9 Early Signs That a Company’s Culture is Turning Sour

Written by Matt Jenkins Wednesday 31 May 2017
Good Company Culture Can Be the Difference Between Thriving and Surviving. Here’s How to Spot When Things Are Going Wrong
two chalk arrows with the words bad and good on them

For a long time company culture has been seen as the ‘soft’ component of a business strategy. Companies would fixate on growth and products rather than sustainability and long-term prosperity, forgetting a critical lesson: to win in the marketplace, you first need to win in the workplace.

Such enterprises did grow very quickly but then struggled to experience lasting success and sometimes even to survive.

Nowadays an increasing number of business leaders have understood that company culture is actually critical to a company’s backbone and are investing significant resources in cultivating and nurturing an organisational climate that is based on accountability, respect and collaboration.

But sometimes even successful company cultures turn negative and the organisation becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

Companies like Uber, United Airlines, VW or BrewDog are examples of company cultures showing signs of becoming toxic and affecting not only the companies’ public images but also their profitability and growth potential.

To avoid such situations, business leaders and employees alike should always keep an eye on any distress signs and address any potential negative influences right from the start.

So What Are the First Signs of Company Culture Turning Sour?

Chronic high stress – Work is intense on an ongoing basis with little ‘downtime’ to recover

Aggressive, bullying behaviours – Instilling fear in employees becomes a common practice

High staff turnover – High-performers start leaving and new employees don’t stick around for long

Scapegoating - Mistakes are explained by blaming colleagues or external factors

Low morale – Employees are in a bad mood or feel depressed frequently

High absenteeism – A large number of employees regularly take sick days

Unrealistic expectations for productivity and goals – Employees are put in situations that set them up to fail and burn out; workload and expectations are unreasonable but no one seems to care

Poor communication – Employees mostly receive negative feedback, are not rewarded for good performance and are left out of the loop regarding the company’s targets and vision

Dysfunctional dynamics – Cliques, favouritism, grudges and back stabbing become normal everyday interactions between employees

How Do You Address These Issues and Encourage a Healthy Company Culture?

First you need to understand that improving a toxic workplace is not solely HR’s responsibility. It’s every manager’s and employee’s responsibility to keep an eye on the organisational culture and make sure that it’s not being polluted by toxic behaviours.

Business leaders must be the change agents that assess and evaluate the toxicity of an organisation’s culture and lead the way in shifting behaviour towards positivity and organisational performance.

Cultural dysfunctions can only be mitigated if entire teams acknowledge the problems, talk about the issues and then campaign against them for a better workplace.

Thankfully, nowadays there are many solutions available that can screen several teams, in different locations and identify any dysfunctions in a matter of hours. With this knowledge at hand, business leaders can easily pinpoint the areas that need improving and create an efficient strategy for fixing the toxic elements.

When trying to establish a high performance company culture, setting clear directions about the company’s goals and priorities is as crucial as keeping dialogue channels open at all times and ensuring that employees get quick answers regarding their concerns or new initiatives.

Creating a strong, positive company culture or fixing a dysfunctional one is never easy but when considering the long-term benefits, can you really afford to ignore it?

Matt Jenkins

Matt Jenkins

is head of consulting at Footdown