Changing a Toxic Company Culture: 3 Strategies to Repair Your Workplace

JULIAN LUTE

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Metro Manila (NCR), as well as other provinces and cities in the Philippines, are once again on Community Quarantine, or plainly put lockdown – only in differing levels of “enhancements”. Whether MECQ as we were last year, or ECQ as we are this year, the challenges in workplaces remained if not evolved into something more than skin deep. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) tries to assist workplaces in transitioning to a sense of normalcy by enacting guidelines and introducing protocols for businesses and employers, but some Filipino business leaders remain challenged with the negativity surrounding policies on lockdown and remote work situation, including the rising challenges in Filipino employees’ mental health.

Understandably, challenges in communication and the lack of face time interaction among co-workers in various PH firms may have contributed to these.

But did you know that toxic cultures, even in lockdown situations that we have been in back and forth, need not last forever and in fact can be fixed? Here in this article, we give a glimpse of actual scenarios on how these simple strategies can start repairing your workplace culture.

Can you cure a toxic work culture?

In short: Yes, you can. But it’s going to take hard work and consistency.

How do you know if your culture is toxic? Your people will tell you. Here are some things to look out for: Deadlines regularly slip, employee turnover is high, the rumor mill is active, people openly complain about the company and you always plan to have a “meeting after the meeting.”

Our research suggests that there is an emerging issue on perceptions around impartiality among Philippine workplaces, including perceptions around managers playing favorites or politicking to get things done. These are toxic workplace culture characteristics, which may have been present even before the pandemic, but were greatly amplified by the current remote working set-up.

Our research also suggests that workplaces which are thriving in difficult scenarios, much like the Philippines Best Workplaces, did not achieve this overnight. They have prioritized and put a premium on their workplace culture, which prepared them to transition to the challenges of this new normal.

To be fair, every culture is a work in progress and continuously evolving. What separates a toxic culture from one that is experiencing growing pains is the consistency of the negative aspects and the relative nonintervention to correct the issues.

In toxic cultures, information is not shared, people do not feel emotionally and psychologically safe, and ultimately, the business suffers. Rebuilding trust is possible. Steady, consistent focus in the right places, will help you gain traction in support of your efforts to be better.

Here’s what to focus on first when changing a toxic company culture.

How to fix a toxic workplace environment

1. Accept accountability

One of the first steps is for executive leaders to hold themselves fully accountable for the current state of the culture and the experience of employees.

Leaders must transparently describe how the current-state culture negatively impacts customers, employees, and the overall business. They also must start to describe a future state and how people acting in new ways will ultimately benefit those same groups.

I spent time working with leaders in a family-owned manufacturing business who recognized their problem, but were hesitant to accept responsibility for what was a toxic culture more than 3 years in the making.

First, they placed blame on the line managers, then the regional leaders, but when they dug deep into the employee survey comments, they began to accept that their managers were simply carrying out the senior leaders directives.

Mantras that seemed innocuous at first glance, like “I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done,” sowed the roots of favoritism, inequality, and unnecessary risk taking – the very symptoms their people were experiencing.

“Employees don’t create the mess, and middle managers can’t fix it. Own the problem and commit to doing the right thing”

2. Do what you say you’re going to do

And if you’re not committed to doing it, don’t say it. This is not the time to make big promises. It’s a time to return to the basics of credibility, respect and fairness.

Rebuilding trust is all about consistency, and that shows up most observably in your actions. All leaders have to understand that they will be operating under a microscope with their actions being evaluated and people waiting for a return to “business as usual.” They are also waiting for signals that you are changing.

Most frequently, companies realign their actions around their purpose. Maybe it’s a return to your values, or working on a new set. In any case, you must find something and commit to it.

“Rebuilding trust is all about consistency, and that shows up most observably in your actions.”

An executive at a rapid scaling telecom company admitted that the leadership team became hyper-focused on securing funding and delivering the product, so over the course of 18 to 24 months, they unwittingly replaced their values with a “whatever it takes, get it done” ethos and people followed suit.

This led to leaders undermining their credibility, treating people as pawns, and clearly unfair treatment for employees and teams.

3. Commit to Communication

Communication is always key in any transformation, but when you’re rebuilding trust in a toxic culture, transparent communication is the right place to focus. Transparency engenders trust, particularly transparency around where you are making progress and where you are falling short.

Sharing how you made decisions is an excellent way to demonstrate your commitment to a new way of doing things.

One multinational hospitality company I worked with reframed their culture change around the shift worker experience, asking, “How will this decision positively impact shift employees’ workplace experience?

“Sharing how you made decisions is an excellent way to demonstrate your commitment to a new way of doing things.”

And when decisions didn’t align to the experience they wanted to create for those workers, they didn’t do it, even if they would have typically done it, or it made financial sense. It was a clear departure from their typical “the guest comes first” mantra.

This is where your middle and frontline leaders can get involved. Activate your leaders by asking them to share how they are making decisions and how they are being more transparent than before, giving more information and more context to their people. When executives consistently articulate the how and why behind decisions, you invite people into the process of reshaping the culture.

It’s not too late to fix your company culture

If done consistently, these three things will give you the firm foundation you need to rebuild trust. For guidance on where to begin, take this example from Great Place to Work-Certified™ and two-time Philippines Best Workplace List-maker, Ingram Micro, who improved their culture by listening to their people, taking accountability and being transparent. Let us help you get the employee experience insights that can help you transform your company’s culture with our survey and employee engagement tool.

JULIAN LUTE

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees