5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Corporate Culture Sucks

By PeopleFirst on May 18, 2017

If you’re a business romantic like me, you’ve probably read books on corporate culture like Delivering Happiness, Anything You Want, and Onward with rosy eyes and a longing spirit. We’ve all heard plenty about how Zappos, Google, and Southwest are dreams to work for because of their stellar company cultures.

Is it too much of a generalisation to say that all of us has at least a little bit of hope that our company is the one that’ll be in the corporate culture spotlight next? Will we be the star of that new Forbes cover story or that bestselling business book?

I’m willing to bet you feel it too. But the hard truth is that not all corporate culture is rosy and book-worthy. Your company culture might not even be close to holding a candle to some of these greats.

Here's the even harder truth: Your corporate culture might actually suck.

Have no fear, though. We’re here to dig deeper and catch the signs early. We’re here to help you get started on fixing it.

1. Turnover is High

Let’s get the obvious red flag out of the way first. It’s rarely a good sign that people aren’t sticking around for very long.

If a typical month at your office could double as an X-Files episode in which characters mysteriously disappear without a trace, you probably have a turnover problem.

If your workplace is a revolving door of new faces, you definitely have a turnover problem.

[ctt template="11" link="5bX31" via="no" ]High turnover is the first sign of bad corporate culture[/ctt]

I’d argue further that turnover is not the only problem here. All the hush-hush about turnover signifies an unnerving company culture. No one seems to care enough to ask, “Hey, where’d Morgan gone?” Or maybe they do care, but they are afraid to ask about a disappearing coworker. That is a clear indicator of even more flaws in the culture of the company.

We won’t even get into fear mongering here, though.

Let’s talk about fixing the turnover thing first.

What to Do About High Turnover

Reducing turnover is a bit tricky. After all, turnover is simply a statistic. You won’t get to the root of the problem unless you know more about the people and events behind the numbers. Moreover, the source of the problem could be any number of things.



Gathering Information Gathering information is the first step to tackling high turnover


I recommend beginning to tackle out-of-control turnover by gathering more information. You should find out:

  • How many people are getting fired monthly/quarterly/annually? How is it compared with the number of employees versus leaving of their own accord?
  • Who is doing all the firing? Is it an individual department or the same handful of managers? What are the reasons for letting go these people?
  • What reasons were given by those who left the company? Are there any common answers? Is there a theme that runs in various departments?

Use this information to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. Turnover is a symptom, not the disease! Asking these questions will help you to take the first step: diagnosing the disease

2. The Office is a Soul-Sucking Mess

Pro-tip: If your company’s offices look like a scene from the movie Office Space, or perhaps an episode of the TV show Hoarders, we need to talk.

Whether it’s so fluorescent and vanilla that you have to chug a gallon of coffee to get an ounce of mental stimulation or it’s so messy that it becomes an eyesore, things aren’t looking good. An untidy, uninspiring workspace is often a bad sign when it comes to corporate culture.

It’s no coincidence that some of the best offices in the world are colourful, comfortable, tidy, and full of natural light. It’s no accident that Acuity has a rock wall, Cisco Systems has a health centre, and Amazon encourages their employees to bring their dog to work.

[ctt template="4" link="33IJz" via="no" ]The best offices in the world are colourful, comfortable, tidy, and full of natural light[/ctt]

I’m of the opinion that cubicles aren’t automatically the most soul-sucking thing ever. Sometimes it’s practical for a growing business strapped for space. However, I’m even more of the opinion that if you can't walk from one cubicle to another and don't know what belongs to whom without peeking at a nameplate, you’ve got some culture work to do.

What is more, the lack of the right space! There’s no room for employees to add their personal touch, to get some fresh air, to break a sweat, or to sit in quiet solitude. Yikes! Let’s move on to fixing things as I’m getting a little bit depressed talking about such offices.

How to Breathe Some Life Back Into the Place

I remember feeling almost shocked when my new boss at my first internship strongly encouraged me to step away from my desk regularly. “We have all these beautiful walking paths!” he’d say, “Take a walk. Get some fresh air. Clear your head a bit.”

And that was the president of the company, mind you. What a guy!



Workspace A tidy workstation with natural light is a good start


That’s the kind of attitude we’re looking for. Here are a few quick and dirty tips on making your workplace healthier, happier, and brighter:

  • Host a cubicle decorating contest
  • Host a "Bring-Your-Dog-to-Work Day"
  • Loosen up now and then with themed dress-down days (e.g. Jersey Day, 60’s Day, Halloween costumes)
  • Have departments compete for prizes in a cleanliness week and/or a decorating contest
  • Splurge a bit on simple break room upgrades, things like Keurig machines, granola bar basket, or comfy armchairs

That’s just the small stuff, though. As far as the big picture goes, I recommend looking very, very carefully at your budget for next year and seeing where you can make room for improvements to your facility. Your corporate culture depends on it.

3. Post-Work Drinks Aren’t a Thing

I’m not saying your colleagues need to be one big happy group of best friends, but the word on the street is that it’s good for business to have friends at work.

Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

After all, friendship = trust,  and trust = better on-the-job performance. There are some drawbacks with the biggest being that having friends at work is more likely to deplete our emotional energy more than if we didn’t give a rat’s about our coworkers. However, it’s pretty clear that emotional connections built at work foster a more productive, more culture-conducive environment.

[ctt template="8" link="8Dx90" via="no" ]Friendship = Trust & Trust = Better Performance [/ctt]

If no one spends time together outside work, your organisation could be missing out on a big chunk of employee satisfaction. The lack of emotional connection and trust might contribute to a clog in the flow of good ideas.  We’ll talk about that one later on.

How to Encourage Employees to Spend Time Together

Tell your employees that you’ll fire them if they don’t start hanging out once a week.

Just kidding!

It may feel like pulling teeth trying to get a group of people who are already accustomed to a no-strings-attached work environment to spend more time together, but here are a few simple things you can do now to get the ball rolling:

  • Ease into things by hosting mini parties during lunch breaks. You can try corn hole tournaments, bake-offs, and trivia
  • Treat them with holiday parties during business hours to show them that spending time together is a priority for you
  • Throw a viewing party for a popular TV show you know many of your employees like to watch
  • Incentivize post-work hangouts with deals and fun events. For example, you can rent a room in a movie theatre for the night, book a private yoga class, or offer discounted tickets to a local sports event.

Whatever you decide to do it, just remember to tread carefully!

4. New Ideas Only Run Downstream

In my own experience, if you seldom hear “I have an idea!” in the workplace, we have a problem.

The problem is probably not that your colleagues don't have ideas. They’re humans. With working brains. Those brains spend 40 hours per week at the office. It’s preposterous to think that they don’t have any ideas on how to improve things a little around here.

It's more likely that your colleagues aren’t sharing their innovative thoughts. Oh, they have them—trust me. So why won't they spread incentives? The answer is the key. 

Is your company lacking proper channels for idea exchange? Are there rules that discourage people from straying from the systems already in place? Are good ideas only expected from management and leadership? Or is it simply that no one’s ever even asked?



ideas Encourage Everyone To Share Ideas


How to Encourage An Idea-Friendly Environment

Regardless the cause of your idea drought, there are a few simple things you can do to get things flowing again.

  • Test out an open door policy among the leaders
  • Test out your own version of Google’s 20% playtime policy
  • Simply ask! Send an email requesting ideas on how things can be done more efficiently in the office to the whole company. 
  • Reserve the ends of all-hands meetings for an “open floor” time during which employees can discuss new ideas
  • Set up a “What-If” board in the break room

5. No One Even Talks About Corporate Culture

Hot take: your lack of company culture IS your culture.

If working at work is just about work—and sales, and numbers, and clocking in and out—then it’s not about more important things. These essential things could be employee satisfaction. Career fulfillment. Doing, you knowsomething meaningful.

If you’re not selling your company to interviewees as a wholesome place to work as much as they’re selling themselves to you as someone worth hiring, you’re not playing your best hand. If you really want to attract the best talent you think your vision deserves, you’ve got to be ready to prove you deserve that talent.

Earn it by addressing company culture openly. Earn it by stating company values clearly, uniquely, and passionately. Earn it by finding people whose faces light up when you talk about these values. Those are the people we’re shooting for, and those are the people who will help your company’s culture grow almost organically.

[ctt template="5" link="B524e" via="no" ]If the topic of company culture isn’t even on your radar, it’s time to get it on the table.[/ctt]

How to Spark the Corporate Culture Conversation

We’re coming to a close on a big, scary, abstract note. But we’re going to tackle it anyway, by golly. Here are some small, actionable steps to starting the corporate culture conversation at your company.

  • Make addressing and selling your corporate culture a standard part of the interview process
  • Send out a survey, using EngageRocket, to current employees asking their opinion on the current culture and what their ideal corporate culture looks like
  • Hold a “company culture reality check” meeting for the leadership team and brainstorm next steps for building a better culture
  • Consider hiring a culture doctor—a consultant/expert on improving company culture



group-conversation Spark the culture conversation


If You’ve Made It This Far, You’re Headed In the Right Direction

Because the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is one, right?

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already convinced of the importance of a healthy company culture, and for that I raise my glass to you with a hearty “Huzzah!”

Try raising a glass with your people tonight after work. Pick their brains for ideas. Tell them that it's ok to bring their dogs to work tomorrow. Do whatever you have to do to get the conversation started.

Your colleagues and the success of your company are counting on you.

Tags: EngageRocket, Leadership, Performance Management, Workplace Culture