Healthy vs Unhealthy Cultures

Written by
Ryan McGrory
August 4, 2022

We've probably all experienced unhealthy and healthy cultures in our time. So, we know what good and bad feels like. When a culture is unhealthy, we get that awful feeling in our stomach (… usually around 7pm each Sunday, as it goes).

Of course, this unsettling feeling is a major sign that we don’t like what we’re experiencing. But, overall, it probably means:

  • We don't want to be there, and would rather avoid it.
  • We don’t feel like doing much when we are there.
  • And, we definitely don’t feel capable to be our best.

When people feel like this - well, it’s obvious - but, you’ll likely notice two broad categories of people in your workplace:

  1. The ones that want to leave.
  2. The ones that feel inclined to stick around.

Those that want to leave usually make a plan to do so. They’ll update their resume, they’ll start applying for jobs and they’ll encourage others to do the same.  

Those that feel like sticking around are either crossing their fingers that things change or are the people responsible for creating the unhealthy culture.

Ultimately, though, what you have is a bunch of people who are checked out and/ or unproductive … and that sucks.

On the other side, there are healthy cultures - the ones that give you a good feeling in your stomach, and probably help you sleep a little better on a Sunday night. These places make you feel welcome - like you belong, like you’re part of something and going somewhere.  But how do you know you’re in a good culture? For me, it’s a bit like visiting a new gym.

Within 10 seconds of walking through the gym doors, you can usually tell whether it's a good place to be or a bad one  ... because something in your head (or stomach) tells you whether you want to be there …whether you feel welcome. Like you belong. Like you can achieve something.

And, that’s how people want to arrive at work. They want to walk through the doors (physical or virtual) and feel like they belong and can get something from the experience.

But, how do we know what type of culture we have? And, if it’s unhealthy, how do we change it? And if it is healthy … how do we maintain its health, or improve it?

I like to think it’s simple. Here’s three steps to try -

  • Analyse it - assess your culture, and identify your strengths and opportunities.
  • Define it - figure out what you want and need your culture to be.
  • Shape it - build your culture with some straightforward strategies, aligned to your culture and business objectives.

And … (if I can continue with the gym analogy) it’s a bit like an exercise program in that the principles are super simple (and often the plan is too), but the challenge lies in sticking to it!

If you want to have a chat about your culture, reach out to us!