5 Signs Your Culture Needs a Tune-up

Regrettables turnover

Christine Herrman, O.G. Bills fan, sunset yogi, granola chef.


Organizational culture is the culmination of the unsaid things – values, assumptions, beliefs. It’s the behaviors we reward and the ones that we don’t. It’s the unspoken rules of engagement and, at the same time, avoidance. It’s how decisions are made.

It can be difficult to allocate the necessary resources to employ strategies that keep your company’s culture on track. Many small to mid-sized companies have smaller human resource teams that are limited to functional yet critical tasks like payroll, benefits, and employee relations. In many cases, they may not notice a culture problem until it’s too late.

Your culture may need a tune-up if you’re noticing this:

High turnover

Employees are more likely to leave an organization with a toxic culture. On the other hand, they’re much more likely to stay (even for less pay/title) when the culture is inclusive, open, positive, and engaging. If your turnover has been steadily increasing and your pay/benefits/promotions are on par with competitors, it’s time to take a closer look at your culture.

Low participation in “fun” events at work

If your company’s events no longer draw employees, it’s time to see if you really know who your employees are. Just throwing a happy hour or jeans day at the team when you think morale needs boosting is not the answer. Great cultures celebrate and encourage play in ways that engage all employees. Employees who work in an organization with a problematic culture don’t want to spend any more time at work or with coworkers than they have to.

A spike in sick/vacation days taken

Looking at the average number of sick/vacation days taken over an extended period of time can tell you if your company has developed a culture concern. Overworked and undervalued employees are the products of problematic cultures. Employees should be encouraged to take time off when they need to and know not to abuse it; employees who love their organization’s culture wake up in the morning excited to come to work and therefore seize less opportunities to take time off.

More frequent conflict

Conflict in organizations is healthy and those with great cultures find a way to encourage it in productive, respectful ways. When conflict consistently flies off the rails or (just as destructively) gets swept under the rug, it creates deep-seated resentment. Again, what gets rewarded and what gets reprimanded are key indicators of your culture. So, if you have a director or senior leader who regularly gets away with publicly berating employees and is touted as a key decision maker in the organization, you are essentially telling employees that that behavior will be rewarded with promotion.

Water cooler conversations become more hushed

As you walk around your workplace, are casual conversations earmarked by bursts of laughter, relaxed tone, and smiles? Or, are they hushed and nervous, with eyes darting around to make sure no one is watching? Another way to tell if your culture is toxic is if employees are working from a place of fear – they’re worried they’re going to get in trouble by having fun at work, or talking to other employees during work time. Role model cultures create an environment where employees approach work from a place of excitement and opportunity – fun happens simply because they are encouraged to use their talents and be themselves. A positive culture will not surface from a place of constant concern and anxiety.

Certainly these are not the only indicators of a culture problem, but the key is to have your finger on the pulse of your organization so no smaller issues grow into ones that are irreversible and negatively affect the business.


Catherine Malloy Cummings

20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL, 60606, United States