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Why Your Workplace Culture Sucks And How To Fix It

You probably don’t know it yet, but these four issues are killing office morale. Now you know, here’s how to get things back on track.

Why Your Workplace Culture Sucks And How To Fix It
[Photo: Flick user Antonio Tajuelo]

You evaluate your employees annually? Great–now why don’t you do the same for your office culture?

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For one thing, office culture is a lot harder to measure than employee performance. Your employees might not be skipping gleefully from project to project, but that doesn’t mean they’re in a toxic environment. On the flip side, smiling faces, upbeat chitchat, and cross-cubicle high fives don’t mean your staff isn’t running down a laundry list of gripes every day when they leave the office.

The truth is, you might not know things aren’t working if you don’t prioritize frequent and thorough assessments of your office culture on a regular basis. To understand what’s going wrong, here are the metrics I use to see if an office’s culture is on target; or if it’s off base, where the problem started:

1. Job Satisfaction

Are your employees happy with the work they’re doing? Do they see how their piece fits into the overall puzzle? Don’t be afraid to ask them directly what frustrates them and what’s working. At the same time, though, don’t overhaul your office climate based on low satisfaction reports alone.

2. Collaboration

A lack of willing collaboration is a surefire sign there’s a glitch in the system. Do your employees find opportunities to work together? Do they use them efficiently? Are there tensions under the surface that need to be addressed? Interface with your team leaders, and more simply, pay attention.

3. Alignment To Values

What are your company’s values? Do your employees know them? More importantly, do they know why they’re in place and how they fit into your corporate goals? The “why” is just as important, if not more so, than the “what.” “Because I said so” rarely works on toddlers; don’t think it will guide your employees any better.

4. Innovation

Whatever the projects your team tackles every day look like, no one enjoys doing menial, repetitive tasks all day. Allowing room for creativity and innovative thinking is vital. Your employees will appreciate the chances to step outside the box, and you’ll get great new ideas as thanks for giving them the opportunity to try new things–even if they fail.

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Tweaking your office environment will often resolve these disparate workplace problems, and it’s less daunting a task than it seems. Here are three possible solutions:

1. Reward The Good

Admonishing employees who screw up or misbehave is a regular occurrence in most workplaces (though hopefully, it’s rare). But how often do you identify, highlight, and reward good behavior?

For one thing, this is a great opportunity to reinforce actions that further your company’s objectives and values. It also reinforces best practices for observers.

Did your cubemate Tim go above and beyond to meet a client’s needs and then get a raise? Chances are you’re more likely to emulate that behavior. Not only is positive reinforcement better than negative reinforcement for immediate motivation, but a climate of repeated, positive affirmations is also a generally more pleasant and supportive environment. Your employees will feel the difference.

2. Keep Your People’s Eyes On The Prize

Compatibility with the office culture should be right up there on the list of must-haves for new hires with attitude, aptitude, and experience. And far beyond the first day should the office’s culture, corporate goals, and company-wide values be clear and reinforced.

Do high-ranking leaders consider office culture of key importance? What about lower-level staff? Are values and expected behaviors clear, and do employees have guidance on how an ideal team member should think, act, and behave? If you answered no, your office doesn’t make culture enough of a priority.

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The company’s expectations should be reinforced at every step: By rewarding good actors and reorienting the bad ones; by ensuring that leaders are modeling the best possible behaviors; and by making sure that expectations are clear and easy to follow.

3. Keep Office Leaders In Sync

The leaders within your company should feel intimately connected to its mission statement, and to each other.

Before my readers in HR have a heart attack, I don’t mean slumber-party close or stay-out-drinking-all-night close. But you should feel enough in sync that you can expect you’d make similar decisions in similar scenarios.

Consistency is key, and the man or woman at the top of the ladder should set the tone for his or her subordinates so they can do the same with the employees they manage.

Keep in close touch and work collaboratively often. Think of the leaders within your company as ambassadors for corporate goals and objectives, and give them the tools they need to carry that message on.

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About the author

Barry S. Saltzman is CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group and Partner at Culture Measures, a business focused on turning the art of culture into a science.

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