Organizational Culture & Negative Effects

by Fraser Sherman ; Updated September 26, 2017
Group of business people discussing in the office

Every organization develops its own culture -- unofficial norms that often count more than official rules. The cultural codes can influence how employees dress, how they treat superiors and underlings, and how they negotiate deals. Organizational culture can help bind employees together. If it tolerates or encourages bad or unproductive behavior, it may be hurting the organization more than it helps.

Unethical Behavior

New employees pick up the culture's code of ethics from their superiors and their co-workers. Employees who think their boss has a "whatever it takes to win" attitude are more likely to overstate an insurance claim, for example. Workers who see that the company tolerates or encourages discrimination may feel free to give in to their own biases. The negative influence is even stronger if the culture rewards bad behavior. For example, a company that hands out bonuses to successful employees who succeed with unethical tactics sends a message on how others can get ahead.

Repressing Creativity

Few businesses would openly say they don't want creative employees or new ideas. A negative organizational culture, however, can send that message. If executives rip every new idea to pieces, that discourages employees from coming up with more ideas. If the boss shows she values a low-risk, status-quo approach to problem-solving and growth or dismisses any proposal that didn't come from her, her staffers have no reason to try anything creative.

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Bad Attitudes

Good employees are ready to work, and they take responsibility for their mistakes. A corporate culture that shows it doesn't appreciate those attitudes reinforces bad employee attitudes. If there are no rewards or appreciation for going the extra mile, employees may not bother. If honesty isn't respected, it becomes easier to blame their mistakes on someone else. If they know the project manager will hog the credit for their accomplishments, they have less reason to accomplish anything.

Changing the Culture

Negative cultures often resist efforts to change them. Culture won't change unless the employees feel that the changes are doable, rewarding and accepted by the rest of the organization. For example, if an organization that says it wants ethical employees keeps tolerating unethical behavior, employees may feel there's no reward or reason to act differently. Some organizations simply broadcast a list of values they want, but don't identify specific problem behaviors that make up the negative culture.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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