We hear about many of these things often, however it is less common to hear about how many organizational cultures have turned casual as a result of these changes, both intentionally and unintentionally. While this may not sound like the worst thing to happen, it can be cause for concern if your work environment becomes too casual.
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that there isn’t one specific definition of a casual culture. It varies between each industry and looks different for every company. We are also not talking about your dress code, although that can play into creating a casual culture. The purpose of this blog is not to say that casual is always bad or that there are specific rules every company needs to follow to avoid becoming ‘too casual’, however there is a fine line. As you read below, think about culture at a high-level and how this can show up in your own situation.
What a Casual Culture Looks Like
So, what does this mean? Simply put, a casual culture refers to relaxed professional norms and/or boundaries. For example, maybe your job has switched to a fully remote setting where your home is also now your office, and your manager sends you emails late at night making you feel the need to respond right away. Maybe check-ins from your boss have lessened, making it difficult to discuss your needs or bring up uncomfortable conversations. Or, maybe as an employee you feel disconnected or unseen due to lack of interaction between you, peers, the leadership team etc. In any case, culture doesn’t maintain itself and can quickly run the risk of becoming diluted if nothing is done.
How This Affects Your Organization
Culture is at the heart of every organization. Embedded in culture are things like core values, behaviors and actions. If culture becomes unprioritized or put on hold (which can happen very easily), a chain reaction will occur in all these areas. It also can make it difficult for employees to distinguish where the line is drawn when it comes to workplace dos and don’ts or how to handle difficult situations. Everything that goes on in your organization is what contributes to and makes up the culture. Therefore it’s so important to get it right and work on it constantly.
Think of it like an equation (or a recipe for disaster to occur).
Casual leadership + Casual employees = Casual Values leading to a Casual Culture. Yes, you may have the same core values, but are you truly living them and using them as a guide every day? Are you turning the lens inward and doing the work to be the best leader you can for employees and peers? When ignored, there may not be much of a warning when this chain reaction will occur either. This is also a big reason why we’re seeing employees burning out, and ultimately looking for another job rather than sitting back hoping things will change. This goes deeper than simply saying what exists currently, it’s about what is actually being put in place to implement positive changes. The biggest question then becomes, how can organizations ensure their values and culture remain strong and embedded in decision-making and how people show up every day, whether at home or in the office? Let’s break our equation down.
Casual Leadership + Casual Employees
A casual leader can look like many different things, but the bottom line is that they do not act as a role model for their team and organization. When managers don’t lead, their actions and behaviors are inconsistent, expectations for everyone are unclear and boundaries are blurred. This trickles down at all levels throughout the business and encourages similar behavior throughout. Leading this way not only makes it confusing for employees, but ironically, being too casual creates a chaotic work environment. Without any direction, employees may underperform, trust is broken, openness and honesty will be lacking, and stress and burnout start to occur. Because all of this involves people, it is easier to see or visualize interactions and how situations play out. However, when nothing is done, it can be difficult to analyze the larger ramifications such as values misalignment and eventually a toxic culture.
Casual Values Leads to a Casual Culture
Regardless of where your values show up visually, they mean nothing if they are not practiced, understood and used as a guide for decision making. In other words, how are they showing up in everything you do? When leaders and employees are casual in their actions and behaviors, core values translate the same; misaligned, inconsistent, blurry and detrimental to the culture all together. It is the same thing as saying one thing and then doing the opposite. For example, if you say you value accountability but never take responsibility for your actions, that sends a message that the values in which the organization was built upon do not really matter or don’t prove to be true. As a result, your culture will suffer which can be very difficult to recover from.
What Can You Do?
As mentioned above, everything that goes on in your organization is what contributes to and makes up the culture. The first thing you should NOT do is leave your culture up to chance. Instead, evaluate the parts of your culture that are still working today, thinking about all the areas that need improvement and what is important to both you as a leader and your employees.
Next, consider ongoing development and coaching for your leaders in addition to consistent communication around leadership norms, actions, and behaviors. These nudges will help leaders remember not to get too casual and to provide mentoring and coaching for their own direct reports. One thing to consider is bringing in a leadership coach or consultant to help you navigate and work on developing your leaders. Leaders who feel prepared and supported in their roles can directly relate to the overall health of an organization. Coaching is a great option that not only helps meet you where you are on your leadership journey, but it also helps you feel supported as an individual. We know that culture starts from the top down, so having the right resources in place to set you and your organization up for success will create a positive impact in all areas of your culture.
Collectively, there is a lot to consider when it comes to your culture especially because there is not a specific set of rules or guidelines to follow. With so many employees speaking up about their preferences in the wake of the Great Resignation, companies can no longer afford to let their culture suffer. Now is the time to invest in yourself, your team and your organization as a whole and create a competitive advantage that will last regardless of what comes next.
Hema Crockett and Jamie Jacobs, HR and corporate culture experts, co-founders of GigTalent