Company culture impacts your employees’ happiness and thus your bottom line, and as this article points out, poor company culture leads to carelessness, neglect, sunken morale, and ultimately, a lack of growth. If that’s not motivation enough to take a long, hard look at your own practice—your business—I don’t know what is. To help facilitate this introspection, we’ve assembled some red flags to watch out for. Here are eight signs that your company culture isn’t up to snuff:

1. Gossip. According to Matt Ehrlichman, author of this Fast Company article, gossip undermines transparency and collaboration—two very key components in a culture that empowers happy, productive, and engaged employees. Instead, gossip breeds exclusivity, secrets, and negativity (remember those high school cliques?). Not only does this produce an immediate detriment to morale, but over time it’s also bad for business because employee relationships are no longer based on shared goals and accomplishments.

2. Bad Role Models. Employee see, employee do. So, if your leaders are demonstrating bad habits, it’s no wonder that your employees are, too. Take a look at the people at the top and work your way down to get an idea of how your practice’s culture is faring. And, according to Tim Kuppler, founder of The Culture Advantage and, keep especially close watch for “explosions,” which he describes as negative and critical outbursts from a leader that erode employee trust. Rodney Bliss, author of this article, refers to a person who demonstrates this type of behavior as a “hothead,” someone who makes decisions based on emotion and often “rules through intimidation and fear.”

3. Lazy Managers. Similar to number two above, lazy managers—those who aren’t willing to get into the trenches with their teams—pose a serious threat to your overall culture. As Ehrlichman says, “no number of free lunches” can remedy a situation where managers are removed from the “front lines and, by extension, your customers.” Along the same thread, Kuppler points out that managers who don’t communicate well or cultivate the space for two-way communication can actually breed fear within a company and seriously—even permanently—damage employee-manager relationships.

4. In-Fighting. Healthy competition can be a wonderful motivator, but when your employees spend their time competing against one another instead of working together, it can be a serious drain on your resources and their energy. It also breeds a serious lack of trust between coworkers, which can lead to all sorts of issues—like defensiveness (as Julie Rains, author of this article, points out), lying, and under-the-bus throwing—none of which bode well for a healthy culture.

5. All Work, No Play. Cohesive teams perform the best and enjoy work the most, but these bonds don’t develop overnight or without effort. That’s why it’s imperative to foster these relationships by incorporating play into the workday and considering cultural fit during the hiring process. Kevin Kuske, Chief Anthropologist and General Manager of the furniture company turnstone, travels the country studying company culture. In this article, he says: “If there is no evidence that people know how to have fun, or if it’s not acceptable to have fun, that’s a huge danger sign.”

6. Detached Employees. The companies renowned for their culture (Kuppler points to Zappos, Ritz Carlton, and The Container Store) have a few things in common—perhaps the most important being that their employees share an understanding of and belief in the company’s purpose. According to Ehrlichman, “the moment an employee stops believing in the company and taking pride in [his or her] job significance, your castle will fall.”

Furthermore, employees who are afraid to take risks or act themselves certainly won’t put their very best feet forward—and you’ll miss out on a wealth of new ideas, creativity, and passion. As Kuske says: “Everybody and the business will benefit by being able to be more comfortable in their own skin at work.”

7. Complaining Customers. It’s not just your employees who throw up red flags. As Rains points out, customer complaints can mean more than just problems with your product or service: “Customer responses to your company reflect their treatment by employees, particularly your front-line staff. Lots of complaints means that the caring culture you’ve tried to create has either not reached everyone or seems so contrived that customers are dissatisfied rather than delighted.”

8. Absent Families. If your employees’ significant others are suspiciously absent from company events, it may very well mean that they’re not too pleased with the way you’ve been treating their partners. According to Rain, “excessive time demands, poor working conditions, or the lack of opportunities for professional advancement” can all contribute to a “negative view of the company.”

If you recognize any of these red flags within your own practice, there’s definitely room for some cultural improvement. But that’s no reason to fret. Tomorrow, I’ll cover how to fix your culture if it feels broken. What other signs are indicative of a less-than-stellar company culture? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Want more information on how to observe these signs? Check out this article.

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