Has Bad Culture Got You Down?

Yes. This will be another post about the importance of culture (because it’s important!). However, this time I’m going to write about the flip-side. Normally, I spend time talking about the importance of good culture, mainly because it has a lot of business benefits. On the other hand, it is also important to educate people on bad culture and the negative effects it can have on your workforce and company as a whole. Thankfully, a few individuals took the time to speak to me about their bad company culture experience and those conversations have allowed me to compile some key points.

What can bad culture mean for your business? Read on:

  • Lack of productivity and quality of work: if your workers are unhappy, their work will suffer. Bad culture can reduce morale, which could reduce motivation. Reduction in motivation means productivity will slow down or even come to a standstill.
  • “Poison to the well”: negative employee experiences and emotions can spread fast like an aggressive infection. If an employee is dealing with the effects of bad culture, they could start to spread the word to others about their experience. This could result in current and new employees to start to have these perspectives. At that point, your staff is compromised.
  • Lack of dedication and commitment: if your employees feel like they can’t trust the company, then don’t expect them to stick around or to work like they will be there in the long-term. Their minds are most likely thinking about where they’re going to apply to next or how much they dread being there.
  • Lack of commitment means high absenteeism and turnover: what do you do if you dread going to work one day? Most people take a “sick day”. What do you do if you dread going to work EVERY day? Take as many “sick days” as you can (at least, that’s what the individuals in a bad culture had told me). Additionally, turn over will be high and most people will want to get out of that situation as fast as they can that they may not even give a proper two weeks notice. That means you’re down an employee and you have no one even in the pipeline to potentially back-fill that spot.
  • Your employer brand will suffer: your employer brand is everything in terms of attracting quality talent. If you aren’t attracting super-star candidates to your company, you will be left with the average-Joes. Slap the average employees into your workforce and your products/service quality will be negatively affected which means that you could start losing clients to a competitor that does it better.

The above points are every human resources professional’s nightmare. More importantly, it is extremely hard for a company to bounce back after it gets to that point and some maybe never will. It’s important to notice the early signs of a culture going bad to ensure you can turn it around early on. Otherwise, this may be an uphill battle a company may never win.

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Is Workplace Bullying Affecting your Performance?

Today’s topic references a discussion that I had posted to the LinkedIn:HR group a few months ago. The discussion asked HR professionals and employees to contribute stories of workplace bullying and also offer suggestions on how they have or would have handled it. The amount of feedback I’ve received is astounding and made me feel that it is a good subject to bring to light. This was especially true when I learned that some employees kept quiet about hostile situations that they were in. I originally chose HR as a degree because I wanted to be able to protect my employees. Hopefully, this information can bring a sense of awareness to victimized employees and help them learn what they can do to remedy this scenario.

First, I’m going to start this off with an example of workplace bullying that happened to a friend. I felt this was appropriate because a decent amount of individuals had similar stories:

My friend, Anna*, was recently working for a well known employer that had a great reputation. However, there was poor management at this particular branch. Over a course of a year, Anna would come to me extremely upset about things her manager had said to her. These things would range from criticizing her looks, talking down to her, inappropriately yelling at her (even outside of the office), and making offensive comments about her competency. I’ve worked with Anna before, so I was well aware that she was a respectable employee, a fast learner, and a self-starter. I urged Anna to talk to the Human Resources department about the hostile work environment, but she brushed it off saying she was being an emotional woman and didn’t want to rock the boat for no reason.

Within the first few months of her employment there, I started to see the bullying take a toll on her work performance and her personal life. These negative effects are also common in most cases of bullying and harassment:

• She had heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
• Insomnia from the stress ended up lowering her immune system, causing her to get sick often.
• She was absent more than normal.
• She lowered her productivity to avoid being publicly criticized in a hostile way.
• Her self-esteem hit an all time low which led to depression.
• Her husband found her to be inconsolable, which caused strain on their relationship.

After a year of this, she finally contacted the human resources department about this situation. She soon found out that several other employees were also being affected by this but were scared of losing their jobs, so they did not speak up. The HR professional stressed that Anna should have come to him sooner because they take this very seriously. Although the problem was taken care of soon after, the damage was already done. Anna and several other employees promptly left the company because they did not believe that the solution to fix the hostility issue would be permanent and did not want to deal with it if it wasn’t.

Anna’s case seemed to be very common. However, individuals also informed me of extreme cases in which the bullying led to depression that sometimes resulted in suicide. Besides the frequent or extreme cases of workplace bullying, there are also more subtle circumstances. Some examples of these are: constant criticism; regular referencing of an employee’s mistakes (especially in front of others, causing embarrassment); gossip; and even isolation.

Another important fact to keep in mind: workplace bullying also affects other employees besides the targeted individual. Because of this, workplace morale can be lowered by each situation co-workers witness. Lower morale can hinder productivity from these employees. If it isn’t handled, this can also lead to lack of trust in higher level of management. Employees could feel like their well-being is threatened. These feelings could result in high turnover.

Different HR professionals informed me of multiple ways they bring awareness to workplace bullying:

• Training for all levels employees on the subject.
• An online class that ends with a test to determine how well the employees understand.
• Emphasis on a bullying policy that is separate from their harassment policy.
• Partnership with an anonymous hot-line in which employees could call if they don’t feel comfortable directly speaking to a manager.

Employees must realize that if a manager isn’t stepping in to resolve this, it may be because they aren’t aware that it’s occurring. If you are an employee and feel like you are being bullied, be sure to keep a record of the incidences and speak to your manager or HR department as soon as possible. Your mental, physical, and emotional well-being is important. I am confident that your employer would want to keep you as healthy and happy as possible.

*Name changed for privacy.

Links with additional information on the topic:
Bullying Statistics
Forbes- 10 Signs You’re Being Bullied at Work
Forbes- Examples of Workplace Bullying