5 Signs of Toxic Corporate Culture — and How to Fix Them

Having a healthy corporate culture is becoming more and more essential to running a successful business. While most companies like to think they have a perfect corporate culture, many times it only seems that way on the outside looking in. It doesn’t take much to turn a healthy environment into something toxic, and there are a few warning signs to watch for to make sure things don’t go sour. 

Low Employee Retention Rates

A low employee retention rate is a clear sign something is wrong. In some industries, high employee turnover is fairly common. These tend to be high-stress, high-volume environments in which employees are expected to sink or swim. However, most companies intend to foster a productive environment that also offers employees some satisfaction so they’ll have an incentive to stay. With a mandate such as this, having a higher turnover rate than the industry standard is a sure sign of trouble. Employees generally won’t remain long in a toxic environment unless the reward is perceived as worth the abuse. Being only a few years away from receiving a pension is one example. New employees certainly won’t stick around to suffer horrible bosses, insufferable coworkers, or corporate policies that don’t protect their well-being.

If you think retention might be an issue in your company, determine exactly why your employees are jumping ship so quickly. Check into terminations and resignations over the last few years and look for any patterns. Are employees who are leaving doing so because of a corporate policy they feel is too restrictive? If a large number of employees are being terminated from a location due to “insubordination” or some similar cause, it might say more about that department’s management than its workers.

Having a “Yes” Culture is a Big “No-No”

While we all like to think we know what is going on and what decisions to make when running our business, let’s face the fact that we’re not omniscient. We can’t see every situation from every perspective, and our own personal biases and experiences can blind us from time to time. The employees who speak out about policies that aren’t working and voice their concerns offer us one of the best ways to gauge the areas that need more attention. If your employees are too afraid of retaliation to disagree with you, or convinced their voices won’t be heard, then you’ll be blind to what’s really going on. Fortunately, this is an easy fix. Encourage their feedback through incentives, and then listen to your employees. It’s also a good idea to start garnering customer feedback as well, if you haven’t already.

Cross-Department Initiatives Crumble

Another tell-tale sign of a toxic environment is that collaboration between departments tends to fall flat. This might be for a number of reasons. It could merely be a communication and organization issue. Perhaps the teams involved just have no clue how to operate outside their own departmental bubbles, so nothing gets accomplished. Another issue could be some underlying strife or feuding between the departments, especially in situations where the departments tend to butt heads in their day-to-day work.

For example, if store-level advertising and corporate graphics need to work together, they’re not going to get along if corporate drags its feet in approving time-sensitive materials or delays in releasing digital assets that need to be printed and in stores by a deadline. It would be even worse if corporate tried to pass the blame onto the store-level teams for the displays not being placed on time. In this situation, getting these two groups to play nicely together could be almost impossible without sorting out the resentment between them. Having planning meetings early on as well as open discussions with the teams individually can be an easy way to spot any potential issues with the project and disarm them before they can derail the entire collaboration.

Aversion to Risk

Risk-averse employees can create a corporate culture that is stymied, stagnant, and unable to make the creative decisions required to move the company forward. In many cases, this aversion is caused by a fear of repercussions due to policies that are too restrictive. If the corporate structure is hidebound, it won’t allow any leeway. 

Set up practices that inspire and reward a certain degree of risk-taking and flexibility to promote better productivity. For example, income might increase if employees are allowed some latitude in making their sales pitch rather than quoting verbatim from a script that probably sounds emotionless to them and the customers as well. Letting employees add a little personal touch to their jobs not only helps them discover new solutions to problems but also makes your business feel more human to your customer base.

Silos and Isolation

In a business that has multiple departments with autonomous responsibilities, it’s common for employees to form cliques and feel as if the only others they really need to care about or interact with are the coworkers in their own little silo. This can cause problems when it comes to cross-department collaborations or when there are tasks that rely on multiple departments in order to be processed properly. The first step in breaking up this isolation mentality is to get the departments more involved with one another. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in a way that has them physically working together. It can be achieved through corporate events and team-building retreats.

Scheduling corporate events in Iowa can help your employees bond, especially if the events are more social in nature rather than listening to business strategies or training. It’s even better if you’re able to do something that could qualify as a team-building exercise and stress relief for your workers all bundled into one. If your team members really have trouble working with one another or just don’t know how to solve problems together, scheduling a corporate outing at an escape room could be an innovative way to kill two birds with one stone. It would force people who aren’t normally accustomed to working together to bounce ideas off one another and collaborate in solving problems.

Fixing a toxic corporate culture involves identifying the problem areas and then formulating strategies to correct them. Keeping an open mind is vital because, like it or not, you may eventually discover you are part of the problem. Be willing to listen to feedback, and show flexibility within reason. Before you know it, you’ll have devised basic ways to change things for the better and keep them that way.

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