When groups of people work together, it’s inevitable they develop their own way of doing things, which could cause a cultural problem. Often, these principles form cultures that are helpful to the business. But, when a cultural problem turns toxic, the onus is on you as a business leader to spot the signs and take action before your organisation is harmed. Does your business have a cultural problem? This article explores some common issue, shows you how to identify them and turn things around.
The Cultural Problem – Long Hours
A culture of long hours isn’t just defined by time spent working late or on weekends. Employees will also feel that they are expected to do so without complaint and that their personal lives are of no consequence to the organisation.
To spot a long hours’ culture, see who regularly stays late in the office or check dates and times on voicemails and emails to see who’s been working from home during evenings or weekends. Research shows that consistently working long hours is associated with lower rates of productivity, stress, health problems, absenteeism and high voluntary turnover. None of which is good for your business.
To resolve this cultural problem, check in with employees to establish the root cause of the problem. They may have too much work, not enough people, are lacking the tools, knowledge or experience to do the job, or feel that career advancement is based on being seen to go the extra mile (or marathon).
Once you understand the origin of the problem, you can take action to resolve it. You’ll need to lead from the front by working sensible hours and showing your team that having a personal life is acceptable and expected.
The Cultural Problem – Nine to Five and Not a Second More
The exact opposite of the long hours’ culture; in this case, employees only work their contracted hours. Not helpful when your business needs to meet a deadline or suddenly experiences an influx of work. Without staff flexibility, your business could suffer reputational damage and potentially lose clients.
As with the long hours’ culture, this issue is easy to spot because no-one will help out or stay late and there will often be high sickness absence rates because no-one wants to be there. Another tell-tale sign is that this culture has lots of plans, strategy and performance measures but no inspirational mission.
Fix this problem by giving employees something to engage with. As Simon Sinek (author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant) says, ‘Give them a ‘why’. Identify the purpose, cause or belief that inspires what your business does and communicate this to employees. Make the company’s mission personal to each team member by identifying how each role supports the organisation’s purpose. This will instil a culture where people wake up inspired to go to work and are more willing to help each other, and the business, out.
The Cultural Problem – Drowning in Emails
Email is a useful communication tool until it becomes the go-to method of communicating, even when it’s not the most suitable. Here are just a few issues you’ll find in an email culture:
• People dump tasks in one another’s inboxes without consideration or thought
• Email ping-pong matches bat problems back and forth slowing down solutions
• Inboxes are so full that people miss important communications
• Stress levels are high because people are constantly checking their emails
• Employees spend more time answering emails than getting work done
• People prefer to email the person next to them rather than having a conversation
• Everyone is cc’d in emails that aren’t always relevant
The idea of ridding your company of email entirely can seem daunting. But, although you might think only the most maverick companies would do this, larger corporates and public-sector organisations are following suit.
Start gently by banning out of work emails and introduce the idea of only checking email two or three times a day. This will allow employees to keep on top of important information and free up time to complete work. Let people know why you’re doing this and how the change will help them to get their buy-in. Alternatively, you could go cold turkey and ban internal emails completely. For inspiration check out this clip which shows how a small firm banned email, improved productivity and reduced stress levels as a result.
The Cultural Problem – Top Down
Top down cultures impose ways of working on their employees rather than taking a collaborative approach. Symptoms of this culture include managers who:
• supervise rather than coach
• aren’t open to answering questions from employees
• don’t seek input from staff or dismiss their ideas
• present their team’s ideas as their own
• don’t get to know staff or care about their lives
Businesses with this culture may give employees the opportunity to feedback once or twice a year through an employee engagement survey but it doesn’t lead to real change. Feedback in the survey is likely to be poor or show high levels of frustration.
The Solution To The Cultural Problem
To resolve this dilemma, the onus is on leadership, to be honest about their role in the situation and to move to a trust-based culture that aligns to business strategy. This can be achieved by:
• coaching managers on expected behavioural standards
• ensuring all employees in leadership role live the new behaviours
• set up regular employee communication or problem-solving forums which lead to action
• open communication channels via regular team meetings and town halls where employees can hold two-way conversations with managers at different organisational levels
When employees know their opinions are valued and they can tell the truth without fear of consequence, everyone will feel happier and the business will become more productive as a result.
Managing your organisation’s workplace culture is critical to getting the most from your employees not only for the good of the business but the people within it. The success of any cultural change programme is often determined by how well leaders demonstrate the new expected behaviours. Which means the power to change your company’s culture is your hands.