Leaders – face it! It’s time to tackle the ‘c’ word
At Jaluch we think the time has come to face up to the ‘c’ word and challenge employers to take an honest look at how they run their businesses. We’re talking, of course about “culture”. Sexist scandals at giants like Google and Topshop might grab the headlines, but our work with clients of all sizes shows that leaders of businesses big and small ignore the signs they preside over a toxic culture.
Small businesses like ours, who employ millions across the UK have a duty to consider how their cultures impact their staff – not just because positive cultures make for better business – but because we are all human and deserve respect and satisfaction in our work.
At Jaluch we are passionate about creating workplaces that support, empower and care for their people. Celebrating individuality, championing empathy and being courageous in living out our values everyday led to Jaluch being awarded the Venus Employer of the Year Award 2018.
We’re really proud of our culture at Jaluch, which collectively we’ve described as supportive, passionate, collaborative, open, appreciative and (perhaps most importantly), human – oh, and not forgetting, fun!
As a team we wanted to share what we see as essential in building a great place to work. Over the next few blogs we will tackle what we believe are the most important characteristics of positive culture – and how to achieve them.
What does a positive working culture actually mean?
There is no one definition of a positive working culture – that would be too easy! In corporate speak it is the personality of a company, the organisational values and structures it puts in place to live its values and boost productivity.
In human speak, “it’s about feeling happy at work, not dreading going in, and feeling positive at the end of the day,” says Lucie. As Nicky echoes, “At Jaluch we all come to work feeling positive knowing we have the opportunity to add value equally. We are all treated with respect and there are no favourites, so no one feels isolated.”
Support, trust and equality are some of the key characteristics we live by.
“Being supportive is embedded in our culture,” says Libby. “We all help and trust each other but also take personal responsibility.”
Culture is also about the stand a business takes socially, “Helen [our founder] places a lot of importance on the values at Jaluch. It’s not just about profits, it’s about contributing to society – whether through supporting staff to develop themselves or through volunteering and supporting the wider community,” says Tania. “People aren’t just looking for a salary or job title, they are looking for a place to fit.”
So, what about negative cultures? What do they look like? In talking with our team, it became obvious that the majority of us have experienced workplaces where the overriding culture is one of fear; fear of being blamed, of being bullied or of speaking up.
“Negative cultures pit people against each other, everyone is looking to blame someone else, everyone is on edge with each other,” says Libby.
“Working in this kind of environment knocks your confidence. Where there are favourites, or it’s those who shout loudest for attention and rewards it leaves you not confident enough to stand up and you become isolated,” says Nicky.
Fear, it seems is the foundation that many damaging work cultures are based on. When a third of UK workers dread going to work, with 28% having called in sick due to anxiety, the effects of poor cultures are evident. We know that where fear is the dominant trait in an organisation, it’s a sign of disaster ahead.
Face fear with honest emotion
As a business owner it can be tempting to assume you know what’s going on and that you understand what your staff want. After all, your managers will tell you if something’s wrong, won’t they? Staff wouldn’t be scared to come to you with issues, would they?
Leaders often fear the truth. When it comes to culture they fear if they seek honest feedback they might hear something that upends their beliefs. What happens if the rosy picture they’ve painted turns out to be a fake? Maybe they aren’t as good a leader as they thought?
We all agreed – the most important step any leader can take to build a positive culture is to actively listen. “In building a good culture you need to listen to employees and engage. Listen to what’s wrong,” says Libby.
Similarly, “without understanding what a positive culture means to your employees, it’s impossible to put an action plan together to solve any issues that come about,” says Tania Harland, Consultant.
Getting to the truth doesn’t mean waiting for the results of a yearly employee survey (though these can be useful), it means building human relationships with staff across the business and being visible. We also agreed that it means welcoming emotions back into the workplace.
As Helen says, “There’s some misguided belief that showing emotion at work is inappropriate. But it’s a load of nonsense perpetuated too often by people who have no clue how to show their own emotions or respond to the emotions of others. It also creates cultures that lack the “oomph” people so often love. Emotion reflects feelings and if we can’t reflect our feelings at work then we might as well stop right now trying to support people as individuals. Everything about culture is about how people feel. Get comfortable with feelings being expressed at work and more companies might start developing human, rather than procedural formulaic cultures.”
It takes courage to face uncomfortable truths, and to allow emotion back into the workplace.
Arguably though the mark of a true leader is someone constantly seeking to learn, challenge their assumed beliefs and demonstrate emotional intelligence as well as business acumen.
We want leaders everywhere to face their fear of honest, emotional engagement and start putting the ‘personal’ back in to ‘personnel’. That sometimes starts with some difficult conversations…
Courage to act against cultural terrorists
“If there is a manager bullying the team leaders need to act, and solve issues of toxic employees before anything else.” (Libby McDonald)
Receiving honest feedback means leaders often face the harsh reality that their culture has allowed bad behaviour to go unchecked – often because of fear.
Have you ever experienced working with a ‘cultural terrorist’? These are individuals who make colleague’s lives miserable by bullying, constant negativity, favouritism or harassment. It only takes one bad apple to spoil a whole team, spreading fear far and wide.
This fear can also extend to those in leadership who feel unable to act in relation to such employees. They are scared of confrontation, of change, or of legal threats. They might just be scared to admit there’s an issue.
The message from our consultants is that this fear cuts to the core of poor culture. By letting such individuals get away with bad behaviour leaders are actively allowing their cultures to be poisoned.
As Tania advises, “Organisations must be courageous in addressing cultural issues, and create an action plan. One person can make all the difference, and employers mustn’t shy away from dealing with the problem.”
Taking steps to cleanse the bad apples in your organisation demonstrates to your team that you take their concerns, and the values of the organisation seriously. It can be a powerful first step in defining, or improving culture. However dealing with such conflict with confidence can be a challenge, but support is out there.
Honesty and courage are two key values at Jaluch. We know the power honest feedback can have. Knowledge is power! By having the courage to act on this knowledge, leaders empower themselves to create positive cultures.
There are so many opportunities to bring your company’s values to life. On our next blog we will look at the importance of recruiting for cultural-fit, and how championing personal development is key to sustaining positive cultures, even in tough times.
Food for thought
- 40% of employees claim that a positive culture is the most important factor in any company.
- 44% of adults claim that their stress has increased over the past five years, whilst 56% of employees say that stress and anxiety impact their job performance.
- 78% of parents are working beyond their contracted hours and over half said that working extra hours is part of their organisation’s culture.
- Over half of UK full-time employees have taken a pay cut to accept a job that made them happier.