Is your startup suffering from toxic work culture? Find out and fix it!

- Worker Happiness

by Julia Gain

What is work culture and why is it important?

Work culture is your workplace’s personality. It consists in all the values, traditions, attitudes, mindsets and interactions that make your workplace unique. You might think that work culture is natural but it’s quite the opposite: you define the work culture you want to create! Leadership and management are key and have a huge impact on your workplace environment. Positive work culture boosts well-being, happiness and performance. It also attracts – and keeps – talented people on the team.

Why are startups more likely to suffer from toxic work culture?

A startup is more likely to suffer from toxic work culture than other types of companies, because of its very nature and purpose. Constantly looking for investors creates pressure to be productive and grow fast while also causing disorganization. This high pressure environment makes management more challenging because of the speed of recruitments and the need for performance. If not correctly thought through, your startup’s work culture can become toxic fast. Toxic work culture is synonymous with an unhealthy work environment, where employees suffer from stress, are less motivated and don’t communicate as well. In the long run, this can affect health and productivity.

Is your work culture toxic?

Toxic work culture can be avoided and fixed. The first step to shaping your work culture into a positive one is having an honest look at your work environment.

Here are a few signs your work culture might be toxic:

  • You’re the only one talking: Do people communicate together, both in a professional and casual way? Is your team communicating with you? If the only communication going on is you to your team, there’s a problem. Communication should be fluid on all levels. People should be talking together in order to have good relationships and be more productive. They should also feel free to talk to you.
  • There’s high turnover: Are people coming and going? Do new employees only stay a short amount of time? Is your team constantly changing? One out of five people having left their job in the last five years did it because of culture. High turnover also means people are using a large amount of energy in order to constantly adapt, rather than learning how to work together.
  • There’s a lot of confusion: Communication is key, but spending a long time deciding who does what isn’t. Confusion and uncertainty lead to stress and are therefore alert signals concerning toxic work culture.
  • People only say yes: Fear is definitely something you have to avoid if you want to build a healthy and productive work environment. Saying yes shows a pro-active and enthusiastic personality, which is important for a thriving workplace. But, no one thinks – and says – yes all the time. If they are, they might not be respecting their boundaries because they’re afraid of negative repercussions. In the long run, this leads to stress and impacts performance.
  • Fear of failure: Fear of failure hinders innovation and creativity. If people around you aren’t taking initiative, coming forward with new ideas or taking risks, they might be afraid of failing. This is a problem for productivity because failing is part of success. If no one is failing, work culture could be responsible and you are definitely missing out on innovative ideas.

5 steps to implementing a positive work culture:

As Marissa Mayer, former president and CEO of Yahoo, says:

“It’s about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment & helping to find a way to innovate”

Here’s how to get there:

#1: Define the job: Sometimes, we’re so focused on the long-term goal that we forget to define clear steps to get there. This includes people and skills. To avoid confusion – especially if you are growing fast – the tasks and responsibilities of each job need to be as clear as possible.

#2: Value professional skills: Professional skills refer to specific knowledge and experience, like writing or programming, as opposed to soft skills, which are all close to personality traits, like optimism or empathy. Both of these skills are important to ensuring a motivating and productive workplace, but we tend to forget the professional skills. This contributes to confusion as well as stress and less motivation. Always give specific feedback on professional skills. This leads us to something else you should be doing.

#3: Give feedback: Work culture is all about attitudes and interactions. It’s your job to create positive interactions leading to personal growth and improvement. Giving feedback to your team is essential to define the positive work culture your workplace needs.

#4: Learn how to listen: As we said, communication needs to be fluid, not just top down. People need to feel safe talking about new ideas. This requires more than just asking. It means actually proving you can listen and taking what people say into account. People believe what they see. As well as encouraging a positive and creative environment, your company will benefit from innovative new ideas.

#5: Build your company’s work culture as a team: Building work culture is an on going and evolving process in which different people are brought together around shared values. Actually creating spaces and moments to discuss these values will make people feel they belong and lead to a motivating work culture.

Photo credit Luca Bravo via Unsplash

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