I've worked at more than a few places in my professional life, and every culture has been different—from terrific to toxic. Remember the place where the espresso maker won employee of the month? Yep, that happened!
Before you have a tragic event like that at your office, open your eyes and ears for these signs that you need to give your culture a makeover.
1. Blank Walls. You might think that a lack of décor in your employees' workspaces indicates order and cleanliness. It may, but it more likely is a sign that you're not giving enough recognition. The cubicles of happy, engaged employees should be covered in notes, cards, and gestures of appreciation—from peers and managers, alike. You should also look for personal items, like photos or knickknacks. Lived-in workspaces tell you that the people occupying them like the neighborhood and plan to live there long term, not leave as quickly as they can pack up their handful of belongings.
2. Warm Seats. If everyone is at their desks, heads forward, fingers typing or mouse-clicking, they must be hard at work—and that's a good thing, right? Wrong-ish. When people move around and engage in small talk (or big talk), then you know real interaction is in place: people like each other, enjoy exchanging ideas, and feel energized by getting up and about. It also tells you that your employees feel comfortable chatting with one another and aren't wondering when a manager might come by and crack the whip. (FYI, existence of any sort of flogging device in the office should definitely be cause for alarm. ;))
3. Careful Whispers. At Baudville, if you came up on a group of people who quickly hushed or disbanded, it's more likely they were planning a surprise party for you than organizing a revolt. Gossiping, engaging in clique-like behaviors, and pot stirring are all examples of a culture gone awry. Realistically, nearly every workplace has at least one or two mischief-makers, but when the hooligans start outnumbering the do-gooders, it’s time to start investigating the root of the dissent.
4. Closed Doors. Managers and executives, by the nature of their work, need quiet and confidentiality from time to time—that's why they're often given workspaces with doors they can close when they need to. However, if you notice that your leaders are always locked away, you might need to stage an intervention. The most effective managers are open, available, and approachable. And, most importantly, they should be part of the team not apart from the team.
5. Empty Tables. Walk around at lunch time and what do you see? Is your cafeteria bustling? Is your break room buzzing? Are your employees pausing to spend some down time with one another? Strong cultures are built on strong interpersonal relationships and close bonds among team members. If your employees separate during break time like villagers fleeing from a natural disaster, well, you might just have a real culture catastrophe on your hands.
Do any (or more) of these describe your workplace scene? If so, it's time to take action. How? Try these ideas:
• See what the survey says. Download and distribute our Employee Engagement Survey. This is a great tool for gathering intel about your culture and can be used to identify the areas where you shine and those you need to improve.
• Start a day-to-day or peer recognition program—or both! Appreciation, encouragement, and acknowledgement make people happy and give your employees something to show off and be proud about. (And lots of cards and notes to decorate their cubes with!)
• Educate your managers. Too often, leaders are underprepared when taking on a role of greater responsibility and supervision. You can help them become more involved with their teams by sending them on a 30-Day Recognition Mission™. There are four to choose from for every level of manager or team leader.
• Make togetherness a priority. You can't force people to interact if they don't want to, but you can give your employees a better, easier opportunity to. Once a month or every other month, bring in a catered lunch for everyone in the company. This is a chance for executives, managers, and staff a reason to chat and get to know each other in a relaxed setting.
These are just some of the ways that we make Baudville a great place with a great culture—and they can work for you, too!
Allison is currently living out the elaborate fantasy she described to her now-former staff and colleagues in early 2001. With a hearty dose of courage and absolutely no plan of action, she abruptly left her middle-management job to become a writer—and today she is doing just that in her role as Baudville’s Senior Content Writer. She’s here to tell you everything she’s learned in her 20-years+ professional life, plus a lot more. She’s wordy like that!