The change wrought by the pandemic has not been easy for organizations, but it has opened up opportunities for leaders to see if they have healthy or unhealthy work cultures. What factors lead to unhealthy work cultures and how can leaders reverse them? Read on for some useful strategies.
Change has been swirling around us for two years, and it hasn’t been easy in many cases. Yet it gives leaders the rare opportunity to find out whether their companies have healthy or unhealthy work cultures.
Contrary to popular belief, change does not cause dysfunction. In the vast majority of cases, it reveals it. Consequently, the disruption of the pandemic has drawn back the curtain on dysfunctional environments in organizations around the world.
This is not a negative point. This is an opportunity for leaders to create highly effective cultures that maintain their unique core elements of identity under stressors. Rapid change is one such stressor and can result from a change in customer presence and advances in technology, not just a global healthcare crisis.
Companies with healthy cultures naturally evolve alongside these changes. Companies with unhealthy work cultures fall flat or start resisting change.
What factors lead to an unhealthy work culture?
As a leader, you can use this time to assess and possibly improve your organization’s culture. A good place to start is to understand the factors that lead to an unhealthy work culture. Typically, at least one of two factors is at the root of any cultural dysfunction: fear or exclusion.
A culture of fear can manifest itself in many ways depending on where the fear is coming from. Employees who fear their colleagues may be reluctant to share their ideas openly. Managers hold meetings behind closed doors and keep the information to themselves. People rarely ask questions, voice opinions, or take ownership of decisions for fear of escalation or retaliation. The result is a culture marked by secrecy and avoidance. It’s pretty easy to spot.
In contrast, a culture of exclusion may be more difficult to identify without digging deeper. At first glance, exclusion may not look like exclusion at all. For example, a company with an employee base that lacks diversity or recognizes the views of some groups more than others may not seem exclusive. However, the lack of an intentional effort to seek out and integrate diverse perspectives shuts many people out of discussions. It’s not uncommon to hear leaders from exclusionary cultures make wary comments like, “Let’s not loop through the XYZ department. We will find that ourselves.
Whether you face a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion, or a mix of the two, you can change your culture with a few strategies. Implementing them will help make your business less likely to become a victim of the Great Resignation and better able to weather future storms.
- Analyze your current culture honestly and openly.
Recognizing and acknowledging the weak spots in your currently unhealthy work culture can be difficult. It can be even more difficult to talk to senior leaders about what you discover. These leaders may react negatively as if you are accusing them of playing a part in the problem.
You can help defuse this situation by having data at your fingertips to make the case for a cultural pivot. Being able to back up your arguments with data strengthens your position. After showing why your culture deserves attention, be sure to honor what has been done in the past. Many unhealthy work cultures have been built on methods that once made sense. Following these methods can make your leadership feel more ready to let go of the past.
- Describe the cultural changes you want to make.
No corporate culture will change without leadership leadership. Figure out what you want to do differently after critically examining what isn’t working now. Remember that even subtle changes can have a big impact on engineering your dream grow.
Consider your employees as you build the playbook for your new healthy work culture. Many talented people have used COVID as an opportunity to reconsider their career paths. Make sure you’re ready to show them the benefits they’ll experience when your workplace culture shifts to a different position.
- Bring your entire organization into the conversation.
Now is not the time to fall into a culture of exclusion or fear. Be open with people about what you do. The more you engage your colleagues in your business, the more ownership they will have of what you are trying to do.
You cannot commit to change alone. At the same time, you can’t expect people to just culturally change what they do at work because you tell them they have to. (Many will quit, leaving you behind.) As a result, bring everyone on the path of discovery with you to ensure broader buy-in.
The coming months will be crucial for businesses around the world, especially as job seekers relocate to roles within different companies. Make sure you attract artists who can help your organization succeed by rewarding them with a healthy work culture when they join.
Written by Mallory Meyer.
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