HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

Is your company culture toxic?

Ignoring the signs that your workplace culture may be turning negative can have everlasting damaging effects, so what can you do to prevent it?
Is your company culture toxic?

Is your company culture toxic?

Ignoring the signs that your workplace culture may be turning negative can have everlasting damaging effects, so what can you do to prevent it?

Culture noun cul·ture | \ ˈkəl-chər the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time

 

Toxic work cultures, stories of abusive bosses and bullying colleagues always get the media’s attention. Whether its Culture Trip’s CEO, who recently faced scrutiny after former employees revealed details about his unpredictable nature, or revelations about what working life at Badoo, the majority owner of dating app Bumble, where employees were allegedly subject to weight discrimination and customers judged on their ethnic profile, it seemingly always ends up as a headline.

 

 

Ensure your leaders are able to narrate the culture and bring it to life for colleagues

Yet toxicity, despite the risk to the employer and consumer brand, still persists - and at every level. For every headline-making story regards Uber, Google, and Pixar there will be countless others – small businesses with a less public brand presence – where unfair, unsafe, unethical and potentially illegal practises continue.

However, a recent CV-Library survey found that 40% of employees believe a positive working culture is the most important thing their employer can provide. In addition, almost half claim that having friendly colleagues is a top priority. Without even considering the business impact, it shows the companies with good cultures are where the talent wants to head – making this an important HR issue. Yet, if you have a toxic culture, how can it be fixed?

 

 

Be self-critical

Realising that you may have a toxic company culture, and then ignoring the issue, can have damaging effects for both the business and its employees. Staff turnover may increase, morale may dwindle and profits will likely plummet. In the US, 120,000 deaths a year are equated to toxic workplaces whilst in the UK it is estimated toxic work practises cost the economy £23.6billion annually.

For these reasons, it is crucial that HR put in place immediate changes to foster a positive working environment so that employees, and the business, can thrive. This is something Sue Swanborough, HR Director at home baking and snack products company Whitworths Ltd, believes to be true. However, the process requires interrogating the mechanics of the organisation.

Swanborough recommends that the business’ leaders ask themselves questions about how the business is functioning to reveal if their culture is toxic or not. “Organisational culture evolves and requires continued focus. If you are not getting the business results, look to your culture – do your espoused values reflect the experience? Are cross- functional teams working closely together? How effective is your communication?” she explains.

 

 

Lessons in leadership

Taking a look at a company’s leaders and how they manage the workforce is also pivotal. David Jones, Head of Leadership, Learning, Talent & Culture for the banking giant Barclays UK, reveals that a positive culture for Barclays UK is a priority with leadership a key component of this.

“Ensure your leaders are able to narrate the culture and bring it to life for colleagues. You also need to ensure that they have the skills to do this, and if they do not provide the development,” Jones explains. “Leadership is a vital component in driving culture and if any of the leaders are at odds with this you will not achieve your desired culture. Pushing best practice leadership behaviours are powerful cultural actions you can take to reinforce that you are serious about the culture you want to create.”

 

In the UK it is estimated toxic work practises cost the economy £23.6bn annually

 

Case Studies


HR has a huge role in cultivating and safeguarding a company’s culture. It also has to sound the
alarm bells if the culture is toxic. Below are three examples of how HR leads the culture at their firms.

Barclays


“We are really focussed on ensuring that the work we do supports our desired culture and makes a real impact on our colleagues and ultimately our customers. To do this we have seriously challenged what and how we have gone about building our culture interventions and learned a lot along the way,” David Jones, Head of Leadership, Learning, Talent & Culture, Barclays UK.

Herbalife


“At Herbalife Nutrition, our culture and our values are at the heart of everything we do. As a way to align to our values we’re at the early stages of implementing a leadership philosophy called Servant Leadership, which was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. We’re confident that embedding this philosophy will help us to continue our remarkable growth story,”Steven Berold, Senior Director of Human Resources, EMEA at Herbalife Nutrition.

Whitworths


“In Whitworths Ltd we have seen a 62% improvement in engagement levels over the past four years as our culture has developed. This has resulted from a few key enablers including defining and embedding clear values, strong effective leaders at every level, better communication and HR maintaining focus on culture and ensuring that values are embedded in processes and systems,” Sue Swanborough, HR Director at Whitworths Ltd.

 
 

Clarity will align your people behind what matters most to your organisation, enabling them to thrive and grow as they release some of their untapped potential in pursuit of delivering the business goals

 

Evolving values

Clearly communicated company values and employee training go hand-in-hand when it comes to creating a positive culture. Yet, HR can’t sit still. With markets shifting and the talent landscape changing – by 2026 five generations will be in the workforce - company culture needs to adapt and evolve to suit the needs of its employees otherwise it could be considered toxic.

According to Steven Berold, Senior Director of Human Resources, EMEA at Herbalife Nutrition, the global developer of dietary supplements and sports nutrition products, HR needs to acknowledge these shifting behaviours if it is to stamp out toxicity in the workplace.

“Create a suitable infrastructure to sustain behaviour,” Berold says. “Embedding values means that they become the norm, almost second nature. This is where training on (new) behaviour becomes vital and aligning HR leavers around performance management, compensation recruitment and selection and organisational design further supports organisational culture.”

 

 

Feedback

There is no denying the importance of feedback – without it people or businesses would never be able to improve or develop. Therefore, when it comes to assessing the culture of a workplace, the first place to start is by communicating with employees. Via group sessions, 1-2-1s, private meetings with line managers or through confidential surveys, feedback will help to build a more positive culture.

“More and more HR departments are investing in employee feedback platforms to identify workforce issues through strategic employee surveying – which goes beyond finding quick-fixes to surface-level issues,” explains Ryan Tahmassebi, Director of People Science, Hive HR.

“Strategic employee surveying is about as it’s about taking a longer-term, inclusive approach to changing organisational culture. Confidential surveys give employees a voice on everything from company practices and reputation, to leadership and management — and give HR teams the tangible workforce insights they need to inform change action plans that clearly prioritise areas for improvement.”

 

The importance of culture

The success of a company all lies in its culture, as this will impact the way employees work and deliver results to benefit the business. As Swanborough concludes: “Your culture will determine your success. Clarity will align your people behind what matters most to your organisation, enabling them to thrive and grow as they release some of their untapped potential in pursuit of delivering the business goals.” Being clear on your company guidelines from the start and outlining what you hope to offer staff and how you plan on doing so will only improve the workplace and make for a positive environment to operate in.

Culture noun cul·ture | \ ˈkəl-chər the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time

Toxic work cultures, stories of abusive bosses and bullying colleagues, always get the media’s attention. Whether its Culture Trip’s CEO, who faced scrutiny after former employees revealed details about his unpredictable nature, or revelations about what working life at Badoo, the majority owner of dating app Bumble, where employees were allegedly subject to weight discrimination and customers judged on their ethnic profile, it seemingly always ends up as a headline.

 

Ensure your leaders are able to narrate the culture and bring it to life for colleagues

 

Yet toxicity, despite the risk to the employer and consumer brand, still persists. For every story regards Uber, Google, and Pixar there will be countless others – small businesses with a less public brand presence – where unfair, unsafe, unethical and potentially illegal practises continue.

However, a recent CV-Library survey found that 40% of employees value a positive working culture as the most important factor in their employer. In addition, almost half claimed that having friendly colleagues was their top priority. Without even considering the business impact, it shows the companies with good cultures are where the talent wants to head – making this an important HR issue. Yet, if you have a toxic culture, how can it be fixed?

 

 

Be self-critical

Realising that you may have a toxic company culture, and then ignoring the issue, can have damaging effects for both the business and its employees. Staff turnover may increase, morale may dwindle and profits will likely plummet. In the US, 120,000 deaths a year are equated to toxic workplaces whilst in the UK it is estimated toxic work practises cost the economy £23.6billion annually.

For these reasons, it is crucial that HR put in place immediate changes to foster a positive working environment so that employees, and the business, can thrive. This is something Sue Swanborough, HR Director at home baking and snack products company Whitworths Ltd, believes to be true. However, the process requires interrogating the mechanics of the organisation.

Swanborough recommends that the business’ leaders ask themselves questions about how the business is functioning to reveal if their culture is toxic or not. “Organisational culture evolves and requires continued focus. If you are not getting the business results, look to your culture – do your espoused values reflect the experience? Are cross- functional teams working closely together? How effective is your communication?” she explains.

 

In the UK it is estimated toxic work practises cost the economy £23.6bn annually

 

Lessons in leadership

Taking a look at a company’s leaders and how they manage the workforce is also pivotal. David Jones, Head of Leadership, Learning, Talent & Culture for the banking giant Barclays UK, reveals that a positive culture for Barclays UK is a priority with leadership a key component of this.

“Ensure your leaders are able to narrate the culture and bring it to life for colleagues. You also need to ensure that they have the skills to do this, and if they do not provide the development,” Jones explains. “Leadership is a vital component in driving culture and if any of the leaders are at odds with this you will not achieve your desired culture. Pushing best practice leadership behaviours are powerful cultural actions you can take to reinforce that you are serious about the culture you want to create.”

 

 

Case Studies


HR has a huge role in cultivating and safeguarding a company’s culture. It also has to sound the
alarm bells if the culture is toxic. Below are three examples of how HR leads the culture at their firms.

 

Barclays


“We are really focussed on ensuring that the work we do supports our desired culture and makes a real impact on our colleagues and ultimately our customers. To do this we have seriously challenged what and how we have gone about building our culture interventions and learned a lot along the way,” David Jones, Head of Leadership, Learning, Talent & Culture, Barclays UK.

 

Herbalife


“At Herbalife Nutrition, our culture and our values are at the heart of everything we do. As a way to align to our values we’re at the early stages of implementing a leadership philosophy called Servant Leadership, which was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. We’re confident that embedding this philosophy will help us to continue our remarkable growth story,” Steven Berold, Senior Director of Human Resources, EMEA at Herbalife Nutrition.

 

Whitworths


“In Whitworths Ltd we have seen a 62% improvement in engagement levels over the past four years as our culture has developed. This has resulted from a few key enablers including defining and embedding clear values, strong effective leaders at every level, better communication and HR maintaining focus on culture and ensuring that values are embedded in processes and systems,” Sue Swanborough, HR Director at Whitworths Ltd.

 

 

Evolving values

Clearly communicated company values and employee training go hand-in-hand when it comes to creating a positive culture. Yet, HR can’t sit still. With markets shifting and the talent landscape changing – by 2026 five generations will be in the workforce - company culture needs to adapt and evolve to suit the needs of its employees otherwise it could be considered toxic.

According to Steven Berold, Senior Director of Human Resources, EMEA at Herbalife Nutrition, the global developer of dietary supplements and sports nutrition products, HR needs to acknowledge these shifting behaviours if it is to stamp out toxicity in the workplace.

“Create a suitable infrastructure to sustain behaviour,” Berold says. “Embedding values means that they become the norm, almost second nature. This is where training on (new) behaviour becomes vital and aligning HR leavers around performance management, compensation recruitment and selection and organisational design further supports organisational culture.”

 

Feedback

There is no denying the importance of feedback – without it people or businesses would never be able to improve or develop. Therefore, when it comes to assessing the culture of a workplace, the first place to start is by communicating with employees. Via group sessions, 1-2-1s, private meetings with line managers or through confidential surveys, feedback will help to build a more positive culture.

“More and more HR departments are investing in employee feedback platforms to identify workforce issues through strategic employee surveying – which goes beyond finding quick-fixes to surface-level issues,” explains Ryan Tahmassebi, Director of People Science, Hive HR.

 

 

“Strategic employee surveying is about as it’s about taking a longer-term, inclusive approach to changing organisational culture. Confidential surveys give employees a voice on everything from company practices and reputation, to leadership and management — and give HR teams the tangible workforce insights they need to inform change action plans that clearly prioritise areas for improvement.”

 

Clarity will align your people behind what matters most to your organisation, enabling them to thrive and grow as they release some of their untapped potential in pursuit of delivering the business goals

 

The importance of culture

The success of a company all lies in its culture, as this will impact the way employees work and deliver results to benefit the business. As Swanborough concludes: “Your culture will determine your success. Clarity will align your people behind what matters most to your organisation, enabling them to thrive and grow as they release some of their untapped potential in pursuit of delivering the business goals.” Being clear on your company guidelines from the start and outlining what you hope to offer staff and how you plan on doing so will only improve the workplace and make for a positive environment to operate in.


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