Oct 06, 2022
Sinking Culture by Mylene Isler | High Performance Coach

Think of a sinking culture as a zombie apocalypse affecting your workplace, where apathetic, unengaged, and demotivated employees gradually infect their colleagues, creating an epidemic of unhappiness and dullness.

In a business with a sinking culture, the company mission is non-existent or at least obscure enough that nobody knows about it. Shareholders’ interests are always and clearly placed above those of employees, who are considered an army of replaceable minions. If they don’t perform as expected, whatever the reason, they’re immediately fired. Leadership is overwhelmed, employees are exhausted, and therefore turnover is high.

Companies with a sinking culture wallow in inferiority and promote a burnout culture. In fact, individuals are so burned out they can’t even function anymore.

Naturally, this type of culture is the epitome of what you want to avoid because companies with a sinking culture typically don’t survive.

Here are some characteristics of a sinking culture:

24/7 meetings and impossible deadlines

In a sinking corporate place, employees are expected to be available 24/7, whether via email, team chat, or over the phone. This is partly because the team’s workload isn’t appropriately managed; therefore, an unbelievable amount of work is required from every single individual. You see, the sinking company culture is characterized by chaos, and this reflects in the lack of planning and organization. This means that the deadlines are always yesterday, and the workload is unmanageable, creating stress and anxiety and impacting employees’ productivity. To make it worse, don’t expect any support from the leadership team while their employees are drowning.

Lack of leadership leading to micro-management and lack of accountability

A lack of experience or skilled employees and a feeling of insecurity are often breeding grounds for micromanagement. Sinking company cultures create insecurities and defiance, prompting leaders to micromanage their team. And this tends to generate distrust among employees and drive their motivation and performance down. In fact, 69% of employees working for a micromanager consider changing jobs. And that’s not all. 85% report their morale and performance to be affected by micromanagement!

Also, the lack of leadership means that leaders lack the maturity to admit they did something wrong, and accountability is non-existent among employees. If something goes wrong, employees automatically go into “every man for himself” mode.

No time for recovery leading to high turnover

Having fun with coworkers, prioritizing self-care, and having a healthy diet are all critical elements to ensure your employees’ mental and physical well-being and, therefore, productivity. Yet, team bonding activities and employees’ wellbeing aren’t valued in a sinking work culture.

Instead, employees are overworked and don’t feel appreciated. They feel like a number. That’s because a company emulating a sinking culture overwork its employees and doesn’t acknowledge their efforts or reward their achievements. Leaders aren’t celebrating their team.

They always demand more without providing any guidance or recognition. They don’t value their employees’ well-being and are solely focusing on productivity and results. Unfortunately, this kind of approach tends to yield the exact opposite: lack of motivation and lower productivity. And this all inevitably leads to turnover. Constant pressure, anxiety, stress, micromanagement, and a lack of recognition are all factors driving many employees evolving in a sinking culture to quit.

I mean, would you want to work for such a company?


A Sinking Culture Breeds WORKPLACE ZOMBIES

Employees working in a company with a sinking culture are Workplace Zombies. The corporate world they evolve in induces high anxiety and chronic stress. They’re constantly feeling guilty, whether because they’re going on leave, they’re switching off for the day, or going on their lunch break. They resent their coworkers for not standing up for themselves and allowing management to expect everyone in the team to be available 24/7.

They wake up feeling drained and confused. They go about their day without purpose or direction, physically and mentally exhausted. They feed off their resentment for others. Spurred by despair and disillusion, each one of their actions contributes to destroying any bits of warmth and happiness that could still subsist in their work environment.


How To Get Out of a Sinking Culture

If you believe your company culture is sinking, you need to take action immediately to turn things around and bring your employees back to life! Here are some simple yet very effective strategies to breathe life and hope into your workplace:

1.Give them a break! Prioritize recovery strategies

Even though it might sound counterproductive, encouraging your employees to take vacations and breaks and switch off at a reasonable time is the best way to boost their motivation and improve their performance. A rested employee is a happier and more productive employee.

2.Create or focus on sustainable workloads

Instead of overwhelming your employees with a never-ending list of tasks, work on allocating a reasonable number of tasks or projects and use reasonable deadlines. Discuss what workload employees are comfortable with and take their feedback on board.

3.Connect on a human level: listen and support

Instead of treating employees like a number or just another individual in the company, get to know them on a personal level. Connect with each member of your team by regularly asking about them, their aspirations, and their dreams. Active listening will help you build trust and make them feel valued. Tuning into your employees is one of the most powerful cures for reviving them and seeing them blossoming again.


As you’re looking to navigate the treacherous waters of organizational culture, always remember the story behind the Titanic.

The Titanic didn’t sink because of an iceberg.

Instead, it sank due to a lack of focus, foresight, risk management, and a leadership who refused to acknowledge the ship’s weaknesses. Ultimately, cut costs, high speed, and overconfidence in the fact that the ship was unsinkable all contributed to the demise of the “Wonder Ship.” 

If you find yourself being a leader in a sinking work culture, there is still hope to get the patches in to save your company and your employees from drowning. But remember, just because you're not sinking doesn't mean your thriving. In my next blog post, I'll introduce you to the Floating Culture. (Hint - while this might sound better, it's far from optimal. Stay tuned!)


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