Culture quitting – what is it and how can businesses prevent it?

Richard Holmes outlines the signs of a toxic work culture, and explains how to develop a positive environment to help retain talent

Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at Westfield Health

Research has found 70 per cent of people have worked in a toxic workplace environment, but workers are rebelling against this, leading to the rise of ‘culture quitting’. 

Culture quitting involves staff leaving their roles because of a negative workplace culture, a rising issue for businesses looking to attract and retain talent. Westfield Health’s research shows that more than three fifths of employees (64 per cent) would leave their job if their organisation’s culture was not a good fit, and a vast majority (86 per cent) of employees believe they are more productive at work if there is a good culture. On top of this, 85 per cent feel there is a link between workplace culture and wellbeing.

A strong culture that promotes teamwork, community and inclusivity increases employee engagement. In fact, companies that maintain a robust culture have up to a 72 per cent higher employee engagement than those whose cultures are misaligned or need improvement. On top of this, happy employees, who get fulfilment from their jobs, are more productive. 

But a strong company culture isn’t just related to a business’s needs. The right workplace culture respects the needs of an employee’s personal life and understands that a career works alongside an employee’s lifestyle and personal values.

The evidence is clear: workplace culture has a strong impact on its employees and in turn on business success. But how can organisations improve culture, a non-tangible and subjective phenomenon? 

What are the signs of a toxic work culture?

First, you need to identify the toxicity. A toxic work culture has practices, policies and management styles that promote unhealthy habits and conflicts among team members. It can stifle productivity and prevent employees from growing professionally. 

The top and most visible sign is when a company is suffering from high employee turnover. Typically, high turnover means 28 per cent of your new employees quit within the first 90 days of their employment. The average turnover rate in the UK is around 15 per cent; companies should aim for around 10 per cent. While turnover can be for many reasons not related to culture, we know that culture has a big talent retention impact. If employees feel overworked or unheard, they’ll look elsewhere for a new role.

Another sign is that no one is clear on their roles or responsibilities. Crossed wires are common when a workplace promotes a toxic environment and people are always left out of the loop. This results in team members often feeling confused about their role or what is going on in the company.

Developing a healthy workplace culture

To develop a workplace with a strong culture, the key is to ensure employees have visibility on how their role fits into the big picture. Understanding why their role matters makes work much more meaningful for the employee.

To make this happen, everybody in the organisation needs a clear understanding of the organisation’s purpose and the direction the business is taking. This helps them understand the part they can play in achieving that vision. 

Defining a clear, strong mission statement in dialogue with your employees helps you link back to this sense of purpose when talking about organisational goals. Individual employees can then align their personal objectives to the long-term vision. When staff feel a personal connection with your vision and goals, you’ll start to see a more engaged and committed workforce. Getting senior leaders on board with this will ensure it’s reflected from the top of an organisation. 

This means companies should also consider training for managers and leaders within the business. Only 65 per cent feel that their organisation’s CEO/leadership team promotes a positive culture, according to our research, meaning the onus is on management and leadership teams to make a proactive effort to enforce the change they want to see. Getting buy-in from senior leaders on the plan to develop culture is essential.

Holding a mirror up to leaders’ actions to show how they may contribute to a toxic workplace can have a big impact on changing their behaviour and therefore workplace culture as a whole. 

By actively seeking feedback and asking the right questions, you can get to the bottom of what’s working and what’s not. Being open and communicative about any changes occurring in the workplace is also important. 

Everyone in the organisation also needs to have a voice and, more importantly, know that it is being heard. Our research found that two fifths (38 per cent) feel better communication is needed from leadership to improve workplace culture, with 33 per cent stating that being listened to by management will help, and 30 per cent wanting more support from leaders. Opening up two-way communications for employees to have a chance to say what issues are affecting them is a good way to make sure employees feel respected and listened to. 

Richard Holmes is director of wellbeing at Westfield Health