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Signs of a Great Company Culture – and a Lousy One

By Steve Kim, VP – Global Human Resources, Lotame

Why does having a strong company culture matter?  Aren’t companies in business to make money and not to make their employees happy?  It turns out that these two things go hand-in-hand. When organizations develop positive cultures, they are significantly more effective in the areas of financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement. Satisfied employees offer better service to clients, work harder to reach their goals, and generally enjoy better physical and emotional health. On the other hand, disengaged workers have higher rates of absenteeism, more accidents, commit more errors, and have much higher turnover rates, all costing the company money, productivity, and lost expertise. Given the direct correlation to the work environment and the bottom line…YES IT MATTERS!

In order to attract, engage, and retain employees, there needs to be a constant focus on unifying a company, and making every individual feel like their place of work is a home away from home. By digging into some of the common themes and issues that seem to be present in companies whose culture and environment may need an overhaul, HR professionals can take the steps necessary moving forward to improve their company landscape.

Signs of a Bad Company Culture

Bad Bosses

In a recent study by the Wall Street Journal, over 50% of the 7000 employees surveyed left their jobs because of a bad manager.  Leaving a job is not a decision most people take lightly, so if certain managers have consistently high churn, they are probably a major part of the problem.  Bad bosses generally share at least one of the following characteristics:  

  • Micromanagement
  • Setting vague goals with no clear direction
  • Offering little in the way of advancement and professional growth for their employees
  • Poor communication
  • Unapproachable
  • “Debbie-Downers” – consistently negative, bringing down the mood of those around them
  • Placing blame and pointing fingers, instead of taking accountability and finding solutions

No Work/Life Balance

When you have great employees, it is natural for an organization to want to give them as much work as possible. But there is a delicate balance between leaning on your best employees do all of the important work while also affording them the work/life balance they need. When people are not able to enjoy a meaningful social life and personal activities for extended amounts of time, this may lead them to look for other employment opportunities.  

Lack of Recognition

What many organizations and managers fail to realize is the importance of recognition for outstanding work. When a company consistently fails to provide this, they may find that their best employees leave. The key to recognition is for managers to communicate with their team and find out what motivates them. This could be as simple as a personal conversation, internal recognition, or a gift card to their favorite shopping spot or restaurant.  

Broken Promises

Making promises to employees and then following through with the commitment makes employees feel like they work for an honest, high-integrity organization and manager.  On the other hand, breaking promises to employees makes a company and manager look dishonorable, uncaring, and disrespectful. When employees do not trust their managers, or executives, the effort they put into their work is effected, ultimately hurting the company as a whole.

Signs of a Good Company Culture

On the other hand, what do companies with good culture have in common?

Effective Communication

Open communication allows employees to be more engaged and understand that what they do matters to the success of the business. Employees see the big picture and the part they play in the success of the organization will help them understand why decisions are made and how those decisions impact not only themselves, but the company as a whole. Effective communication leads everyone to be on the same page; moving in the same direction toward the same goal. Conversely, poor communication creates chaos and apathy that ultimately can lead to poor customer service, decrease in sales and revenue.

Some examples of open communication within the workplace can be all-hands meetings, company-wide newsletters, and one-on-one meetings. Each are successful for different reasons. All-hands meetings are when the whole company (across the globe) comes together and talks about the status of the company, where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. One-on-one meetings (whether monthly, weekly, biweekly) allow managers and employees to run through individual goals, and where you want to be in the coming months. Without a predetermined goal, people tend to drift.

Great People

Just as bad managers and jerk co-workers can make life at work miserable, being surrounded by and working with good people make all the difference. Great co-workers and managers are caring and interested in your well-being, they also provide support and offer support during times of struggle; they don’t blame, and they forgive mistakes.

This is why companies have started to go through longer and sometimes more creative interview processes, so as time progresses, and a candidate opens up a little more, you are able to see if they fit into the company mold. Some companies have started inviting candidates to work on a project with them or inviting the candidate to have a drink with the team at the bar, prior to making a decision about whether to hire.  Does this person seem like they would get along with the people around them? Can they take criticism? Do they look like they are eager to learn? These are some of the important questions a hiring manager will ask before offering someone a position, because each individual makes up the larger picture.


People are encouraged to work with others, cooperate, learn new ideas and gain perspective and empathy towards co-workers. This must start from the top — if you have unapproachable leaders who aren’t open to collaboration – why would any of the employees be incentivized to work together? Whether you are in the IT department, marketing department, or the CEO of the company, there is always a way to come together and collaborate on something.


Companies must embrace change and prepare for new trends, technologies, and give employees the resources needed to learn new skills required by such changes. Flexibility can also be viewed in terms of flexible hours and flexible paid time off. Allowing employees to work from home or make up missed time at night or on the weekend when they have a conflict during normal “business hours” is a benefit that is not taken lightly by employees.

Fun and Sense of Humor

The average person spends over 80,000 hours of their lives at work.  Yes, this depresses the hell out of me. So given you spend all that time working for ‘the man’, your personal happiness will be impacted by how much you like what you do at work, finding purpose in your work, socializing with your co-workers, and being able to laugh and smile once in awhile.  

The strange part about company culture is the fragility of it.  It may take years to shape and cultivate it, but it only takes a couple of bad hires or disengaged employees in key positions to undermine the core values of a company.  These ‘bad apples’ bring backstabbing, negativity, politics, and rigid hierarchy where it is not welcome or needed.  Get rid of these people immediately!  It doesn’t matter if they are rock-star performers and producers; if they do not understand, uphold, and respect the values and culture of your company, they do not belong there. Fortunately, a strong company culture in itself is in many cases a form of protection from these ‘bad apples’ joining the organization in the first place; the mismatch in values and beliefs are so evident they disqualify themselves before they even get close to a job offer.

No company is perfect. Policies, programs and practices that are right for one company may not work for another.  But all good workplaces share the values of trust, integrity, and respect, without exception.

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