Do a quick pulse check
First, take stock of how you’re feeling about work: Are you burned out, or on the brink of burn out? Are you excited to show up to work every day, or do you wake up with a sense of dread? Whether you’re a team leader or a new employee, having a sense of how you’re feeling about your current situation and how the company culture affects you is important. “The only way to make progress in changing any company’s culture is to have people come together and talk about what their workplace culture is, what they don't like, what they would change,” says Ridley. That means getting clear on your thoughts before showing up to the next team meeting. Yes, this goes beyond your typical responsibilities as an employee or boss, but taking the time to confront company culture issues can lead to positive change.
Have open conversations
“As a leader, the best way to understand a company’s culture and see what needs to change is to have relationships with your employees,” says Ridley. “Each employee has their own set point, which is going to be different: Everyone handles stress and situations differently, so you can’t assume everyone’s experience is the same. The best preventative strategy to building a positive culture is having regular one-on-ones with your employees, getting to know them as humans so you can catch problems as they happen, and spot needed changes to overall workplace culture.”
Do regular check-ins
Employers should have regular check-ins, but if your employer hasn’t had a one-on-one with you recently, you can take the lead and ask for a meeting. Come to the meeting prepared to discuss any issues or concerns you might have about the company’s culture. For the leaders in this scenario, Ridley says it’s critical to actually listen, not just immediately try to problem solve. “People just want to be heard,” she says. A quick promise to solve a problem like too many nights spent at the office may miss the actual root of the problem. Offering overtime pay for those nights or adding a new member to the team may not solve the problem if the time zone of the client is actually what’s causing the issue — in this scenario, a shift in work hours might be the better solution.
Make meetings less stressful
Many employees consider meetings with the boss as negative moments — there’s stress about getting criticized, being given more work, or being fired. So take the meeting outside of the office, or on the employee’s terms whenever possible. Ridley is a fan of walking meetings, since they tend to be less stressful and allow for more creative problem-solving. (They can also feel less intimidating because walking neutralizes any power positions and allows you to avoid much direct eye contact if you’re a nervous or naturally shy individual.) Additionally, if you’re the boss in this situation, try to work with your employee’s preferences for when they want to talk: Ridley notes that for some people, Friday afternoon is great since it lets an employee start the weekend with a clean slate; for others, Monday morning is preferable.
Act like an owner
Remember that regardless of your position, you can make changes and even gently push for those above you to make similar improvements. “Even if you’re the leader of a small team, it’s important to have those one-on-one check-ins with the people who are working with you,” says Ridley. “That begins to grow a culture where everyone feels more positive and respected. And when it comes to talking to the employers who are higher up than you in an organization, you could bring it up more casually. Rather than suggesting that there’s a problem with the company culture, mention that you heard something on a podcast or read about how having more open conversations between employees and leaders leads to better workplace productivity.”
Resilience isn’t resignation
While Ridley champions resilience, she’s quick to note that resilience — the ability to bounce back from hard moments — shouldn’t mean staying in a bad situation or staying silent when you’re mistreated at work. “Resilience means that you don't let negative emotions grip you longer than they need to in order to learn the lesson from the situation or develop a plan to move forward,” she says. “That means you can be resilient while still looking for a solution to the issue, like seeking another job or bringing a problem to your boss. When you're in a bad situation, negativity can completely paralyze you. But resilience means moving forward.”
Change your own mindset
Whether or not your employers are on board with a cultural shift in the workplace that allows employees to improve their stress levels and outlook, you personally can make changes. “We know that people need to take breaks, to make time for the things that make them happy,” says Ridley. “Countless studies back this up. But for whatever reason, we think that those are luxuries, and we don't take time for ourselves. Make those small pockets of time throughout the day to take care of yourself, whether it’s company-mandated or not.”