There’s a cautionary piece of advice floating around HR circles that says, "Employees don’t leave organizations, they leave managers." In my work with women in corporate roles across levels, I find this to be true—and yet I would take it one step further. The behavior of managers is simply a symptom of an organizational culture that enables it.
Employees don’t leave managers. They leave corporate cultures that protect unkind, unaccepting and unsupportive behavior.
Thankfully, I work with many thoughtful and empathetic organizations that spend time and money to shape their cultures so that they acknowledge their employees as whole people with long careers. So, I know it’s possible to do right by your most important asset: your people.
That’s why when I hear the code words describing an organization as having a "tough culture", it’s clear to me—they’re not going to be able to compete in this talent market for much longer operating as they are.
"Tough Cultures" often include:
Untenable hours where you’re always on and expected to respond to emails 24/7.
Rigid face time expectations that make participating in essential life needs outside of work near impossible.
Unproductive feedback with harsh undertones or no feedback at all.
Gender and racial inequities when it comes to pay, visibility, opportunities and credit where it’s due.
When I’m working with clients in career transitions and job searches after experiencing a tough culture, they focus in on these culture needs for their target organizations:
Respect for boundaries and a life outside of work.
Kindness and compassion in communication and action.
Safety to bring forward different points of view and challenge assumptions about how things have always been.
Commitment to shifting gender and racial inequities and bias.
Courage to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations.
Openness to and encouragement of employee growth and evolving careers.
New organizations can begin their culture development with these or similar principles in mind. It is simpler to start fresh and define the context for how each of these ideals will play out in a specific company. Existing organizations wading in the mud of a tough culture must first want to make a change and understand the gravity of a culture shift. It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s also good for business. The work is in taking an honest look at where they’re not measuring up to these needs, gaining buy-in from the very top on the importance of a plan to transform the organization, and then—the hardest part—sticking with it when it’s so much easier to roll with the siren song of the status quo.