6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures

A work culture can be crudely defined as ‘the way things are done around here’. It can be considered as an entity of its own, the collective subsequence of the workforce, policies, practice and management. Despite best efforts, it’s something that cannot be tamed or controlled, but organisations can certainly focus their energy on the individual elements that direct it. It’s also an important part of working life and has a very direct influence on job satisfaction.

For example, you could have the best job in the world but if the culture is toxic, the job itself isn’t enough to keep you there, or at least happy. Often companies neglect the significance and impact a culture has on their staff and scratch their heads at their appalling attrition rates.

Being aware of this, and beginning to identify the sort of work culture you can flourish in, will add to your efforts to reaching job satisfaction. When it comes to this particular element of job satisfaction, it’s important to consider the consequences of a work culture to your life outside of work, for example, a culture that encourages late nighters and regular weekend work might not work well with keeping a family, working on a side hustle, or studying a course.

As I touched on in this post about the secret behind ‘the perfect career’, the work culture is a particularly important element for those who find job satisfaction by fitting in with their lifestyle and contentment rather than the actual role itself.

Or for those who consider themselves as ‘multipotentialites’ (which I talked about in this post), a work culture that encourages entre/intrapreneurialship and has a strong focus on training and learning new skills will play a strong contribution to job satisfaction.

So with this in mind, below I list 6 signs each of toxic and healthy work cultures.

  1. Recruitment

Toxic – From the beginning of the process, the job description is ambiguous, over-generalised and rife with spelling mistakes. Communication during the interview and onboarding processes is flaky and unprofessional. Rocking up to work on your first day, you’re given a desk, a computer and told to get on with it; no induction, no introductions, no first day training. These signs suggest that the culture isn’t professional, and it likes to cut corners at the cost of quality. The lack of communication suggests that they don’t invest in the employee experience before they’ve even started the role and could come across that they just don’t care. This can also be a sign that the company has experienced high attrition rates as the process is one that doesn’t have a long impact on new starters as they’ll soon be out of the door any way!

Healthy – From the beginning of the process, the job description details everything about the job and what is expected of the successful candidate. The pay respectfully reflects the nature and level of the role, as well as the qualifications needed for it. Communication is led with consistently, constantly and with integrity. A formal induction program is ready for you on day one (if not before) and you’re introduced to everyone in the office. You’re walked through the upcoming training and all of your new starter objectives. This culture is one of professionalism and respect and shows that they value their workforce.

  1. HR Policies

Toxic – HR policies and procedures are either very short or excessively long. They also focus only on how management should use them and to control staff. Heavy policies that deal with attendance, disciplinary and grievance matters are rigid, strict, unreasonable, and restricts or altogether forbids professional flexibility or judgement. Or very little measures are in place to protect staff from bullying and harassment, manage poor performance before disciplinary action is instigated or to assist staff who are experiencing physical or mental health problems.

Healthy – HR policies and procedures provide enough information that is transparent for employees and their managers that have equal and proportionate weight in terms of assisting employees and managers. All policies provide a clear structure for managers to align their professional judgement to individual circumstances, while providing appropriate flexibility. They also have the right sort of measures in place to ensure staff are protected, assisted and supported while giving managers a guide to work alongside when implementing remedial action.

  1. Work-life Balance

Toxic – Leaving on time is discouraged as putting in extra unpaid hours is expected of you; sometimes you’re expected to be able to take calls or step in at a minute’s notice on your days off. Flexible working applications are refused as standard without assessing each case appropriately. The process of applying for annual leave is tedious and doesn’t feel like an entitlement but a privilege; some leave might also be denied for multiple months, showing extremely poor workforce planning. Leaving work unexpectedly for emergencies to do with dependants is either not allowed or something begrudgingly granted with a consequence of being made to feel guilty upon your return.

Healthy – Managers practically push you out the door if they suspect you working longer than they should and respect your time outside of work. Flexible working is dealt with sensibly, compassionately and pragmatically, and arrangements are reviewed regularly to make sure it’s still fit for purpose for the individual. Annual leave is worked out fairly amongst the team and within sensible time frames. Emergencies are dealt with realistically as there is a strong working family culture and understand unforeseen things do actually happen in real life. When you return to work after the emergency, your manager and colleagues are genuinely concerned. Temporary working patterns are offered to accommodate any further disruptions.

  1. Learning and Development

Toxic – Professional development and learning is an afterthought and is considered an add-on rather than something that needs investment or strategic planning. Even with little learning and development opportunities offered by the organisation, self-directed learning is scoffed at and you’re reminded by management that it won’t get you anywhere within the company. Skill gap analysis isn’t conducted leading to a severe skill shortfall, and self-assessment and learning objective setting are alien concepts.

Healthy – There is investment and strategic forethought in learning and development, on both an individual and company-wide basis. There is an intrapreneurial spirit that encourages everyone to fully utilise the full spectrum of their skills and interests. Self-directed learning is encouraged and taking time out to study can be a form of a flexible working arrangement. Skills are regularly assessed and very rarely are skill shortfalls detrimental to business-as-usual activities.

  1. Staff Engagement

Toxic – Company values are forced upon staff without exemplary behaviour demonstrated by management. Feedback is rarely asked for, but when it is, any constructive feedback from staff is considered negative and therefore dismissed. Employees have very little influence on policies, procedures or processes even when they have ideas on improving costs and efficiency. Team and individual meetings are tick-box exercises with little or no value to either the manager or individual. There is a strong focus on penalising those who get things wrong but little or no emphasis on lessons learned or celebrating successes.

Healthy – Core values are demonstrated by managers and senior managers throughout the whole organisation and every action from the organisation is evidently aligned to these core values. Internal communications are for the benefit of staff to provide useable information and requesting thoughts and feedback. Employees have a strong influence on how policies, procedures and processes are shaped and can be involved in projects or stretch assignments that implement these changes. Team and individual meetings are very useful and benefit everyone involved. They’re used as a safe opportunity to share views, concerns and successes, and any failures are used as an opportunity to learn lessons.

  1. Management

Toxic – Management favour organisational inertia over progress because ‘this is how it’s always been done’. Efforts are focussed in fire-fighting and keeping business-as-usual items ticking over without any focus on the future or putting in developmental plans. Line managers use their position to shirk responsibility, duties and to exert their power. As a line manager they also feel they can do no wrong and don’t require any training as they know everything already. Management lack any forward thinking in terms of succession and workforce planning which has an overall negative impact on organisational performance, attendance and staff morale. Hostile and toxic environments are left to fester.

Healthy – Management pay attention to what’s on the horizon and make sure their efforts on current activity are future proof and may lead to future opportunities. Line managers use their position to coach and mentor their teams and actively keep involved in their team’s work. Line managers have management-specific objectives and keep their training up to date. Succession and workforce planning is an integral part of business-as-usual and is a need-to-have, not a like-to-have. Early intervention is a key part in nipping any hostility in the bud and management actively play a part in promoting and supporting a healthy work culture.

These are just a few signs to look out for in toxic and healthy work cultures, the effects of which are detrimental to your work life and job satisfaction. During your search for a career or job that provide job satisfaction, you might find it hard to judge the work culture in organisations or sectors you know very little about. Even if you were to read up on the legal sector, you might hear stories of late nights, micro-management, heavy workloads and tedious hourly rate calculations, which might be completely untrue for a number of firms.

Your perfect work culture

Using the first point above on recruitment will be evident from the point of reading the job description, as well as any proactive phone enquiries. But in the meantime, you can use these signs to begin to think about the work culture you want to work in. In the absence of knowing what career you want to do, you can start thinking about what culture you want to be in, the one that allows you to work with the least stress, the most flexibility or the emphasis on continuous career progression.

This is the third of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about professional motivation and how it can help you towards job satisfaction.

 

15 productive things to do on your commute

Getting the most out of your commute is something we could all get to grips with, considering that the UK’s average commute is 58 minutes according to City AM. And if you live in London, that commute is increased to 81 minutes to and from work. Most commuters dread this part of their working life, especially in the winter when the heater’s broken, the seats are wet from coats and umbrellas, and everybody seems to have a cold that seemingly prevents them from covering their mouths when they sneeze.

Most have also developed a number of coping mechanisms to include their commute time to their daily productivity. Commutes can be a nice way to separate work from home, a transition period, a defined punctuation of time that helps shift our mindset.

Today I am going to share 15 ways to make the most out of your commute and maximise its productivity potential. These are listed in a way that assumes most commutes are driving, cycling, walking, and catching public transport, and I note which way of commute is most appropriate to each activity using D, C, W and PT respectively (in case you assume knitting is perfectly acceptable while driving, which, just to note, IT IS NOT).

Now I’m hooked on making them, I’ve put these into an infographic at the end of the post.

  1. Listen to podcasts (D/C/W/PT)

I am a recent convert to podcasts and, quite frankly, I cannot get enough of them. Using the commute time to absorb information is not only a great way to pass the time, or to learn more about a particular topic, or catch up with the latest episode of a serial drama, but it’s also a very passive and relaxing way to absorb the information. If you haven’t given them a go, please try them out! There’s a podcast for nearly every subject from business to confidence, cooking to music, comedy sketches to serial dramas.

  1. Listen to music (D/C/W/PT)

With a multitude of pocket-sized devices, I don’t need to remind you that anyone can listen to music on the go now. Using your commute to pump yourself up before work, or deflate after a day of work (music styles should vary, unless you like relaxing to Metallica) is another passive activity that fills the time, but also can have huge mental health benefits.

  1. Listen to…nothing (D/C/W/PT)

Precisely that. Nothing. Listen to, or do, nothing. Much like listening to music, when you just sit in silence, either being present in the moment or shutting out all external noises, it helps massively to prepare you for the day ahead, or deflates you after a stressful day. This is particularly good for days which are information-heavy, or, as other introverts can relate, very people-y.

  1. Learn a new language (D/C/W/PT)

Strictly speaking, you could do this as a driver, cyclist or walker, however it’s probably easier if you learn a new language with the writing in front of you. But fitting this often overlooked skill into your commute will really broaden your general linguistic skills, open you to new culture, and look fancy amongst those around you.

  1. Socialise (D/C/W/PT)

With work and daily life taking up a lot of our time, we are all guilty of not socialising as much as we used to. Using this dead time between work and home gives you the opportunity to call a friend, start a group chat or FaceTime a family member, without it encroaching on your time at home. You could even socialise in person (a novel idea!) by car-pooling, walking with a friend or catching a train home with a colleague. I know someone who has even developed a ‘train family’ who celebrate birthdays and Christmas together by throwing catered and decorated parties…on the train. Mix it up a bit. If you’re an introvert, you’re time at home is not only precious, but essential to recuperate from peopling at work and sometimes visiting friends immediately after work might be mentally exhausting.

  1. Organise your day ahead (D/W/PT)

Having a dedicated time to your day to make sure future deadlines and appointments are sorted really helps in the long run to avoid time management related stress. Even drivers can organise their diaries by speaking to Siri, or the like. You can do this going home from work too and organise tomorrow’s appointments, especially if you’re one to dwell on upcoming meetings in the evenings.

  1. Listening to a mindfulness app (W/PT)

Mindfulness apps are forever becoming more and more popular as people begin to realise there’s more to them than airy fairy flute music but proper backed-up science that proves the benefits of mindfulness. Again, this is just another way to ease yourself to and from a day of work, and something to try out that you might not feel compelled to do when you’re at home with distractions. I haven’t included drivers in this activity, as although most exercises can be done with your eyes open, it’s probably not the safest to zone out while driving.

  1. Exercise (C/W/PT)

Who doesn’t love a bit of exercise? Only a selected few unfortunately. For those who can’t seem to find time to fit exercise into their day (or actively find ways of not fitting it in…), incorporating it into your commute is a great start. As your commute is a necessary evil and there is no way of avoiding it, making exercise as part of your commute makes it routine and more easy to commit. The type of exercise is limited to walking, cycling (either the whole or part of the commute), power-walking and jogging but it can be really enjoyable…on a dry day. Even if you catch a train or bus, getting off a stop or two (or more) earlier and walking the rest of the way, it still counts.

  1. Read a blog (PT)

Catching up on your favourite blog (like this one!), or blogs, is another great way to absorb information. If you like to read anyway, then you find this way of absorbing information is just as easy and passive as listening to a podcast. Be it a blog on a personal interest of yours or something related to work, anything goes.

  1. Write a blog (PT)

Nothing out there doing it for you? Write a blog that you feel the blogosphere is missing. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be missing it; if writing a blog is something you already do, or something you think you will enjoy doing, then using your commute as a time to write for it is a perfect time. It also encourages a daily habit of it, one of the most important aspect to a successful blog. About 75% of my posts are written on the train going to and from work – I type it out on my phones notepad and paste it into an email to myself, so you don’t even need to drag your laptop around.

  1. Read a book (PT)

Similar to number 7, only in book format. Again, it can be your favourite genre (I like a grisly whodunit), something to do with work, or something entirely new.

  1. Write a book (PT)

Similar to number 8. Replace ‘blog’ with ‘book’, ‘blogosphere’ with ‘book shops’ and ‘posts’ with ‘pages’.

  1. Work on a side hustle (PT)

If you have a yearning to start your own business or have one on the side as a side hustle, using your commute to work on this adds to the input while not eating into work time and home time. Obviously there are certain things you might not be able to do on a train, for example if you’re a blacksmith, but the related admin tasks can easily be done using a phone, tablet, or good old fashioned notepad. There are some side hustles people might feel they could do on a train for example knitting, graphic design or social media marketing.

  1. Study a course (PT)

The power that is online or distance learning enables you to learn new skills from the comfort of your own home…or your commute. Most people who take online courses feel as though they struggle to commit to a schedule or find a time to do it; making this a part of your commute ensures you can commit to a regular schedule and find the time to do it. If you look after a home and family, doing this means you get to get stuck into your course without distractions or feeling obligated to do things around the house.

  1. Work (PT)

Although this goes against the whole concept of switching off after work, some people find that they can get more done on the way to and from work as it’s mostly distraction-free. They see themselves as not officially at work yet and therefore unavailable to take calls or respond to emails. The trick is to get the right balance – working during your commute should be able to help manage your time better or put any worries at ease. Go too far though, where you just need to do more work to meet a deadline, can lead to either poor time management (relying on unpaid hours to get your work done) or over loading, both of which needs addressing with your manager. When it reaches this stage, you will find it harder and harder to separate home life from work life.

Now, I could have listed a whole bunch of other ideas, for example binge watching a series or aimlessly scrolling through social media accounts, but I really wanted to focus on what productive things us avid doers can do to add to our day, not inconvenience it.

Personally, I’m glad I have a commute. When I’m not working from home, I travel to work by train for an hour each way and it’s an unavoidable part of my day where I have no other option but to find things to do. It’s a time of day that is forced upon us and therefore is a great excuse to do the things we want to that might otherwise seem unproductive if you were at home with a sink full of dishes.

 

Thigstodoonyourcommute