Anyone who didn’t luck into the perfect job from the beginning of his or her career has probably worked in an organization that was toxic to some degree. It’s a miserable predicament to find yourself in, but if you’re in a position to make changes – and face it, everyone is to some extent – then it’s important to know how to handle company culture challenges.

company culture

Company cultures can stagnate and prevent the realization of the excellence of which you and your team are capable.

But how can you tell if you work in a company that seriously needs a cultural makeover, or if you’re just in the equivalent of a “batting slump?” Here are five clear signs your company culture needs a makeover, and ways you can cope.

1. Your Overall Well-Being Suffers

Sometimes the main symptom of a toxic work culture is that you simply don’t feel like yourself. Maybe you’re more tired than usual at the end of the week, or the allergy attack you would have powered through in happier times seems like a great excuse to take a sick day. If you’re just not motivated and can’t put your finger on why, it could be that the zeitgeist in the office has changed.

2. Bad Attitudes Rub Off on You, Others

Unfortunately, many workplaces have one or two people who are determined to demonstrate a bad attitude in every situation. Most of the time, we deal with it like adults and move on. But if you find other people’s negativity and bad attitude to be “contagious,” then perhaps the problem is bigger than having one or two difficult people in the workplace. Maybe there’s a cultural problem underlying it.

3. You Only Think Short-Term

In unhealthy workplaces, everyone only thinks as far ahead as the next metaphorical fire they need to put out. It’s a matter of checking off the tasks for which you’re responsible so you can call it a day and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Healthy workplaces also take care of the day-to-day responsibilities with aplomb, but they do so in the service of longer-term goals. Long-term goals tend to fade into oblivion in unhealthy work cultures.

4. Everyone Is Primarily Motivated by Fear


When fear is a primary motivator, you can bet the quality of work is suffering. 

In an environment in which everyone is motivated by fear (of losing their job, of a boss exploding in outrage, etc.), nobody is going to go the extra mile or deliver their best work. You simply can’t deliver consistent excellence when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or evaluating the situation to gauge the dangers that lurk. In healthy workplaces, people are motivated primarily by an intrinsic desire to do good work.

5. Cross-Departmental Processes Are an Ordeal

You probably read about the dangers of departmental “silos,” and if carrying on activities across departmental boundaries is a baffling ordeal, then your company probably has unnecessarily rigid silos. Naturally, each department will have its own subculture, but they must all learn to communicate and collaborate if the organization as a whole is to succeed long term. If you’re afraid of querying IT, or Graphics, or HR about a process, your company may need a cultural makeover.

Corporate culture must be maintained similarly to how a productive garden is maintained. It must be tended and evaluated regularly, or else the weeds will end up choking everything out. Fortunately, corporate culture is usually amenable to change, even if it is difficult at first. Changing a toxic or unhealthy company culture and making it conducive to excellence and the well-being of the people who work there may take time, but it’s a real possibility, and the results are worth it many times over.

I have over 30 years of experience in executive coaching and corporate culture services, and I know how to (and how not to) approach cultural issues that divide workplaces and make them less effective.

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