How to Recognize a Broken Culture and What to Do About It?

by Gabby Davis Dec 15,2023

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

Every organization thrives on a foundation of shared values, beliefs, and behaviors. When these elements become fractured or misaligned, a “broken culture” can emerge, leading to employee dissatisfaction, decreased productivity, and ultimately, organizational stagnation.

This blog serves as a guide to identifying the warning signs of a broken culture and equipping you with actionable strategies for repairing the damage and building a thriving work environment. We’ll explore the key characteristics of a toxic culture, provide practical methods for diagnosis, and offer effective solutions for restoration.

By uncovering the hidden cracks and implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you’ll be empowered to transform your company culture into a powerful force for employee engagement, success, and long-term sustainability.

What is a Broken Company Culture?

Unsatisfactory working conditions, rigid management styles, hasty hires, and inadequate leadership often act as roadblocks to organizational growth and success. These factors contribute to a “broken culture,” a toxic environment characterized by stalled initiatives, declining employee morale, and negative consumer feedback.

Unfortunately, a broken culture can quickly spiral out of control if left unchecked. Employees become dissatisfied and disengaged, eventually leading to increased turnover. Despite the significant impact on various aspects of the business, surprisingly few organizations actively discuss and address this issue.

The detrimental effects of a broken company culture include:
  • Limited Open Communication: Employees fear expressing genuine opinions and feedback, leading to a culture of conformity and missed opportunities for improvement.
  • Uninformed Decision-Making: Decisions are made without valuable employee insights, hindering innovation and adaptability.
  • A Culture of Blame and Shame: Mistakes are met with negativity and personal attacks, rather than constructive feedback and learning opportunities.
  • Excessive Workload and Burnout: Employees are expected to work long hours, leading to exhaustion, stress, and decreased productivity.
  • Transparency and Trust Deficit: Clear communication is lacking, fostering suspicion and distrust among employees and leadership.
Also read: How to foster a positive work environment and reduce anxiety?

How to Recognize a Broken Company Culture?

  • Frustrated employees because of a broken company cultureLack of Faith in the Company

The dynamics of worker, manager, and leader interactions can determine the level of trust within a company. Effective communication from leaders, including clear and concise communication of principles, goals, and major changes, empowers employees to make informed decisions and voice their opinions. Conversely, a lack of communication breeds mistrust and disengagement among employees. When employees are unaware of what is happening, they lose faith in the company’s decisions and overall culture.

  • Leadership Issues

While effective leadership is often easy to identify, ineffective leadership can be less apparent but can swiftly undermine culture. By examining the actions of your organization’s top executives and first-line managers, you may uncover issues with your workplace culture.

Frontline staff members view their leaders as role models for both positive and negative behavior. They also notice inconsistencies between leaders’ actions and the company’s values. Unaddressed inconsistent behaviors harm an organization’s reputation and employee engagement, contributing to a fractured culture.

  • Inability to Retain or Hire People

If employees continually quit and the company cannot retain replacements for a long time, it is one of the biggest indicators of a broken corporate culture. It can be difficult to overcome a company’s bad reputation for high personnel turnover. Moreover, job searchers may intentionally ignore your organization, making it more difficult to find new talent.

According to a Gallup study, employees engaged in work and office environments are 59% less likely to hunt for a new job in the coming year than their disengaged counterparts. Thus, if the business cannot fill the job openings or clocks in unqualified people just to fill gaps, it is a sign of a broken culture.

  • Frequent Absences

A negative workplace culture is evident in excessive late arrivals and absence rates. Employees’ tardiness should indicate their lack of motivation, laziness, or unwillingness to interact with others or work. Remote or flexible schedule employees may be an exception.

  • Lack of Communication

Lack of communication is a clear sign of a broken workplace environment. How information flows between teams or managers and direct reports can impact the company’s culture and financial performance. Ineffective communication among staff members can reduce productivity, hinder innovation, and foster an unfavorable work atmosphere, resulting in a broken culture.

How do you Fix a Broken Company Culture?

An unhealthy workplace culture harms employee satisfaction and business performance. Executing methods to improve or avoid a toxic workplace culture is essential. Managers must also be taught to spot issues and support a positive and productive work environment. Let’s explore how to fix a broken company culture.

  • Establish Role Clarity

A significant contributor to team or business conflict is often a lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities. Without clearly defined roles, it’s easy to overlook certain duties, goals, or activities. To address this, take the initiative to establish team goals and explicitly outline individual responsibilities. 

Bring the team together to discuss and break down overarching goals into manageable tasks, clearly designating who is responsible for each. Once roles are defined, encourage team members to maintain open communication, sharing progress and challenges. This proactive approach not only enhances organizational efficiency but also strengthens team dynamics, helping managers cultivate a more resilient and cohesive workplace culture.

  • Acknowledge Issues Honestly

In the realm of work, occasional errors are inevitable. Effective leaders approach these instances with authenticity, focusing on solutions rather than resorting to criticism or scapegoating. Assigning blame without seeking resolutions risks exacerbating the problem and undermining the team’s morale. 

Therefore, to correct a broken culture, management must acknowledge issues with the utmost sincerity and honesty. By doing so, leaders foster an environment where learning from mistakes is prioritized over assigning fault, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and resilience

Also read: 10 Ways To Demonstrate Leadership At Workplace
  • Create Procedures for Misconduct

Sexual harassment, racism, discrimination, and physical assault are serious violations, not just warning signs. The management should address these issues immediately. It is best to seek legal advice to ensure you adhere to local laws and create a policy with precise definitions. A strict, zero-tolerance policy should, thus, be established to guarantee a safe work environment where employees can speak up without the fear of retaliation.

Employees must know that the business will take all required actions and discreetly examine any problems. Workers could be reluctant to report inappropriate behavior if they feel the employer will resort to humiliation or unwarranted action against them.

  • Fix High Turnover and Low Retention

Your company’s high turnover rate may be because of a broken culture. You can employ some ways to fix it.

During exit interviews, question employees about why they chose to leave. Listen and understand what about the company culture irritated them and what elements they found challenging to give up.

Then, speak with staff members, especially those who have worked for the company for a long time, to learn what has kept them going. Consider conducting a survey on employee engagement and thoroughly examining the results. Take immediate action once you’ve identified what needs to be improved.

  • Promote Psychological Safety

Psychological safety encompasses fostering a workplace environment where employees can freely communicate, take risks, and learn from failures. Encouraging polite interactions among staff is a quick way to establish psychological safety.

One of the most common reasons for employees exhibiting poor behavior at work is the lack of consistent display of expected behavior from leaders. Therefore, leaders should lead by example and emulate the desired behavior for their teams to follow.

Also read: What is a High-Performance Culture?
  • Develop Your Leadership Abilities

To create a positive work environment, it is crucial for leadership to set an example of good behavior. Thus, ensure the management is engaged in the solution to make staff understand what is accepted and the culture you are promoting. You could discuss diversity and inclusion to educate team members about treating each other appropriately.

Additionally, leaders should focus on developing communication skills to foster openness and trust within the team. Teaching emotional intelligence skills enables individuals to identify and address harmful conduct in themselves and others, contributing to a safe work environment.

Summing Up

Cultivating a positive workplace culture is a gradual process that requires time, creativity, discipline, cooperation, and a genuine commitment to reshaping a toxic work atmosphere. Identifying specific cultural issues to address is a crucial first step, allowing you to initiate thoughtful plans that yield positive outcomes. 

Over time, as these initiatives take root, employees are more likely to enjoy positive work experiences, fostering a sense of loyalty and motivating them to consistently deliver their best efforts. The journey toward a positive workplace culture is an ongoing endeavor that, when undertaken with dedication and strategic intent, can yield lasting benefits for both employees and the organization as a whole.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does a broken culture affect businesses?

A broken culture in a business results in low morale, reduced productivity, high turnover, and hindered innovation. Communication breakdowns and trust issues impede collaboration, affecting organizational effectiveness. This damaged culture can also harm the employer brand, making it difficult to attract and retain top talent, ultimately impacting business success.

2. What are the signs of bad company culture?

Signs of a bad company culture include low employee morale, frequent turnover, a lack of clear communication, resistance to change, favoritism, and a toxic work environment. Poor collaboration, limited opportunities for professional growth, and a general lack of enthusiasm among employees are also indicators of an unhealthy company culture.

3. How to change a negative work culture?

To change a negative work culture, identify issues, encourage open communication, and involve the team. Implement initiatives like training and recognition programs, lead by example, and consistently reinforce new values. Patience and persistent commitment from leadership and the team are crucial for a successful transformation.

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Gabby Davis

Gabby Davis is the Lead Trainer for the US Division of the Customer Experience Team. She develops and implements processes and collaterals related to the client onboarding experience and guides clients across all tiers through the initial implementation of Engagedly as well as Mentoring Complete. She is passionate about delivering stellar client experiences and ensuring high adoption rates of the Engagedly product through engaging and impactful training and onboarding.

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