Diseases of the Workplace

What Kills a Business Culture?

Out of the top things that stress out people the most, work and finances are in the top three.  The other is anxiety about the future, but I think most of that anxiety if really investigated, could be traced back to unhappiness with work or finances.  As a business owner and former employee of various industries, I have seen firsthand how stressful the workplace can be.  In my experience, very very few people are actually satisfied with their workplace and much of that dissatisfaction comes from the culture of the business itself.  A business is really only made up of two things; people and a culture. Both of them affect each other.  People create the culture, but the culture can change if people’s attitudes change or new people are brought into the culture.  With that in mind, here are the biggest diseases that will destroy a business culture and lead to a decline in sales and happiness amongst staff.

Habituation- Do you remember what it was like to drive a car for the first time?  Were you nervous?  Did you check your mirrors multiple times and turn down the stereo so you could focus?  When you first undertake something, a good amount of attention and action is required to perform the task.  However, after we get used to doing an activity over and over, less effort is required.  This is called habituation.  Now, you may drive with one hand on the wheel, another on a cup of coffee while the stereo is blasting.  What used to be hard and required intense focus is now somewhat easy and less focus is given.  The problem is that over time, habituation can lead to a degradation of the quality of the business systems and culture.  

Consider this; a new hire is likely to perform to his or her best ability and take an active interest in learning the job.  After a while, however, as the employee becomes used to the job, the attention to detail and willingness to learn and grow often decline.  Whereas a new hire may go the extra mile to impress others, the employee who has been on the job a while will likely not be looking for an opportunity to go the extra mile. The new hire will pick up the dustball in the corner because they see it does not belong.  After time, the old employee will not even notice the dustball. They have become habituated to the job.

“Not my job disease”- This may be the worst and most common of them all.  I would venture to say every workplace I’ve ever been a part of has a fair share of employees who do not even try to help our their coworkers or employers because they consider a certain task to not be in their job description.  Not only are these people not willing to go the extra mile to help out, they won’t even go the first mile.  The person who only does the bare minimum to keep their job destroys the culture because the attitude is infectious.  Soon, others will say the same thing.  What these people do not realize is that a business is like a ship- if things are going well, the ship can hold extra personnel and cargo for a time.  But, if things begin to turn downward, only the people who are absolutely necessary to the survival of the ship will be a part of the crew. The others will be let go. Those who consistently refuse to go the extra mile to help out the crew will be among the first to be let go.

Staff doesn’t know the mission-  Why does the business exist and what is the mission of the business?  These two questions must be answered very clearly by the ownership and every single associate of the business must understand the answers so clearly that they can repeat the answers with confidence.  If the staff does not understand why the business exists or what the mission is, they cannot be in alignment and that will lead to dysfunction in the systems and operations of the enterprise.  You would be surprised how many employees do not know what their place of employment actually does or why it is important.  Every single staff member must understand and believe in the mission of the company to create unity, harmony and a positive working culture. Without alignment on the mission, the business is doomed and the workplace culture will reflect that.

Lack of communication from all levels- Communication is key to any enterprise, relationship or any other undertaking. It’s vitally important that every person in an organization is able to properly communicate with other co-workers, management and ownership.  So many organizations have staff that don’t speak to each other or even resent other individuals in the business. If there is a lack of communication in the workplace, basic functions of the organization will not be able to be carried out properly.  Moreover, mistakes will not be caught or voiced to ensure that systems are put in place to keep the problems from occurring again.   

Perhaps the most important reason for great communication is that people thrive when they feel they are a part of something special.  They need to be reminded what the mission is, what needs to be done, how it should be done, who needs to do it and why it is important that tasks are accomplished.  Much like a relationship, all parties need to feel like there is an open line of communication so that growth can occur, both for the individuals and the company as a while. Without it, employees will begin to resent the business and other staff and the business will suffer.

Not enough focus on growth- Nature requires growth from every living thing.  If you are not growing, you are vulnerable.  If a relationship is not growing, it’s declining.  The same is true with business.  If a business is not growing, it may as well be dying. Inflation and competition will eat away as a stagnant business until there is nothing left. Growth is required to thrive and every associate in a business must understand this concept.  Considerable attention must be given to acquiring new customers, not just keeping the ones you have.  All growth comes from new customer acquisition and the future referrals from them. Growth focus looks like this: New Customer Acquisition—> Deliver Incredible Service—> Referrals.  The cycle then repeats. If every associate is not focussing on this cycle there will be stagnation in the business and that will lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment in the workplace.  People need to feel like the future is going to be better than the past. Progress equals happiness. Growth equals excitement and energy.  Stagnation leads to boredom and a lack of care. The culture of a company must have a focus on growth in order to succeed. 

No focus on harmony- I’ve written previously about the importance of harmony in a relationship and a workplace.  I’m a strong believer that harmony among all associates in a business is necessary for a happy workplace.  If discord or animosity exists even among a few employees, it will quickly sweep through the entire organization like a virus.  Soon, the happiest, most productive people will find themselves subject to the unhappy that comes with a lack of harmony.  It should be that we all strive to work together with each other to achieve a common goal or mission.  To do this, harmony is required. Watch out for people with negative mental attitudes. They will destroy a culture and kill a business. My advice would be to look closely at your own actions and beliefs to make sure that you are not the one guilty of a negative mental attitude. Hint: if you believe that everyone else at the job sucks except you, you’re probably the one guilty of spreading negativity and ruining the harmony in the workplace. 

“I’m the only good worker disease”- This belief is so common and so deadly in a workplace culture. In life, it’s easy to believe that we are all the stars of our own movie and every else in our life is just a supporting role.  Although it may certainly feel like you are the “good guy” and everyone else isn’t the real star, this type of thinking can quickly lead to the belief that no one else cares, or that you are the only one who does a good job.  If you think poorly of your co-workers, not only does this suggest a lack of harmony is present in your workplace, it also suggests that you have a negative attitude towards others.  If you are truly the best worker in your business, your efforts should be to help everyone else where you are able, not speak poorly of them or their work ethic.   If you are a leader or an influencer in an organization, this is especially important.  People should look to you for leadership and guidance on how to improve and be better.  This will not happen, however, if you bash others as being inadequate or poor performers. Instead, they will come to resent you and that will lead to more discord in the workplace. 

There you have it.  There are of course other attitudes and behaviors that will destroy a workplace culture, but these are my top seven.  At the end of the day, a workplace culture can be as great or as poor as the people who comprise it want it to be.  If you want to be a part of an incredible workplace, make sure it does not suffer from the above listed problems.  Moreover, make sure that you are not guilty of the attitudes listed.

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