3 Major Company Culture Challenges, Answered

Liz Sheldon

Recently, New Stand CEO David Garcia joined an I Hate It Here podcast episode on wellbeing in the workplace, hosted by people-ops pro Hebba Youssef. The pair put their combined experience together to address common stumbling blocks when it comes to improving company culture from the inside.

Read on for their strategic answers to live questions from HR pros about turning wellbeing intentions into effective action, handling disengaged leadership, and leveling with an employee who isn’t meeting expectations.

I'm starting a mental-wellness employee resource group at my company. We're struggling to go beyond vague goals to daily action. What do you recommend?

HEBBA: I highly encourage you to find a professional who can help, somebody who can help facilitate a conversation. If the ERG has a budget, ask for it. One, because your mental health is important. And, there are parts of our mental health that are confidential, so none of your employees should feel like they have to disclose confidential information about what they're dealing with in an unsafe or unfit space.

DAVID: Ask, what role do you want the employee resource group to serve? Is it an education function? Is it a development function? Is it a support community? Then you can build out what the daily actuals are.

What about when you're new and notice that culture is low, but the org doesn’t seem to have a desire for change?

DAVID: It's on you to assess the company during your interview process. If you've identified this before you join and decided to join anyway, I think you do have a responsibility to help promote positive work culture and be the change. A lot of times, one person can change a group dynamic, so you could be that person. 

If you joined and unexpectedly encountered this kind of low culture or that the company has no desire to evolve, you need to assess the trade-offs. Are there aspects of your role—like increased scope or pay—that you're willing to trade off culture or wellbeing for? Or are you willing to make the additional investment in that company to see it grow?

If the answer to one of those questions is no, then you've made a decision that you have to revisit. If the answer to either one of those questions is yes, consider whether or not you want to stay and get something out of it. What is winning to you?

HEBBA: Sometimes it's really hard to change an organization. I'm not saying it's impossible, or that we should run away and be scared of it. But human beings do not like change. So if you join an org where there's low desire for change, it's worth exploring why. What are they afraid of? And how can you as a People person unlock that fear for them, where they end up becoming an organization that wants to change?

That's big-picture stuff, but it's something to think about. I would never tell anyone to take an HR job if they do not like conflict—a big part of change will probably incite some kind of conflict.

How do you deal with an employee who uses wellbeing issues as an excuse for not completing tasks?

DAVID: In my experience, most people come to work wanting to do a good job and do not come to work with the intention of 'getting one over' their employer. So I don't think you design policy around edge cases. But for employees who are not working with integrity, you need to have coaching conversations and set clear expectations around performance and what is acceptable behavior.

This goes back to high-quality management. You have to be able to have a nuanced, one-on-one discussion about wellbeing, as it relates to your personal state, as well as how it connects to performance. You need to be able to discuss taking advantage of trust and accommodations the company is providing. It’s a conversation that requires a high degree of empathy, but also confidence in the assessment.

"Most people do not come to work with the intention of 'getting one over' their employer."

HEBBA: When a manager comes to me and says someone is not performing or completing their tasks, the first question I ask is, ‘Have you told them what's expected of them?’ It's also the first question in the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. Knowing what's expected of you at work contributes to engagement. If a manager says ‘no,’ I tell them that they need to go tell their team member the expectations first—and come back to me if, after that, they're still not performing. If there's anything I can fix in this world, it's manager training.

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

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