Imagine this: your boss gathered you all in a conference room. Morale is low. Profits are down. He promised he had something that would transform it all. And the big reveal: a new logo.
Sadly, this isn’t an episode of The Office. For many men and women across organizations in the U.S., this tone-deaf attempt to fix corporate culture issues is an all-too-frequent reality. And many American workers are absolutely fed up with it.
“People are not stupid,” workplace behavioral psychologist Dr. Tony Vigorito told HR tech firm 15Five. “Even if they lack the ability to articulate their frustrations with deficiencies in social dynamics, that doesn’t mean they aren’t sensing those deficiencies.”
”People are not stupid. Even if they lack the ability to articulate their frustrations with deficiencies in social dynamics, that doesn’t mean they aren’t sensing those deficiencies.Dr. Tony VigoritoWorkplace Behavioral Psychologist
Those frequent complaints around the water cooler aren’t just employees being obstinate. Employees can smell disingenuous attempts to heal cultural maladies a mile away, especially if those “fixes” are accompanied by behavioral signals that nothing is actually changing. Despite good intentions, corporate culture can die at the hands of poorly run quarterly employee retreats and happy hours.
So instead of guessing what employees want, we went right to the source. We spoke with several employees to get their perspective and to hear the uncensored truth. Of course, names have been changed to protect them from their underwhelming bosses.
Jillian, an employee at a mid-size IT company, said in an interview for this article that her “logo” moment with a former C-suite executive was much, much worse.
“When working in a tech startup, our CEO called the whole company in to announce we were all going to a Rangers baseball game in Dallas later that week. My company HQ was three hours away from Dallas in Oklahoma City. Half of my coworkers weren’t baseball fans but we felt obligated to go as our absence would be immediately noticeable,” she said.
The worst part for Jillian?
“We went and drove back the same night (arriving home after 1 AM) and the CEO closes out the evening by asking us all to come in at 8 AM the next morning,” she said.
”We went and drove back the same night (arriving home after 1 AM) and the CEO closes out the evening by asking us all to come in at 8 AM the next morning.JillianInformation Technology
The National Business Research Institute said that organizations that use this kind of well-meaning, poorly planned playbook are doing so at a high cost to the organization themselves.
Perhaps nowhere is cultural communication tested more than during times of company-wide change. One employee, Brandon, described his experience at a former supply chain management job.
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“At this job, company-wide morale was already low and job hopping was high. In the midst of this, our national office imposed new website design and got a new software vendor for sales. While National did some field trials of the new website, they only surveyed about five out of 115 offices nationwide on the new redesign and software vendor. Everyone, our office, the field and our clients, was in chaos,” he said.
So did Brandon’s employer rise to the occasion to change these workplace issues? Hardly. “But instead of solving the communication problems, the national office brought in a consultant and we did a ‘color analysis’ of the employees, completely ignoring the issue of communication flow from field, local and national offices,” he said.
”But instead of solving the communication problems, the national office brought in a consultant and we did a ‘color analysis’ of the employees, completely ignoring the issue of communication flow from field, local and national offices.BrandonSupply Chain Management
In both instances, these good employees left their jobs because they didn’t see another way forward with a company that was so dismissive toward their needs. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Employee onboarding company Talmundo said it is possible to prevent corporate cultural decay before it sets in. But it takes intentional effort and commitment. Management must “put processes in place to spot red flags before they become pervasive structural issues and implement strategies that consistently rejuvenate culture from the inside out.”
One employee we spoke with said that when his law firm chose to restructure departments after spotting a major cultural red flag of teams acting and communicating only within silos, their serious approach paid off.
“Now, at my current position, our departmental team goals are strong and there is constant communication on phone/email of progress and it increases employee engagement and achievement of goals,” he said.
Another method of creating a positive culture and keeping cultural decay at bay is to set systems in place to consistently review policies. Katie said that her current employer constantly looks at policies to see if they’re working for everyone.
“I think all their policy changes boil down to treating your employees like the adults that they are. I am able to dress casually because they trust me to know what’s ‘too casual.’ I’m able to set my own hours because they trust me to get my work done and serve the client’s needs. It’s refreshing to be given the opportunity to do what works best for me and not have my bosses assume they know what is best for me,” she said.
”It's refreshing to be given the opportunity to do what works best for me and not have my bosses assume they know what is best for me.KatieFinance
Another way to meaningfully fix culture issues from the inside out is to demonstrate executive and C-suite level commitment to employees. Encore Live challenged mattress retailer Mattress Firm to think about its summer sales season differently and improve company culture in the process. Mattress Firm execs rose to the occasion. They hopped on a bus to visit store-to-store in a nationwide tour and gave employees the opportunity to talk directly to their CEO, ask questions and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. Leadership listened and made real changes—often right on the spot.
Experts in the field of strategic events know how to reinforce the values of the company, all the while encouraging feelings of belonging and positivity.
Ultimately, companies have power over their own cultural issues – for good or bad. If you want your best and brightest to stick around, you’ll have to do consistent cultural check-ups. Strengthening your commitment to your employees means that even if your logo has a cool gradient, you need something more to show you’re not just paying lip service to company-wide improvements.