In this two-part blog series, we’re examining company culture erosion: what it is; how it can affect your business; subtle signs to help you spot it; and small, yet powerful, changes to reverse the damage before it's too late. 

As the pandemic continues, many employees are working remotely for much longer than was originally intended, and employers are searching for innovative ways to keep them happy, healthy and engaged. But this is easier said than done.  Culture erosion — which describes the process of a civilization, group or organization losing its core elements — remains a risk.  

In 2020, every company has had to deviate from its plan in response to the pandemic. That meant implementing new strategies and tactics and changing company culture along the way — and some of these changes have had negative consequences. In part one of this series on company culture erosion, we covered the problems of declining social capital, reduced productivity and the more extreme feeling of burnout. 

In part two, we’ll look at three additional symptoms of a damaged workplace culture that can be easy to overlook — all of which involve communication. We’ll also look at how to treat them and improve the employee experience.

#1: Poor communication about company-wide initiatives

Be as transparent and empathetic as possible.

Change is hard, and people are especially concerned for their futures during this time. We talked in part one about the importance of being communicative, but this can be easier said than done. Company leaders must balance their workloads with keeping employees more informed than ever before, and it’s easy for details to fall through the cracks.

Subtle signs: Are people asking the same questions over and over? And are these inquiries coupled with confusion and frustration? If you’re getting repetitive questions about company-wide initiatives, such as returning to the office or shifting organizational priorities, it’s time to take a closer look at the way you’re responding. 

Slight adjustments: Keep your team apprised of anything you can share about what’s going on at a company-wide level by providing frequent feedback and engagement opportunities. Be as transparent and empathetic as possible, and align your communications with the mission and vision of the company. Finally, focus on what you can control. While you may not be able to force your senior leadership to host weekly town halls or office hours, you can escalate those repeat questions from your team to the leaders and people who can assist. 

#2: Lack of cross-department collaboration 

Foster engagement by keeping everyone in the loop.

Most of the U.S. workforce is still working remotely — and employees are still learning how best to communicate with one another about projects, progress, goals and objectives. Staying up-to-date on other teams’ work in this environment can prove especially challenging.

Subtle signs: Look out for employees canceling meetings with colleagues outside their immediate team, or showing disinterest in what others are working on. People also may be more protective or defensive of their own projects, focusing solely on individual objectives.

Slight adjustments: Foster engagement by keeping everyone in the loop. Proactively share your own team’s successes, setbacks and progress with other departments you work closely with, and encourage them to do the same. This will show employees how their efforts impact one another while highlighting opportunities to collaborate on mutually beneficial projects.

#3: Meeting fatigue

Many of us were already experiencing “Zoom fatigue” at the beginning of the pandemic — and that was nearly nine months ago. When workers face a day full of meetings with only 30 or 60 minutes in between each one, their ability to conquer problem-solving or time-consuming tasks is greatly diminished.

Cut down on unnecessary meetings by implementing an “agenda rule.”

Subtle signs: Signs of meeting fatigue are both physical, such as tired eyes and headaches, and mental, including cognitive exhaustion; confusion over body language and non-verbal cues; and the insecurity of constantly watching yourself perform. Like most sources of company culture erosion, these can create a domino effect that leads to decreased productivity, motivation and morale. 

Slight adjustments: Conduct a quarterly “meeting audit” with everyone on your team, empowering them to assess the business case for each recurring and individual meeting on their calendar. If some topics could be easily covered via email or phone, make the swap. You can also cut down on unnecessary meetings by implementing an “agenda rule:” each meeting must have at least a few bullet points describing its purpose and goals. If no one can provide this information, the meeting should be postponed.
To navigate existing changes as well as those yet to come, learn to identify company culture erosion when it first starts, and implement the fixes that will prevent it from coming back. Commit to constantly asking questions, listening to your people and learning about what they want from their organization and leadership. This will create a more positive environment for everyone — even when it’s virtual.