Three signs your workplace culture is hurting you, and what you can do about it

Two drama masks of happy and sad with words imprinted on the masks

When everyone is aligned and on the same page that feels great emotionally, mentally and physically. Is that the case with you and your organization? If it is great. This article may not be for you. If not read on. Here are three signs that that there may be issues and three ideas of what you might want to do as a result.

Three signs you have a problem

Here are three signs that you very well may have a problem with your workplace culture.

  • High turnover
  • Office drama and leadership cliques
  • Fear based culture and not following core values

Now let’s briefly look at each.

High turnover

If a lot of people are leaving and you are constantly hiring to fill positions, you may want to look into this and ask why? Think of the time and money spent recruiting, hiring, training and retaining people. With high turnover think of the impact on the rest of the workforce as well as the new hires.

Developing a team takes time. People have to get to know each other and to trust each other to work effectively and collaborate.

If the team keeps changing this raises other issues. It is hard to gel and align with a continuous change in players. This should be a sign to upper management that something is wrong, but sometimes high performance overall can cloud upper management from exploring underlying problems in a unit.

As is often stated, people don’t leave employers they leave poor bosses. This may very well be a sign of a poor boss in a specific position that needs help and training to remain in that position. If you are above the manager take note. If you are a peer with the manager consider mentoring. If you work for the manager consider your options at the end of this commentary.

Office drama and leadership cliques

When people come together at work there is always an element of drama in the office. Constructive drama is healthy. Having fun with one another, laughing, relating to one another are all signs of positive office drama.

Negative office drama is no fun.

On a recent business trip checking out of a very nice, nationally recognized chain I asked the front desk person if she was coming off the night shift or just starting. She indicated she was almost done with the night shift. I asked if that was hard. She told me “no, I prefer the night shift, there is far less drama with my boss or other employees. There is a lot of drama in the hotel business.”. I have no idea, but this was the unsolicited comment that hits home with this commentary. It was totally unsolicited. It might be worthwhile to explore not only your perspective, but those of others to assess what they think too. Think of it as a reality check.

You know how cliques work. If you are in the “in crowd” it feels good to you and possibly for the rest of the group. What about those not in the group?

What if you are not in the in crowd, or your boss is not in the in crowd. That does not feel very good does it?

Having been a manager and not in the leadership clique at one point in my career, I can tell you it was very frustrating. This meant everything from not being invited to coffee or lunch to not being informed of various elements that could help in the development of my career or of that of my employees. The advice I received having raised this to my second level manager at the time was to “figure it out.”. I did not find that advice to be particularly helpful. I eventually took steps to address the situation and it did work out. I took on a different position in the organization.

Fear based culture and not following core values

In a fear based culture decisions are made not because of loyalty to the firm or other employees, not to help the organization going forward, but out of fear for what may happen if you don’t do what you are suppose to do.

This type of approach has a negative impact on mental and physical health, time, money, and energy.

 It can really take its toil on the employees, and correspondingly on customer satisfaction, employees satisfaction, and business results. In short this simply is not healthy.

What are the core values of your firm? Do you know them? Are they posted? How about your own? If you don’t know here is a list of core values that may help you. According to Gallup over 90% of managers think they are good communicators, but only 30% of employees believe that to be true. From a similar perspective, often leadership believes that employees are aligned with core values, but when leadership does not walk the walk and only talks the talk, this can cause real problems.

Given one or more of these workplace culture issues that may be hurting you, your group or your firm what can you do about it?

What can you do about it?

You essentially have three choices and all three take courage. These are: have courage to challenge, have courage to follow, and have courage to leave.

Courage to challenge

Courage to challenge requires diplomacy, understanding and care. For example, if you were to challenge your boss you need to consider a host of elements. When is the right time? Where is the right place? What might I want to say? How should I approach this situation? You may want to discuss this with others to help you sort this all out. When the leader seems closed to feedback you may want to consider phrases such as

“I have something to tell you that you may not want to hear, but this is why I think you need to hear it.”

Do this only when you have the leader’s attention and the leader is open to this.

Courage to follow

If you believe things will change for the better and you have a great manager and overall leader, then join the band wagon and continue on. Perhaps this was the way it was and in the future things look much brighter. If that is the case, hang in there. Be the change and make a difference with this positive changing environment. This takes courage to participate in the transformation and to adapt to the new ways of doing business.

Courage to leave

Often when in a difficult situation, it is hard to think about change. However, for your own personal well being both mentally and physically explore your options and consider leaving. Don’t burn bridges. Make sure you have a plan. Begin networking with others and consider all of your options. Do you want to return to education, enhance your technical skills, take other courses, begin exploring other employers, start a business, or consider a different career? Take some time, but then take action. It is better to leave a bad relationship than to stay somewhere that is constantly draining your energy.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]