The warning signs of a toxic corporate culture

Briefing: Professor Cary Cooper says flexibility, autonomy and caring about people are the markers of a good culture.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 12 May 2020

A toxic corporate culture is terrible for productivity. Chronically underappreciated, underperforming staff don’t exactly go hand in hand with world class performance.

Cary Cooper, Alliance Manchester Business School Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health identifies the indicators of a bad culture as excessive levels of sickness and absence, high staff attrition and an inability to attract or retain talent. Once you know what the signs are, here’s how you can fix it.


1) Conduct a "wellbeing audit"

"Most people in friendly, wellbeing oriented organisations conduct wellbeing audits to find out what their employees think of them," says Cooper. This audit needs to assess not only whether people like working at the company, but also stuff like staff perceptions of the management, the wider culture and their work hours.

"If you break it all down you can identify specifically what the problems are and benchmark these against other organisations in the sector," says Cooper.

2) Talk it out

Once the sources of the problem have been identified, the next stage involves bringing everyone together to come up with a collective solution on how to fix them. These talks may reveal some painful truths, but they have to be honest and everyone has to be given a chance to get their view across.

3) Make sure you have the right managers to implement it

Then it’s all about implementation. This could involve the introduction of "mental health first-aiders" - people trained up to be available to talk to other employees who are having mental health problems - the introduction of flexible working, or a ban on out of hours emails.

There is no universal approach, says Cooper, but an effective strategy needs to address the problems directly identified within your business. "A good wellbeing culture has all these elements to it: flexibility, autonomy, caring about people and developing them," says Cooper. "But you can’t do that unless you have the right cadre of managers and bosses from shop floor to top floor."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For lessons in how to create the right culture see this article by academics Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Mussweiler. For an example of how the creation of a more cohesive culture can transform a business, look no further than this dramatic turnaround of the struggling retailer Dreams.


Image credit: Anut21ng/Gettyimages

 

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