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Workplace culture, the elephant in the room

posted 2017-08-23 by Donna

I was sitting in an airport pub last week during a four hour stopover. At a table beside me, a group of colleagues collected, soon to be catching a charter flight to a resort. They were clearly technical, bright, skilled at their work. Their discussions were candid and covered many topics, primarily about their work. In the case of all but one discussion, a person presented a problem or challenge they were facing and the others asked questions and provided ideas for different solutions. It was an organic community of practice in action, and each walked away with some gifts, solutions to try, put together by the collective intelligence at the table.

There was one topic that did not follow this pattern. One person in his early 30's, commented on the culture at one of the workplaces, finishing his comments with ‘...and, well, you know how that work environment is’. The nodding heads confirmed they were all familiar with it. However, to this challenge, no solution was proposed nor discussed. Yes, nodding heads, yes, agreement that there was a problem. A big problem, from the facial expressions. Yet, silence. Eventually the conversation moved on, but I was left wondering why so often there is powerlessness around workplace culture.

Powerlessness, acceptance of something clearly below par. An acceptance of the status quo. A toxic culture is like a black hole, absorbing the light. It impacts all aspects of a business. It increases employee stress and illness. It causes good people to leave and those who stay behind often grind their way through each day at 50 percent capacity. It reduces the quality of customer interactions as well as the likelihood of retaining customers. Workplace culture issues are a constant leak of talent and productivity.

By contrast, a positive work culture is a beacon of light that radiates outward. Your business purpose is realized, over and over again, by a group of employees who are all in, working toward a common goal. Trust exists. Employee relationships are strong. Communication is effective. Retention is high.

Do you have an honest, recent assessment of the state of your workplace culture? If those were your employees sitting around that table in the airport, how would they be describing the culture of your offices?