10 Signs of Unhealthy Company Culture

Even if employees don't complain, they may be unhappy in their work. Learn how to spot and treat an ailing culture.
May 23, 2012

Your employees may seem content, but you never know if they're just hesitant to voice their grievances to their higher-ups. Here are some telltale signs that they're unhappy, and how to treat your ailing culture.

1. Playing favorites. Some employees have frequent contact with you, resulting in a strong bond. He or she pleased with you and your company. But others don’t get much support—coaching, mentoring or encouragement—from their managers and colleagues.

2. Bending the rules too much. As a caring boss, you make sure that employees have the time off and extra resources to tend to urgent personal needs. But many of your team members may be frustrated by the low productivity of these high-maintenance employees.

3. Employees fear taking risks. Your team members seem reluctant to introduce innovation, despite your encouragement to adopt new approaches. If you've blamed your employees for missteps when they made good-faith efforts to execute new initiatives, you haven’t adopted the right kind of caring.

4. Employees are defensive. Whenever you rightly point out an area that needs improvement or a problem that needs a remedy, employees react defensively. If honest dialogue is rare, then employees don’t feel supported enough to function effectively.

5. Employees give only positive feedback. Though positive feedback from employees seems to indicate a lack of problems, that may not be the case. People may not complain because they sense that negative comments are unwelcome.

6. Talented people giving average performance. Talented people want to deliver great results, not only for your business but also for their resumes. If your star employees are delivering average sales, productivity and profitability, they are not getting what they need from you.

7. Customers complain often. Customer responses to your company reflect their treatment by employees, particularly your front-line staff. Lots of complaints means that the caring culture you’ve tried to create has either not reached everyone or seems so contrived that customers are dissatisfied rather than delighted.

8. Hearing bad news too late. You are unable to salvage relationships because customers abandon your company without fair warning. The complaints that seemed like isolated minor concerns turn out to be really serious ones. Customers are frustrated with your company’s failure to provide them with fresh, relevant solutions to their problems. And your employees are discouraged about the company’s ineffectiveness.

9. Issues are repeated in meetings. If you hear about the same problems over and over, it's likely that there is little or no effective action being taken to deal with them

10. Families are not coming to company parties. If employees routinely come solo to get-togethers, it may indicate that spouses have a negative view of the company. The caring you’ve shown probably doesn't balance excessive time demands, poor working conditions or the lack of opportunities for professional advancement.

Do these signs seem familiar? If so, then the culture you’ve instilled in the company is not meeting the needs of your employees. In short, they think that you don’t care.

Help for an Ailing Culture

A mutually satisfying, long-term relationship is dependent on more than emotional warmth in difficult times and pleasantries in good ones. A caring culture extends beyond responding to personal needs. It means providing steady, effective support throughout the workplace. Here's what you can give your team.

  • Clear direction about company goals and priorities
  • Practical solutions for handling customer relationships
  • Prompt responses to questions and open dialogue about concerns
  • Adequate funding for major projects and daily operations
  • Training and guidance when employees take on additional responsibilities
  • Leadership support for new initiatives, particularly those that involve uncertainty

Follow up a caring attitude with actions. Certainly, offer practical assistance for personal needs relating to health and wellness, childcare or eldercare. But keep in mind that your employees want their professional needs met by your company.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, take care of your company with thorough business practices and you'll be taking care of employees. Employees need to feel confident that you’ll take care of them professionally.

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal-finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.

Learn more in OPEN Forum's Company Culture 2012 series.

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