negative coworkers talking behind female coworker back

What impression would your workplace give to a newly hired team member? What would they notice the first time they walked through the front door or sat at their desk?

The workplace culture is the organization’s character or personality. The culture is conveyed and shown through the collective attitudes, behaviors, systems, and values. An organization or workplace can have a positive culture, shown by high productivity, collaboration, and retention, or a negative culture. Absenteeism, turnover, low productivity, client churn, workplace conflict are just a few signs of poor workplace culture.

If your organization is facing all or some of these tribulations, leaders and team members alike must work to change a negative workplace culture into one that can be positive and productive. But what does that entail? Each organization is different and unique, yet there must be somewhere to start.

Here are six actionable and customizable suggestions for achieving a positive workplace culture that you can start implementing today.

What Is a Negative Workplace Culture?

A negative workplace culture is a business environment where certain practices and values lead to lack of teamwork, communication, and productivity. The negative culture affects the organization’s productivity as well as the wellbeing of team members and the overall retainment of talent.

The cause of the negative culture will vary between organizations and companies, but MIT Sloan Management Review reports there are three common factors to a declining culture:

  1. Lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion
  2. Lack of respect shown to staff members
  3. Unethical practices/behavior

It is essential to address these problems sooner rather than later in order to mitigate the lasting effects of the negative culture. Negative workplace culture can weaken an organization’s reputation and retention—staff members are 10.4 times more likely to quit due to toxic workplace culture than low pay.

6 Actionable Suggestions to Change Negative Workplace Culture

Negative workplace culture brings unnecessary stress, burnout, and mental health issues. Support and help your workforce by implementing these six suggestions and beginning to change your culture.

1. Receive Feedback from Workforce Members

Work culture encompasses the collective attitude, beliefs, and behaviors in the workplace. Therefore, gaining feedback from staff members is key to shifting culture in the right direction. Team members lie at the heart of the business and are the people who experience the repercussions of a poor workplace culture firsthand.

Take time to conduct anonymous surveys and individual discussions to root out issues that have been contributing to the negative culture. Consider asking the following questions:

  • What elements of the current culture are causing a decline in productivity, high turnover, and/or high absenteeism?
  • What is the “last straw” compelling team members to leave?
  • What specific behaviors or practices are going against business values?

As you have these discussions, note any common themes that surface. These notes will help you understand where your current culture stands and how it needs to change.

2. Define Where You Want to Be

What is the culture and values you want your organization to embody? Because the culture is built on the organization’s values and behaviors, defining what values you want the organization to stand for will give your organization the foundation for a positive culture. Consider the well-being of individuals, such as their work-life balance, growth opportunities, and job satisfaction.

Here are a few examples of values for the workplace:

  • Accountability: Individuals feel comfortable taking credit for their successes and mistakes.
  • Expression: Individuals can comfortably express their feelings, ideas, and interests at work.
  • Equity: Team members feel they are treated equally and provide value to the organization.
  • Recognition: Team members’ efforts do not go unnoticed; they are recognized and appreciated for their hard work.

Implement the discussion points from #1 to outline specific values with notes on why they are important to the people and organization. Fleshing out the purpose or need will help ensure your new culture is focusing where the organization needs it to.

3. Map Out Action Items

Once you have crafted a clear definition of your new workplace culture, it’s time to map out specific action items to fulfill that definition. Consider having team members participate in this process because the more staff members have a say in the upcoming new culture, the more successful it will be. Again, building a work culture entails bringing together collective ideas.

Here are examples of action items companies have established to drive their culture:

  • Google: Innovation is a large part of Google’s work culture. One tactic the tech giant uses to achieve innovation is encouraging workforce members to:
    • Experiment and be creative in their work approach
    • Stay focused on learning and development, allowing for greater mobility and less turnover
    • Practice transparent communication
  • Microsoft: The tech company is implementing a transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. A vital part of this growth mindset is collaboration—Microsoft asks team members to:
    • Be customer-focused
      Focus on learning and coaching.
  • These culture shifts contributed to lasting outcomes:
    • Profits exploded during the pandemic
      95% of Microsoft workforce members feel proud to work at the company.
  • Patagonia: The outdoor apparel company is committed to providing work-life balance and promoting sustainability and outdoor life. Eighty-eight percent of their workforce is satisfied with Patagonia’s actions to be a mission-driven business.
  • The company:
    • Hires individuals who are committed to environmentalism via volunteer activities or past experience
      Offers flexibility even in the middle of the day to enjoy the outdoors (“Let My People Go Surfing” policy)
      Provides three onsite childcare centers

coworkers giving feedback

4. Place Strong Leaders at the Frontline

Company leadership establishes the tone for workplace culture through politics, benefits, and company objectives. Leaders also shape the culture from the hiring phase throughout their tenure with the organization.

Thus, it’s essential to have the right key players in place. Identify your strongest leaders and elevate potential leaders at your organization. These are individuals who:

  • Carry a positive reputation at the company
  • Actively lead by example
  • Are skilled at adjusting their behaviors to stay aligned with objectives
  • Are confident in providing and receiving feedback

5. Implement Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures offer the necessary framework to ensure consistency in the new workplace culture. Without them, workforce members may not understand what exact behaviors to embody or what decisions they need to make to uphold positive workplace values.

Use your selected leaders to drive these policies and procedures. Consider initiating a training session to teach leaders how to:

  • Plan an effective strategy that educates team members on new policies and procedures.
  • Establish team cohesion to inspire staff members to achieve a set of common goals.
  • Handle issues proactively if they arise.
  • Reinforce good behavior and values.

6. Leave Room for Feedback and Improvement

You won’t get it right the first time because this will be a process. Change takes time and continuous feedback.

Set up check-ins with leaders and team members to discuss how the new policies and procedures are going and what improvements can be made. Consider conducting weekly or monthly check-ins.

Keep these notes in mind as your team navigates the feedback process:

  • According to Gallup, a meaningful and approachable way to give feedback is quickly and frequently. Also referred to as “fast feedback” or “real-time feedback”, this approach allows the receiver to walk away knowing precisely what and how to improve. To help initiate this process, ask for feedback frequently until staff members feel comfortable approaching leadership independently. Read about real-time feedback in the workplace.
  • Consider asking staff members for examples when providing new ideas on workplace culture. Having concrete examples allows you to become a better listener and understand exactly what needs to be changed.
  • Work on your emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ enables you not only to manage your own emotions but also to be sensitive to the emotions of others. Rather than reacting, those with high EQ are equipped to offer responses that combine emotion and logic, helping them navigate through tense situations well.

Strengthen Your Culture and Build Trust with CMOE

At CMOE, we are committed to helping businesses survive and thrive amid any challenge. Our Organizational Effectiveness Services offer applicable workshops to help you get your work culture where it needs to be.

Contact us for more information today!

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About the Author
CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.

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