Unhealthy Work Culture vs Healthy Work Culture
Take a moment to scroll through Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or LinkedIn for examples of employees sharing their “bad boss” experiences. Once you read them, sit, and shake your head for a moment. Then offer up a prayer saying, “dear Lord, please don’t ever let that be me.” Some stories are truly cringeworthy.
These bad bosses exhibit qualities like:
- Disregard for employees’ challenges or requests that compete with work
- Manipulation for the benefit of the boss
- Not adhering to legal standards of care for employees
- Putting employees in situations where they must compromise their family or values for the sake of the job
- Complete lack of respect or empathy
Inevitably, the employee ends up saying something like, “I hated every minute there. I did the bare minimum I could get away with and was so relieved when I left.” It is easy to see the result of these organizational leadership behaviors: disengagement, high turnover, poor reputation, failure to attract talent, etc.
Now, find examples of the “best boss ever.” In these stories, you hear qualities like:
- Advocacy for employees’ benefit
- Support for personal and professional growth
- Compassion and empathy for the whole person
- Clarity and accountability of expectations, performance, and growth
- Interactions that lead to emotional, physical, and relational safety.
These stories end with the person saying, “this boss had such a huge impact on my life, they believed in me, supported me and I will never forget them.” Employees who experience a good and caring boss give more, do more and grow more. They add more to the people around them, the team, and the organization.
How To Create a Healthy, Engaged, and Caring Work Culture
Mark Miller, in his book Win the Heart: How to Create a Culture of Full Engagement, identifies principles and practices that foster employee engagement by creating a culture of care. Here are four practical tools.
Everyone desires to belong. Humans are hardwired for it.
C.S. Lewis captures this innate human desire in The Last Battle, as one character enters Aslan’s country, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is what I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”
As a leader, you can demonstrate deep care by understanding every team member in your organization desires to belong. Here are a few actions (big and small) you can take to create belonging:
- Know your employees’ names
- Get lunch with every new hire (if possible)
- Know and reinforce the team and organization’s vision, mission, and values (these are your company’s common “belief” statements)
- Ask and learn about the personal life of your people (hopes and dreams, family, life challenges, etc.)
- Budget for and spend time and effort on community events, team and staff retreats
- Share meals together whenever possible
Multiple times in her illustrious career, Oprah Winfrey has been ranked as “The Most Influential ____ (Woman in the World, Member of the Media, Celebrity, etc.). In 2022, 11 years after she ended her syndicated talk show, Time magazine still ranks her in the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Oprah made an astute observation about her time on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation…I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire.”
Great leaders understand this universal desire. That everyone wants to know, “I matter, my contributions are significant, and my work/efforts are important.” Simple ways a leader can demonstrate and foster healthy workplace culture through validating their people are:
- Listen and hear more than talk (grow your coaching skills)
- Ask the 2nd question (aka follow-up questions based on what you hear)
- Acknowledge the effort put forth by team members and staff
- Be an optimistic realist (acknowledge the challenges and hardships while communicating a positive vision)
- Spend time investing in, identifying, and drawing out your people’s gifting, talents, skills, strengths, and passions
- Encourage employees by affirming their contributions and coaching them through challenges
Harvard Business professor, researcher, and author Amy Edmondson shares the critical interplay between psychological safety and accountability in her TEDX talk. In short, when high levels of psychological safety and accountability collide it leads to high performance.
Accountability can simply be understood as ensuring what is said and held as important, is acted upon and maintains its place as most important. A lack of accountability leads to confusion, misalignment, mistrust, and underperformance.
As leaders, we can demonstrate care by creating and reinforcing clarity of expectations through modeling and maintaining accountability. Here are some actions you can take to establish accountability:
- Ensure you, your team, and all staff know the vision, mission, values, and goals by heart and review them often
- Establish and track clear goals and norms
- Ensure everyone knows the bottom line of what “success” means and looks like
- Address and redirect misaligned behaviors in the moment, then follow up to ensure clarity of expectations
- As the leader, be the first to hold others accountable; model it; don’t excuse yourself by saying, “I don’t have time,” “it’s not that important,” or “someone else will do it.”
- Be accountable, own and apologize for your misaligned behaviors or gaps in clarity and accountability you have allowed or exhibited
Equip for Success
The Lippitt-Knoster Managing Complex Change Model explores multiple elements needed for successful change to occur. Change can mean completing a project, fulfilling a vision, and working towards a personal development plan.
The model also explores what people experience when necessary elements are not considered and established. For example, when an individual, team, or organization does not possess the necessary skills, then anxiety abounds.
When there is a lack of resources, frustration grows. No consensus? That leads to sabotage.
To demonstrate care and foster a culture of care, consider and act upon these elements to equip your people, team, and organization for success:
- Have a clear and understood vision, mission, and values
- Build buy-in and consensus through clear communication, expectations, shared ownership, and accountability
- Identify the skills needed and develop your people with the skills they need to succeed
- Clearly articulate the incentives and benefits of the change
- Provide the resources required for success (finances, infrastructure, time, etc.)
- A clear action plan, goals, and milestones