Four Common Workplace Culture Mistakes And How to Avoid Them

mistakes in workplace culture


In my four-plus decades of Human Resources Management Consulting, one of my major focuses has been finding and sharing the secrets to a Magnetic Culture.  A Magnetic Culture is a work environment that irresistibly attracts and retains talented, motivated employees.  However, there are just as many workplace cultures that repel employees rather than attract them.  The preventable mistakes that build a negative workplace culture also create:  resentment, disengagement, lack of productivity, and even trouble with talent retention.    

This blog will especially consider culture from the perspective of a new employee.  The Washington Post notes that while 77 percent of prospective employees consider a positive company culture as a major factor in the job search.[i]  However, culture cannot be easily quantified like salary or location during this process.  Culture does become evident on day one at an organization though.  As I always remind my clients, one in every 25 new employees quits on their very first day.[ii]  Moreover, 91 percent of new hires say they would quit in the first month if they disliked their organization’s culture.[iii]  Do not be the organization that lets this happen. 

Remember, it is never too late to start building a more Magnetic Culture.  Culture is ever-evolving and can always improve, even if it is already successful!  Here are four culture mistakes that may scare away new and returning employees and how to fix them.  


First impressions are important for all organizations – and not just for new employees.  The first three weeks of work are about 1 percent of a five-year tenure, and the first five minutes of any workday are about 1 percent of an eight-hour shift. However, the signals from these small periods have huge effects.  Workforce Management Leader Eric Brunson, for example, recalls an example of an encouraging first day at a new job.  Upon arriving, he was greeted by Human Resources, given a tour and coffee, courteously encouraged to ask questions, and provided with a functional email and phone number.[iv]  What a positive start to a day or career, right?

Of course, there is also the opposite scenario.  Employees could enter the workplace with little information, a brief greeting, and a frustrating day of navigating glitchy technology.  Even those first few bumpy minutes can make the day an uphill battle, putting the burden on your workplace to make it better.  Why not start off on the right foot and avoid this predicament? 


The best thing to do in this situation is to throw a little extra energy at that first 1 percent of the day.  Greet your coworkers and/or employees as they arrive, ensure that the workplace is clean and prepared, and strive to be engaged and energetic.  Also, check that any necessary technology is working!  Human Resources service BambooHR recommends surveying new employees to ensure that they were able to access their electronic and software equipment right away.[v]  Today’s workplaces run on emails, phone numbers, and functional computers.  There is nothing more discouraging than those essential technologies failing to work on day one.

It is especially important to maximize the beginning of the day when greeting anyone newer to your organization.  Recently onboarded employees will take major cues from those first few minutes.  Those first impressions can add just a little more spark to an otherwise average day, but they have just as much potential to make the day worse.  Over time, lethargic first impressions decrease productivity and employee engagement.  Eventually, those small moments can even impact overall retention.  So, leverage that 1 percent and make the right first impression.


As any manager could tell you, there are multiple ways an employee can be “absent” from work.  The first is literally taking the day off, which ADP estimates about 3-4 percent of employees do on any given day.[vi]  Frequent absences without proper notice have a clearly detrimental effect on workplace culture.  Being short-staffed stretches other employees thinner (thus reducing productivity) and erodes trust between colleagues and managers.  It also sends troubling signals to new employees – why would their colleagues miss work this much?

However, employees can be present at work and still not engaged.   This phenomenon, sometimes called “quiet quitting,” has grown in recent years.  It has been theorized that remote work increases disengagement, although my research for my book The Virtual Manager shows that the freeing up of commute time actually allows many remote employees to work more.  Nonetheless, reduced engagement may limit some other benefits of returning to the office, such as improved social interaction and community.  Disengagement can also occur due to low recognition, insufficient compensation, or a number of other reasons.  How should organizations handle disengagement and decreased presence?


Communication is by far the best way to handle disengagement in the workplace.  It can be easy to assume that disengaged employees are simply not interested in doing great work.  Unfortunately, this could be the case and may need to be handled immediately.  However, reduced engagement can also stem from personal issues, lack of clear directives, or any other number of fully addressable problems. 

Asking about employees’ lack of presence is never easy.  Disengaged employees often have criticisms about their organizations, even if these issues are easily fixable.  Disengagement could also mean that an employee is not a right fit in their role or even at the organization.  The latter situation is unpleasant, but it is better to quickly find this out than let it continue.  A lack of presence must be addressed with definitive action:  decreased employee engagement already costs U.S. businesses an estimated $550 billion of revenue annually.[vii]  At worst, curiosity costs a small amount of time and discomfort.  In turn, your organization will know what to fix or change to prevent disengagement.

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Bad communication may not sink an organization, but it can make even simple tasks difficult if there is too much confusion or mistrust.  Extra time and resources are often spent to clarify unclear directives, and incorrect information can embarrass businesses and potentially even cause them to lose money.  These minor mistakes can accumulate over time.

However, a communication gap can also mean injurious communication like gossip, which BambooHR calls a huge workplace red flag.[viii]  Rampant gossip can make employees nervous that their colleagues are talking behind their back, making it more difficult to focus on work.  Beyond that, gossip can suggest that open, honest communication is not encouraged at an organization.  If you want to build a Magnetic Culture, that kind of communication cannot be the standard.


I have already mentioned this in Mistake #2, but poor employee engagement often comes from pent-up frustration.  BambooHR points out that proactively encouraging dialogue can alleviate the causes of disengagement.8   Do not give your employees an excuse to stay silent!  To foster communication, managers can implement policies such as weekly team meetings, regular opportunities for one-on-one conversations, and office hours.  These best practices only take a little extra time but help to ensure that employees feel understood, supported, and engaged. 


Great workplace culture starts with the leaders at the top of the organization.  Any leader has responsibilities, abilities, and concerns that other employees may not.  By this definition, a manager is separate from their staff.  But what happens when managers begin to separate themselves from the values and work of those they manage?

This mindset can have many negative consequences for company culture.  People adjust themselves to the expectations of their bosses.  When a manager never volunteers to undertake extra work, their subordinates may also avoid additional responsibilities.  If managers give unclear or infrequent feedback, their input may command less attention.  Managers who are overly harsh risk turning employees against them.  Without properly engaged leadership, the gap can grow so great that managers have trouble encouraging their employees to go above and beyond.


A great leader always remembers what it would be like to be their own follower.  This is a major responsibility, but it has valuable leverage.  In my blog World-Class Managing, I emphasize the value of consciousness in leadership.  Most managers know what their team can do for them.  Great managers also know what they can do for their team.

The most effective managers commit to doing whatever they ask their employees to do.  Great managers will stay late if they ask their employees to stay late.  The best managers encourage communication between colleagues and make themselves available to anyone who wants to talk.  Great leaders who encourage continuous learning will attend training sessions and commit to improving themselves.  Finally, great managers are never afraid to put in the extra bit of work, whether it is greeting a new employee at the door or recognizing their workers’ recent professional successes.  Set an example – it works.


[i] “How To Sniff Out A Great Company Culture During Your Job Search”:  Washington Post.

[ii] Judy Enns, Managing Director for HR Solutions Search and Staffing.

[iii] “9 Out Of 10 New Employees Willing To Quit In First Month – Here’s Why”:  LifeXChange Solutions.

[iv] “First Day On The Job = First Impression Of The Company: Was It Worth The Move?”:  LinkedIn.

[v] “Onboarding Experience Survey”:  BambooHR.

[vi] “The Impact Of Absenteeism”:  ADP.

[vii] “Gallup Releases New Findings on the State of the American Workplace”:  Gallup.

[viii] “Bad Company Culture: 10 Red Flags + How to Fix It”:  BambooHR.

About the Author

Kevin SheridanKevin Sheridan

Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement.  For six years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement for five years in a row.  Kevin was also the winner of the 2022 Best In Evanston Award For The Category Of Management Consulting. 

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors.  Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement.  His first book, Building A Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.  He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to manage remote workers most effectively.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior.  He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.




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