where one or two people are telling everyone else what’s going on or how they should expect their week to go. You can also use this time to recognize where employees have gone above and beyond or have completed special projects. However, be careful of appearing to have favorites, and make sure you recognize where the consistently dependable members of the team are getting things done.
Of course, it all starts at the top with management that intentionally values humor and professionalism in the workplace. This isn’t the same as false positivity. We all know the type of manager who wakes up to Zig Ziglar quotes each morning and comes to work with a game-show host smile. Their energy can be infectious and inspiring…until you go to them with a problem and, instead of coaching you on how to solve it, they just cheer you on and tell you every crisis is an opportunity if you have the right attitude. This is not the type of manager we’re talking about. We’re talking about the managers who don't take themselves too seriously and aren’t afraid of a little professional ribbing now and then. These are the managers who are happy to act ridiculous in a team-building game of charades or pictionary. They laugh at the mistakes they’ve made and turn them into funny stories they can use to help their team approach similar problems with dignity and foresight. They don’t focus on the negative, but they don’t brush it aside either. Instead they identify levity where they can while looking for the root cause of the problem in order to figure out how to move forward. They emphasize the importance of work-life harmony. Notably, they practice what they preach with gentle reminders when it’s time to go at the end of the day, not for fear of paying overtime, but because they recognize that people often produce more quality when work doesn't consume one's life.
Every organization is different, but the effects and importance of workplace culture is generally the same. A negative culture will negatively impact everyone, while a positive culture that encourages a sense of belonging creates a productive and happy atmosphere with employees who want to remain with an organization. Start improving your company's culture today. Download our Company Culture HR Toolkit and join us on June 27th for a free webinar on this topic.
*A sporting event or musical performance, but something that even the people who don't generally care about such activities might be inclined to go anyway because it's a fun group outing.