The beginning of 2017 saw Uber embroiled in scandal, first losing 200,000 customers in a single weekend after #DeleteUber fiasco, and later, more infamously, after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against top execs. The controversy has been building since, but if it’s done one thing, it’s put the spotlight on workplace culture the world over.
It should be apparent: if we spend the majority of our day somewhere, we naturally want the environment to be a positive one. If we’re giving our time to an organization, we naturally expect to be treated with the same respect as everybody else who gives their time as well. Simple, right?
Obviously not. This begs the question: if the workplace culture is this toxic at one of the world’s most valuable startups, should any of our workplaces stand above scrutiny? If you are a male reading this right now, can you say with 100 percent certainty that the women in your office are comfortable or feel if they’re in a positive space? This transcends gender issues as well–males, females, and LGBTQA, people of all races and ages are susceptible to negative workplace culture. Is your office doing everything it can to curb it?
Satisfaction On the Decline
Business author Cole Mayer, in his article “Workplace Culture: Will You Fit?” mentions that 67 percent of Millennials in one 2016 survey listed “respectful treatment of all employees” as their primary reason for job satisfaction. 55 percent listed “trust between employees and management” as their primary factor, while 49 listed an immediate supervisor’s respect for an idea.
While Mayer draws on the SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey to set these figures up, he follows up in 1-2 punch style by citing a report by The Conference Board showing that employee satisfaction is on the decline. While Mayer certainly isn’t drawing the correlation via causation that our workplaces have become less respectful in terms of treatment of employees, the aforementioned statistics from the SHRM survey at least provide a glimpse into how we can make employees happier at work.
The Importance of Workplace Culture
MIT lecturer Jim Dougherty wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Culture, in my mind, is the single most important attribute to successful companies. Inevitably, when things don’t go well for a company, the culture is what has a lot to say about whether or not you make it.”
This is corroborated by another piece on HBR that offers proof that positive work cultures are more productive, but if we want a more objective warrant from a different source, we don’t have to look far. Forbes highlights a study from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business that surveyed more than 1,400 North American CEOs and CFOs over 13 months. They found that more than 90 percent of respondents thought that culture was important at their firms, and 92 percent believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve their company’s value. More half agreed that corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, and growth.
Most telling, only 15 percent of respondents said that corporate culture was where it needed to be at their firm.
Fortunately, there is a sense of self-reflection and a commonly agreed upon solution that rises from this survey: 70 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Leadership needs to spend more time to develop the culture.”
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Leaders have potent ability when it comes to exacting changes in workplace culture. Employees have that ability too. In truth, it takes a team to make sure workplace culture is a positive aspect of the company instead of a detrimental one. While there is no definitive list on how to create the perfect culture, here are a few pointers that won’t hurt:
- Take ownership of the problem. Kathy Bourque writes that while we tend to shy away from conflict and confrontation in favor of tolerating a situation, difficult conversations can actually benefit company culture. “What we tolerate we accept,” she writes. “Think about that for a minute. Life goes along its happy way with you tolerating this. You think ‘Well, that’s really not so bad…I can live with that.’ Pretty soon your “that’s really not so bad” tolerations have built up like a pile of dirty laundry from a family of 12 who have 10 kids under the age of 10.” Actively discouraging negativity isn’t easy, but with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that negativity costs businesses $3 billion a year due to harmful effects, it’s easy to see why it’s necessary.
- Adopt the PERMA model. Ros Cardinal’s post on creating better workplace culture appeals to the PERMA model: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment/Achievement. While execution of the PERMA model is anything but simple, the core ideas behind how it works are. Check out Cardinal’s post here for more info.
- Perk up. This is a nice double entendre that refers to an initiative to smile more often, and to offer workplace perks like coffee, time off, flex time, or even student loan perks for your recent graduates, the latter of which has been growing in popularity recently. Business News Daily offers a list of cool perks that keep employees happy, but don’t limit yourself to these perks alone–be creative and tailor your offerings to your employee base’s needs.
- The little things go a long way. Another piece by Kathy Bourque via People Development Magazine emphasizes creating a receptive workplace culture to cultivate positivity by doing the little things. Show interest. Praise employees in public. Say thank you. All of these little things might not seem like much at the time, but when they add up they can have massive impact.
Lastly, take a look in the mirror. Are you the problem? If your leadership is toxic, your workplace culture is bound to be as well.
Fortunately by approaching the situation critically, acting immediately, and embodying the culture you’d like to see around you, you’ll already begin seeing brighter faces around you in the office. It’s like Ghandi said:
“Be the change you wish to see in the workplace.”
Or something like that.
Andrew is a writer and former tech start up manager from Boise, ID. He owns an entertainment company he started after channeling inspiration from Simon Sinek.