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Work Life
March 30, 2023

Maybe the Office Wasn’t the Problem, It Was Your Toxic Company Culture

We all know the saying: it’s not where you are, but who you’re with that matters. It rings truer in the work setting than anywhere else. 

Anyone who has shared a workspace with others before knows that navigating the murky waters of office politics comes with the territory. There's also dealing with all the troubles of being in the same place as your colleagues constantly, and the inadvertent conflict that tends to happen. 

While many would say that the great thing about remote work is being away from all of this, and just being able to focus on actual work, ironically, most of these negatives would exist, and to a greater degree, even if a company goes fully remote.

So, before we start pointing fingers at the office for being the breeding ground of workplace toxicity, it may be best to examine what kind of things are causing friction in a company. Because you might have the best downtown location, the snazziest sunlit interiors, and all the bean bags and arcade games, but they might not be enough to get rid of the negative vibes.

Below are common problems faced and reported in companies, according to Forbes, so let’s see if they're caused by the place or the people

1. Employee Dissatisfaction and Disengagement

Answer: Both

Your mind can lie to you, but your body always keeps record; toxic company culture can befelt. Do you find employees disengaged, tired, have various health issues, etc? That is a sure sign of being overworked and dissatisfied. Employees that are troubled by workplace anxiety, lack of motivation and engagement are influenced by their surrounding environment.

When employees are present, but lacks presence, how do you deal with that? Some experts from Forbes Coaches Council commented:

“Enhance engagement through a shift in culture and meaningful recognition. Communication is key and critical conversations must be had!” - Sharon Weinstein, SMW Group LLC
“Acknowle[dge] that there is a cultural problem that everyone within the organization is responsible for fixing.” - Loren Trlin, Loren Trlin LLC
“‘Busy,’ to me, is a code word for overwhelmed, unfocused and underappreciated. Engage your people, know what makes them tick, and create employee happiness programs to stimulate sharing of information by elevating trust, recognition and an inclusive culture.” - Drew Aversa, Drew Aversa

Employees can be dissatisfied by the confined, badly designed spaces too. There is a lack of tools and resources for employees to fully optimise their time in the office. Broken printers, slow computers, and tight spaces are frustrating. Tight spaces also cause sick building syndrome, which fuels into many other health problems. The answer to bettering employee’s mental (and physical) well-being lies in both the company culture and the workplace.

2. Lack of Individuality

Answer: Company Culture

People are doing things under one person’s command instead of a collective whole. Though you may see it as an office problem. When everyone is sectioned off in their own spaces, how would they be able to express their individuality? True, but the problem here won't be solved by just forcing people to look at each other. Employees must be allowed to be individuals first. Individual strengths and weaknesses have to be recognised for their assigned work to be engaging their skill set.

“It is the path to least resistance, it creates high engagement, drives performance, and you get an organization of happy, energized employees!” - Jeanne Smith, Procore Technologies

Employees desperately trying to please a powerful figure instead of having autonomy in sharing their ideas is absolutely part of a toxic company culture. You can’t please everyone, so there’s no use in being all things to all people.

3. Failure to Meet Goals

Answer: Company Culture

This is an easy one, and the answer has to be on the company culture. There must be a lack of collaboration, communication and creativity that is stopping goals from being met. Maybe employees don’t care enough or think their voices don’t matter when there is a strong hierarchy imposed in the system. They’re at the bottom of the food chain, working towards a never-ending tunnel.

“It's not failure at the top that plagues most organizations. It's typically an imbalance of responsibility and authority at many levels, which occurs when employees are not trained to communicate and lead at each level.” - Nance Rosen, NanceSpeaks!

4. Sick Building Syndrome

Answer: Office

The sick building syndrome is an actual health condition, whereby employees feel sick and experience acute health problems due to prolonged stay in a tight office building. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, eye, nose and throat irritations. This often comes with older buildings, where toxic gases are emitted through walls and old furniture. Sick building syndrome is exclusively an office problem, and it can easily be fixed by either

     A) Renovating the old office

     B) Getting a new office

     C) Getting a temporary office and work from home

Renovating an old office is a hit or miss. You can save money if you do it right, but you may benefit more by just changing the whole space altogether. Getting a new office is pricey though, whereas a temporary office space like flex spaces can save you money and effort. Coworking spaces come with all the facilities you'll need in an office and more. Plus, it's less commitment and it's very flexible, suited to adapting to unprecedented changes like COVID-19.

5. Low Morale

Answer: Company Culture

There is always an exception to the rule. Even if the rule is to be on time when employees are late to work one day, try to consider their side of the story instead of obliviating their reasoning. Low morale at work is common when companies don’t appreciate their employee's efforts. Everyone has their personal life to deal with on top of their work-life, so companies should express more empathy and appreciation for their employees to prevent Monday blues being stretched across the week.

“Feeling valued is our core emotion, and effective leaders recognize that and create a culture which gives employees a sense of stability, safety and recognition. I would start with leadership.” - Masha Malka, Inborn Genius Group, Corp

6. Lack of Communication

Answer: Both

One-way communication is a red flag in companies. Information flows from the executives to the employees, but never the other way around. This can lead to a repetition of work (when employees are unsure of their tasks), lack of core values, lack of a community and just overall inefficiency. Too structured of a hierarchy is toxic. When there are so many talents in the workplace, there is no reason not to make use of everyone's input.

Lack of communication can be treated with a simple switch in mindset. Don’t think of communication as commanding. Communication is a two-way street, where everyone engages together in a meeting. Too structured of an office can be at blame too, how do you go about a meeting when there are no spaces to effectively meet at all? A good meeting room is vital to achieving meeting success since they are expertly designed to facilitate communication.

7. Walking on Eggshells

Answer: Company Culture

Speaking of a structured hierarchy, are you scared of your boss? Or if you’re the boss, do you feel like your employees are stepping on eggshells around you? The tension between co-workers and their boss is an unhealthy way of promoting productivity. There’s a big difference between respect and fear; fear is forced while respect is earned. Don’t be like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, where everyone scurries away when she glides through the corridor. Although it may seem fun to be like her, it is exhausting to deal with and can cause a high turnover rate in employees (the perfect example is Priestly's very short-termed assistants).

The boss is the face of the company. They set the tone for their workplace. They are almost like ‘role-models’ to the company. If they ridicule an employee, other team leaders may do the same. It is not healthy to promote a hostile environment where employees can't freely express their ideas without being snapped at. This also decreases the amount of innovation in the company.

8. Low Employee Retention (Profit > People)

Answer: Company Culture

It’s all about priority. Of course, profit is important, but how do you create profit if no one is willing to work for you? A high turnover rate, where many employees willingly leave, is the ultimate red flag in a company. A company where employees are constantly looking to leave means either that the company doesn't care, or they’re broke, or both. People can change their careers, sure, but when no employees are giving positive reviews, maybe rethink the company’s values and attitude towards their employees.

Having a great office can be the sprinkles on top, but it’s not the whole cake. If the company culture and environment are toxic and mean, no amount of ergonomic chairs can soothe the headache you’ll be getting.

“If the company is consistently hiring for the same positions, most often this could be a result of poor management. The first step in correcting this issue is identifying where this problem began. Then you can work to correct the problem and create a more positive effect downstream.” - Christopher Morga, InvisiScope Solutions

9. All Work, No Play

Answer: Both

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Not only will employees be bored, but they will also become boring. No creativity means no innovation. Employees end up burning themselves out by overworking. This is a product of unrealistic expectations. Employees are forced, like robots, to perform their best at all times. That is impossible.

With no ways of “playing”, bad office spaces can contribute to the “all work, no play” vibe. An office that promotes a stale and boring environment fosters negative emotions and poor work ethic. People need spaces where they can relax and unwind, like a terrace or a dedicated room for leisure. Some coworking spaces have their own yoga classes and facilities, swimming pool, game room, etc. To see if such an environment is beneficial to employees, why not try them out with BOOQED?

10. Pointing Fingers

Answer: Company Culture

This is human behaviour, so the answer will be on company culture. Shifting the blame to others and not taking accountability is toxic even outside of work. When the company is founded on blaming others, there will be fewer chances for people to improve themselves, their skill set and their overall success.

Employees need to feel safe and secure, not always on their toes, looking for people that will rat them out sooner or later. A “survival of the fittest” mindset may encourage better performance, but employees would constantly be looking to sabotage other’s work. At the end of the day, collaboration tends to outperform the competition in the long run. 

So far, many of the top problems prevalent in companies are caused by toxic company culture. Before you jump to conclusions by blaming the office, pay very close attention to the overall and dynamics among team members. Because with a good team, you can work from anywhere without a snag, and the office wouldn't even be a problem anymore.

Remember, a toxic company culture can put all your efforts on the line, while a bad office can be easily switched out.

Start Coworking with BOOQED

Some issues listed above can be solved by changing the office space. Coworking spaces foster collaboration and communication, which helps strengthen a healthy work culture as well. Give BOOQED a shot, because sometimes, the office does contribute to the problem.

We have spaces in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen and Shanghai. Download our app now - available on Android and iOS.

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