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Three signs that your company’s culture ain’t right

Not all companies are a joy to work for, and some have positively poisonous atmospheres. Here are three signs that your company is a rotten place to work. But it is not all bad news, we also describe how to create happy, and healthy workplaces.

1. Presenteeism

Steve Thompson, managing director at Forward Role Recruitment, says: "Presenteeism is dangerous because it's quiet. When employees feel disengaged or overwhelmed, a few might speak out, but many won't. Shyness might be a factor in this reluctance to speak up, but in our experience, it's most often a cultural problem: businesses that don't encourage employees to be honest and open suffer from presenteeism far more than those businesses that do. A practical way that businesses can help themselves is by sending out regular staff surveys and having managers schedule regular one-to-ones with employees to discuss not just their development, but also their current frustrations.

“Employers should also encourage their staff to take time off. Hard-working employees might be notorious for not taking all of their holidays, but that break away from the office is important in helping them recharge and realign their perspective. Equally, many employees come to work regardless of whether they are sick or not, which leads to two problems. Firstly, the lack of rest prolongs the sickness, prolonging the impact on individual productivity. Secondly, it tells your other employees that they should come into the office if they're ill too, perpetuating that cycle of presenteeism until it does irreversible damage to your business.

“Whilst businesses might be reluctant to have staff out of the office, disengaged staff in the office do far more damage in the long term. Some businesses need to readjust how they think about productivity to get out of that ‘clocking-in’ mindset and take employee wellbeing more seriously."  

2. No trust  

Ilonka Waterdrinker, founder of agency Well PR, says: “It’s baffling how many agencies still struggle to create healthy company cultures in which people thrive. Like so many others, I have worked in environments that were less than ideal (ok, rotten).

“The real problem was often a lack of trust that started at the top of the organisation and trickled down to junior levels. This is when people start micro-managing their subordinates, reprimand them for getting things wrong, or only entrust them with relatively low-value work in comparison to their job level.

“It keeps people ‘small’ as they stop taking decisions that will allow them to grow as a PRO. When people start taking pre-emptive action to cover their backsides (just in case), team dynamics and client work inevitably suffer.

“Luckily, I have also worked with amazing agencies and people who ‘get it’. They are the ones who give their teams the tools and skills needed to succeed and learn from mistakes, rather than look for scapegoats. In short, they trust (that word again!) them to deliver what is needed.”

3. Lack of transparency

Edward Staite, communications adviser and performance coach at Staite Communications, says: “Working as a communications coach to CEOs and future leaders, it soon becomes clear when there is a disconnect between those at the top and those striving to climb the corporate ladder. The best businesses today increasingly have transparency and a shared sense of purpose imbedded in their cultures.

“This means passing information down such as company strategy and company performance, but also sharing constructive criticism on a day-to-day basis rather than merely at annual review time. This then acts as the foundation for a performance culture to develop where everyone is working to be the best they can be, and working toward a shared purpose, rather than competing with their colleagues and playing office politics.”

Create a healthy workplace  

Below one company describes how it nurtures a happy workforce, whilst a research study finds that simple working environments are fair less stressful to work in.  

Focus on the individual

Greg Jones, creative director at agency Mischief PR, explains his agency philosophy that helps employee wellbeing: “We recognise that the people who work here are multifaceted individuals whose desire to deliver great work is part of a wider need to lead a fulfilled and happy life. So with that in mind in 2016 we introduced a philosophy which takes a holistic look at what drives and motivates our staff, focusing on them as unique individuals and not just their output as employees. Using an online platform, all employees look at the things that are important to them in and out of work – such as health and exercise, family, fun, work relationships, money – and score how happy they are in those areas, alongside a target score. Each line manager then makes time to sit down on a one-to-one basis with each of those they manage to review the scores and work out a plan to improve the lower scores and maintain the higher ones.

“Since we introduced this we have seen the three key metrics relating to employee wellbeing increase significantly. The average score for employees answering the question ‘how capable do you feel to manage stress?’ has risen by 18%. The average score for ‘how confident are you?’ has risen by 11%. And the average score for ‘how happy are you?’ has risen by 8%.”


Keep it simple!

Liana Dinghile, executive strategy and development director, EMEA at global brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale, outlines research that emphasises the power of simplicity: “Unicorn brands have taught us about the transformative power of a strong workplace culture – think Spotify, Slack and Ace & Tate. What do these successful disrupter brands have in common? They eliminate pain points in everyday processes and simplify existing experiences to drive better outcomes for customers. They also focus on empowering their workforce to reimagine experiences. An engaged workforce who clearly understand a company’s mission and are motivated by it to deliver better results for customers.

“Our research shows the transformative power of using simplicity as a driver to boost employee engagement. Employees are the backbone of a brand so building company culture through creating simple experiences at work is critical. Our study shows organisations who invest in simplifying workplace processes benefit from greater trust, advocacy, innovation and retention amongst employees.

“How can brands simplify to boost employee engagement? Transparency is key. Organisations that communicate clearly from the top about their purpose, values and business goals tend to be simpler. In communications agencies, where accuracy and timeliness are critical – transparency fosters an open culture with clear direction on how to drive results for clients.

“Simplicity also drives innovation. In a professional services industry, such as PR creativity gives agencies a competitive edge. In simple organisations, 54% of employees find it easier to innovate.

“Our Simplicity at Work study found that 30% of employees find their workplace complex and difficult to navigate. This represents an opportunity for companies to focus on making it easier and more rewarding for employees to deliver exemplary customer experiences.” 

So it isn’t difficult to create a workplace where people feel empowered rather than embittered. In fact it should be rather simple…

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