Weekly Wrap: How You Know You Have a Bad Corporate Culture

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In my book, company culture is one of those workplace factors that gets far too little attention.

Yes, lots of people talk about how important it is (and we write about it a lot here at TLNT), but really, how many organizations spend much time thinking about their corporate culture?

My guess: not enough.

But in the spirit of “you can learn a lot about how to do things right by observing when they’re done wrong,” I recently saw this article in Fast Company that made me stop and think.

The title? 6 Signs Your Company Culture Stinks.

Some signs of a bad culture

It’s hard to resist an article like that, especially if you have spent much time in a bad corporate culture (and really, who hasn’t these days?). What makes this article so irresistible is that it actually identifies some of the factors in an organization that are warning signs that perhaps the culture needs some work.

Here are a few of them to show you what I mean, but you really should dig into the Fast Company article if you want to get the full picture:

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  • Your leadership team has bad habits. “Your leadership is the best indicator of the entire organization and so employees’ bad tempers, sloppiness, lack of collaboration, and general attitude provide valuable insight into the health of the company.”
  • Your employees are competing — with each other. “Competition is great.  … What is not necessary is competing internally. You know you have a rotten culture when employees spend more time competing with each other than with external forces.”
  • Your managers’ hands are too clean. “When managers are not willing to get their hands dirty with the troops or do hard work … there are severe culture consequences …”
  • You don’t play together. “You have to work a lot together in a startup, often pushing through tough situations. These can actually shore up relationships, but only if they exist already. Companies that don’t make time for team building or relationship building outside the office inherently face talent retention risks.”

Is a strong culture only for start-ups?

Now, the Fast Company article is focused on culture in start-up companies — it notes that, “for most startups, the beliefs and behaviors that create ‘culture’ are being formed on Day One, often without conscious effort” — but the insights are applicable to any organization that wants to have a serious discussion about the corporate culture.

Companies that have a strong and lasting culture — and airlines like Southwest and JetBlue quickly jump to mind — started with a focus on building a great culture from the start, but other organizations like Google, Zappos, or any of the others on Fortune‘s annual Best Places to Work list show how you can slowly evolve into a great workplace culture over time.

I’ve worked at too many places with mediocre or outright bad corporate cultures, so I appreciate 6 Signs Your Company Culture Stinks more than most, but maybe you’ll find that applies to you too.

Here comes more enforcement of workplace regs

Of course, there’s more than signs of a bad company culture in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Leaning in too far on unpaid interns. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg gets a lot of positive press for her executive management role, as well as for her groundbreaking book titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, but her non-profit organization got some unwelcome media attention this week when it asked “someone to work apparently full-time for six months for free,” according to the San Jose Mercury News’ Silicon Beat tech blog. But, there is a silver-lining to this story. Silicon Beat now says that, “After some hemming and hawing and a row back that clarified nothing, Rachel Thomas, Lean In’s president, finally said clearly that the organization would pay interns, once it actually started hiring interns. … Brava. It’s the sort of response Lean In should have posted about two seconds after the first blog posts about the organization’s lean toward indentured servitude hit the Web.”
  • Get ready for more regulatory scrutiny from the Labor Department. An Associated Press story in The Washington Post this week called out what many managers and business executives have been fearing — “With Thomas Perez now confirmed as head of the Labor Department, the agency is expected to unleash a flurry of new regulations that have been bottled up for months — a prospect that has business leaders worried and labor advocates cheering.”
  • Workers getting more vacation, but fewer sick days. New statistics this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that American workers “get more vacation time today than they did two decades ago, but far fewer paid sick days,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The average full-time worker at a private company gets 10 days of vacation a year, up from eight days in 1993,” the newspaper says. “However, the boost in paid vacations is being more than offset by a pronounced reduction in paid sick days off. For the average full-timer who’s been at his or her company for a year, paid sick time has dropped to eight days from 10 days in 1993, according to the BLS. That’s the exact reverse of the increase in vacation.”
  • Looking for a little humor in the workplace. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that humor in the office is a good thing to have but hard to make happen, but The Wall Street Journal seems to have just discovered this fact in a story titled Secrets of Office Humor. Here’s the gist of it, according to the WSJ, and see if you’re surprised: “Employers like to hire people with a sense of humor, research shows. And mixing laughter and fun into a company culture can attract skilled workers … But the office can be a comedic minefield. Making colleagues laugh takes timing, self-confidence—and the ability to rebound from a blooper.”
  • Millennials won’t follow corporate travel policies. Younger workers don’t like corporate travel policies, or maybe they’re just less willing to put up with them than their older cohorts are. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “Kids today! Won’t use the corporate travel policy, want to choose their own rental car company, no respect for “compliance” or “mandates”—and that is a real problem, says Alicia Tillman, vice president of marketing and business services for American Express Global Business Travel. More than half of hotel reservations for business travel are made outside a company-designated booking channel, according to Concur Technologies, a large supplier of corporate travel software. Can you believe?”
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John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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