Building a positive workplace culture is no easy task. It requires vision, organisation, patience and persistence. These elements are difficult enough to bring together even when you do everything right. But when you start getting things wrong they become almost impossible.

So, what common mistakes are businesses making and how can you avoid creating toxic work culture?

Workplace culture mistake one: being too simplistic

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review based on extensive Gartner research found that many businesses are too simple when it comes to describing their workplace culture.

Managers tend to resort to a generic and overused set of adjectives to describe their workplace culture. These include high-performing, collaborative, innovative, customer-focused, entrepreneurial, results-oriented, transparent, and trusting. 

The problem with this approach is that the buzzword chosen often doesn’t reflect what’s happening in the day-to-day operations of the company. 

According to the same article, this leads to a “say/do” gap which employees see as hypocritical. The result is a loss of moral rather than a boost to it.

How to avoid

It can be easy to describe your workplace culture using buzzwords. But if they don’t reflect reality, you’re doing more harm than good. Speak to the tension between where you would be in an ideal world and the reality of what needs to happen on the ground. 

Instead of professing a “culture of innovation”, try “we support a culture of innovation while continuing to seek growth and profits from legacy businesses.” 

Workplace culture mistake two: letting the data speak for itself

Many companies rely solely on employee surveys to measure how their workplace culture is performing. Relying on data like this can be very misleading. As workers fear reprisals, feedback is usually sanitised so that it doesn’t tell the real story. Businesses end up relying on meaningless or inaccurate feedback that never provides a true picture of the business culture.

How to avoid

Look to close the gap between survey results and the reality of what’s happening in your workplace. The best thing you can do in this regard is create an atmosphere of trust, where employees feel confident speaking up about issues without fear of reprisals. 

Then, when you do undertake a survey you’re likely to see what’s really happening and not a sugar-coated response. 

Workplace culture mistake three: not aligning your policies with your cultural goals

Sometimes company’s policies fail to support what they’re trying to achieve in their work culture. For example, a company says it believes in collaboration but pits employees against each other by staging performance reviews where only a certain number of employees can get top marks and a full bonus. Another example is where the business says it’s customer-centric but then penny-pinches. Both result in businesses failing to provide the tools to let employees do their job properly. 

How to avoid

This really is one of the most fundamental mistake anyone can make when it comes to creative positive workplace culture. If you’re not giving your business what it needs to provide the culture you’re striving for, how can you expect to achieve it? 

The only way you can ever overcome this one is to set up the structures, processes and incentives you need. That means properly investing in your employee culture rather than expecting people to achieve cultural goals without any support.    

Workplace culture mistake four: poor communication

Poor communication is an issue when a business wants to foster a certain workplace or employee culture but they fail to properly communicate what that looks like. 

You see this when a manager wants a creative workplace but fails to tell employees they want them to work together. Conversely, it happens when a business says it wants to be flexible but never articulates properly what that means. 

How to avoid

Don’t just tell employees what your cultural goals are – show them what it looks like and how they can contribute to it on a personal level. If you expect them to be in the office on certain days or at certain times, let them know. If they’re expected to behave a certain way or to do certain things, let them know that too. The more honest and specific you are, the smaller the gap between theory and reality will be.  

Create your positive workplace culture

These mistakes all include a gap between cultural ambition and the culture that’s playing out on the ground. 

Actually practising what you preach and clearly outlining the culture you want to create will help it to take hold and thrive. 

If you’d like to build a genuinely high performing and positive workplace culture get in touch with the Catalina Consultants team.