Culture Gone Bad: Here's How to Reconstruct it

Raffa Financial ServicesRaffa Financial Services on 06/21/2018

We’ve all seen the headlines. Companies with high levels of engagement have happier employees, more loyal customers, and more profitable businesses. And companies with great culture have higher levels of engagement.

These two things are closely tied together. When one goes bad, so does the other. If your culture takes a nose dive, so will your employee engagement. Meanwhile, if your employee engagement is at an all-time low, you need only look to your culture to find out why.

A few quick (and scary) facts

Research from Bain and Company revealed some fascinating information about who has the lowest levels of employee engagement, and these findings can translate into some pretty significant problems in the workplace:

1.) As tenure increases, engagement levels decrease. 

Problem: Those with the most knowledge and experience are actually becoming less engaged.

2.) Lower level employees have lower levels of engagement.

Problem: High level management may be out of touch with employee morale on the front lines.

3.) Engagement levels are lowest for sales and service people.

BIG Problem: These are the same individuals who are most likely to interact with your customers!

These discoveries are cause for serious concern, including employees who are:

  • less productive
  • less likely to support company goals, processes and initiatives
  • more likely to spread their discontent to fellow employees and customers

And that’s not even counting the cost of high turnover!

What now?

As an employer, there are ways you can effectively work to win back your employees.

Studies suggest that open, communicative environments are the best place to start. Having honest conversations with staff about what they like about working for you and what things they would change if they could can put you on the right path. This requires being open to hearing what they have to say and willing to make some changes.

But can you do it alone? Don’t your employees need to pitch in and help?

The truth is, toxic work environments take a toll on both sides. There’s no question that managers and employees have both been burned by practices that have created an employer vs. worker mindset, with each side feeling like the other doesn’t have their best interests at heart. But when it comes to repairing the damage, it’s employers who have the upper hand.

Shifting the balance

One of the top reasons employees say they are unhappy at work is feeling like they have little to no control over their tasks, processes, and outcomes. Many of them are afraid to speak up, or have stopped doing so after trying too many times with poor results. Asking these folks to build a better culture isn’t going to get you very far.

Because you hold the cards, you have the pleasure and the challenge of changing the game. And convincing your employees that they want to be part of the new team.

But in order to get both sides playing nicely and striving toward the same goal, your employees will need to have an open mind, speak up, and be willing to make some changes. So how do you get them to do their part?

Hit refresh      

At some point, each and every one of your employees was a brand new hire, thrilled to have gotten a job with your company. They showed up that first day wanting to give their best— and expecting great things from you. At the same time, you were excited about the talent and potential they were bringing with them.

Think about your culture change as a commitment to rehiring all of those awesome new people again. Find out what specifically made them choose you, what things may have gone wrong, and how you can work together to bring back that new job excitement.

Acknowledge where you are

Openly acknowledge that things aren’t where you want them to be. Don’t be vague. Address specific signs of discontent and policies or events you believe have negatively affected your team.

Admit that you can do better, and commit to doing just that. Sincerity is very important here. If this message is delivered in an impersonal way, it won’t be convincing. Your employees will be skeptical, and rightfully so.

Communicate. And listen.

Employee feedback is critical to this process. Studies show that employers and staff are often oceans apart on what they believe to be the key issues causing disengagement. Openly talking about these things is the only way to find out what’s really going on. Realize that this tactic may not bear fruit immediately, as your employees may be afraid to speak out or be honest.

Commit to a long-term plan that incorporates several different tactics for information gathering. A mix of focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one conversations will allow for various types of people to communicate in ways that are comfortable to them. It also shows your team this isn’t just a corporate whim, that you value their input, and you are genuinely interested in improving.

Take action

Talk without change is just that. If you want your employees to put their faith in you, you will have to actually deliver. Make sure something tangible happens relatively quickly. This will ignite the spark of hope in your most optimistic players.

As you continue to make changes and clearly communicate why and how they are taking place, others will begin to jump back on the trust bandwagon. Over time, those who don’t believe in the new culture you are creating will eventually select themselves out. That’s okay. Sometimes following through means letting go of things that run counter to your new purpose.

Stick with it

Culture isn’t formed overnight, and it isn’t always easy to maintain. But it can be done. Once you’ve settled on your new vision, share it with the team and stick with it.

Your future is yours to create— one step, and one employee, at a time.


Recruiting and retaining employees is easier when you can proudly offer a comprehensive benefits plan that makes your team members feel as valuable as they are. At Raffa, we build cost effective, long-lasting employee benefits strategies to keep your business and your employees in optimum health.


Photo by Igor Stevanovic 

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