ChaptertOO Talent and Business Consulting
How Insisting on ‘Preserving the Culture’ Can Backfire

Preserving the culture’ is a refrain often repeated within organizations, emphasizing the importance of preserving traditions and norms. However, amidst the call to uphold the status quo, a critical aspect is often overlooked: whether said culture is truly worth preserving. Much like any living entity, workplace culture needs periodic check-ins to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness. When left unchecked, cultures, especially those driven by nostalgia, can inadvertently foster toxicity.

Nostalgia can prevent organizations and leaders from recognizing the detrimental impacts certain traditions or practices have on employees and overall productivity. This nostalgia may cloud judgment, making it challenging to acknowledge the necessity for change. Furthermore, unchecked workplace cultures seeped in nostalgia pose a threat, as they can quickly turn toxic.

How can things turn toxic? The danger often lies in the reluctance to reevaluate practices, behaviors, and beliefs that, while may have had benefits in the past, are now long outdated. The reluctance to assess and adapt workplace culture can lead to an environment where detrimental behaviors go unaddressed. Employees may then find themselves subjected to harassment, discrimination, and bullying, perpetuated under the guise of ‘preserving a cultural identity’.

Recognizing the far-reaching impacts of toxic workplace cultures is crucial, as they extend beyond the immediate environment and into various aspects of organizational and societal well-being, an here’s how…

Mental Health and Wellness:

The impact on mental health and wellness becomes even more pronounced when outdated practices and behaviors are not only maintained but celebrated and expected. Employees forced to conform to a culture that does not serve their well-being face increased stress, anxiety, and depression (one study found toxic working environments increase the chances of depression by 300%). In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, “19% of workers say their workplace is very or somewhat toxic, and those who reported a toxic workplace were more than three times as likely to have said they have experienced harm to their mental health at work than those who report a healthy workplace (52% vs. 15%)”. As organizations continue to ‘do it for the culture‘ without assessing the evolving needs of their workforce, the toll on mental health contributes significantly to disengagement statistics and, ultimately, lost productivity—an annual $8.8 Trillion USD problem according to Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report.

External Brand Damage:

Consumers and clients are increasingly discerning, preferring to support companies with strong ethics and positive workplace cultures. When the external image is tarnished, trust and loyalty diminish, leading to decreased profits and long-term damage to the brand’s reputation. A company’s external brand damage, caused by an unhealthy internal culture, is not just a public relations concern; it directly impacts the bottom line. Additionally, harmful organizational culture doesn’t ever remain contained within the walls of the organization, especially in a day and age driven by social media and content going viral — it spills over into the public perception of the company. As employees discuss their experiences externally and fill company review sites with experiences, the company’s reputation takes a hit, leading prospective talent to be dissuaded from joining, and customers begin to question their loyalty.

Productivity and Profit Implications:

“Companies with strong workplace culture have seen a 4x increase in revenue growth.” Toxic cultures stifle productivity and, in the long run, erode profits. Employees who are constantly stressed, anxious, or disengaged cannot perform at their best. Collaboration breaks down, and creative ideas remain unexplored. Furthermore, the increased disengagement results in productivity losses that could have been reinvested in the business. Additionally, high turnover rates, often prevalent in toxic cultures, not only disrupt continuity but also incur substantial costs in recruitment, onboarding, and training, further eroding profitability.

So, what can organizations and leaders do to address the concerns and prevent themselves from falling into the trap of unchecked culture?

First, they must be willing to act and go beyond the desire to maintain the status quo; instead, the focus needs to be on creating a culture of adaptation. After all, all living creatures have had to adapt and evolve to survive. Leadership should also strive to foster positive, inclusive, and accountable workplace cultures by transparently evaluating and correcting practices, encouraging employee feedback, demonstrating the behaviors they desire, and adapting to the evolving needs of the workforce. Practical steps should include implementing and continually communicating clear policies against harmful behaviors, fostering an environment that insists upon and celebrates diversity and inclusion for all, and outlining what accountability means at the organization. Most importantly, they must be willing to act to remove anyone, regardless of level; yes, that includes executives, who do not uphold the stated values of the organization. This is the only way to create the type of ethically sound culture worth preserving!

Preserving organizational culture cannot come at the expense of employee well-being and productivity!

Tired of low employee engagement scores or unwanted turnover? Connect with us to learn more about how we can help transform and optimize your culture into one worth bragging about!