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3 Telltale Signs that Culture Fit is Toxic

22nd Nov 2018
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If you mention the term “culture fit” to a group of business owners, managers, or HR professionals, chances are you will get some mixed reactions.

At its core, culture fit should define how well an employee meshes with the general mindset, habits, values, and outlook of a company. However, the finer details of culture fit can vary greatly from company to company. In some extreme cases, it’s simply a sugar-coated term that means managers are looking to hire friends before valuable employees (cronyism). If this trend goes on long enough, you might end up with the need to usher in a complete organizational change.

Take Uber for example. A couple of years ago, the cracks in the company’s internal culture were exposed for the world to see. In what may have been one of the most toxic company cultures of our time, new employees were asked to subscribe to values which included making big and bold bets, a champion’s mindset, and to “always be hustlin’”. As you probably heard in the news, this attitude created an extreme case of unchecked, cutthroat meritocracy. Some reports involved blatant favoritism, sexual harassment, discrimination, and one even claimed a manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat!

Keep in mind, even if the concept of culture fit starts out with the best intentions, there is always the chance that it can slowly evolve into a fancy term for favoritism – a shift that can be very tough to spot on the surface.

Here are three telltale signs the good intentions of culture fit have taken a toxic turn in your company.

1. Bad Performance is Getting Leniency

This is a sign that can, in many cases, go unnoticed by upper management – even though it’s painfully obvious for junior employees. When a manager is playing favorites, some workers will get all the leeway and opportunities in the world, while others will get the book thrown at them for a single misstep. As an employee on the short end of this stick, there are very few things that are more frustrating. When managers see certain employees as friends (and not subordinates), it’s very common that this sense of cronyism will allow poor performance to get a pass and dips in productivity will be swept under the rug. If this routinely goes unchecked, it can have serious side effects that need immediate attention.

Thanks to social media and company review platforms like Glassdoor, favoritism in your company can be a huge deterrent for potential talent. Always remember, skilled professionals can sense a toxic company culture from a mile away.

So how can you avoid this type of favoritism in the workplace?

Unfortunately, the ones who experience this firsthand will rarely speak up on their own– as many might think it will jeopardize their job. That said, HR departments and upper management must make it a point to let no employee go voiceless.

One of the best places to start is with anonymous employee feedback. Tools like TINYpulse, Niko, and Officevibe give people within an organization a faceless platform to voice their grievances, as well as give HR the intel to see how departments are functioning in a candid light.

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If there are patterns that reveal favoritism or blaring examples of the poor performance getting a pass, this is a sign your company’s idea of culture fit has gone sour and needs to be fixed.

2. Noticeable Lack of Diversity

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Diversity in the workplace is a big deal. In the current state of the business world, diversity is not only good for creativity, innovation, and the ability to reach more people, it’s great for a company’s PR. Studies have found that highly inclusive organizations typically generate 2.3x more cash flow per employee, 1.4x more revenue, and are 110% more capable of meeting financial targets.

Fortunately, a significant lack of diversity in the workplace is very easy for everyone to spot. If this is the case in your company, a shoddy process of hiring for culture fit might be to blame. Hiring managers may very well be playing favorites in how they profile people for a job. Perhaps managers are only interested in hiring people in a certain age group, race, gender, outlook, etc. This practice does a lot more than makes your company look bad on the outside, it can lead to a one-dimensional approach to problem-solving. Perhaps the biggest advantage of a diverse company culture is a wide range of perspectives, judgments, and backgrounds impacting the way they see certain situations. If your organization is only hiring one type of employee, you end up with narrow-minded tactics, creativity, and limited room for growth.

With this in mind, companies need to define their interpretation of culture fit around a strong sense of inclusion and open-mindedness. The more diversity you have in the way of age, backgrounds, and approaches to problem-solving, the more versatile you will be as a whole.

3. Progressive Ideas Are Shunned

Ideation within a company plays an enormous role in overall growth.

One of the most negative effects of a toxic culture is the inability or unwillingness to usher in change. For instance, companies that have been around for a long time may live under the presumption that their current approaches and mindsets have made them successful - and they have no desire to change them. In turn, many of these companies see “culture fit” as an employee’s willingness to keep the status quo, rather than push it.

When a company gets into a groove where certain employees do not feel comfortable sharing fresh ideas, it creates poor employee relations with the notion that progressive minds are overlooked due to their attempt to add something new. So, favoritism in this sense revolves around the concept of staying within a comfort zone. If progressive ideas are shunned in favor of more traditional approaches, this is a sign that the interpretation of culture fit needs some re-examining. To reiterate, a diverse approach to ideation is how companies grow and remain competitive. Furthermore, it’s important to note that most younger employees have no problem leaving a company if they don’t feel valued. Simply put, if you want to keep people around these days, progressive ideas need to be met with open-mindedness, not instant rejection.

Over to you

The concept of culture fit can be summed up as a big gray area. If it’s used for the right reasons, it can do wonders to create cohesive teams that produce amazing results. However, if used poorly, the idea of culture fit can make a company feel more like a furnace.

Keep in mind, culture fit is present in every company – in one way or another. The key to creating a growth-minded organization that people love working for is making sure this ideology doesn’t turn toxic. If your company is experiencing any of these signs, it’s very possible that culture fit has crossed a hard line into favoritism.

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