From Toxic to Thriving: The Ultimate Guide to Changing Culture in the Workplace


A sense of needing a cultural overhaul is sweeping through many organisations. After all, a positive workplace culture is at the core of a company’s success. Yet knowing how to enact cultural change can feel like navigating a maze.

This guide outlines the steps involved in changing culture in the workplace, in a way that fosters buy in from all levels of staff and which brings about a range of benefits, from improved performance to enhanced wellbeing.

Workplace culture is a vital element of a well-performing company, influencing everything from employee performance to public perception. A positive culture acts as a catalyst, propelling the company forward in terms of performance, attracting and retaining talent, customer satisfaction and building a strong brand.

A toxic culture, however, can have the opposite effect, creating barriers to success across the company. A hostile or disengaged culture where negativity, low morale, and disrespect are common features can result in performance issues, poor communication and collaboration and a damaged reputation.

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Companies may need cultural change for various reasons, such as adapting to new technologies, keeping pace with industry shifts, improving employee engagement, or aligning with a new leadership vision.

At Verita, our experience in assessing and managing culture means we can assist companies who are looking to improve it to drive performance improvements. If you need help changing the culture of your workplace, please get in touch or book a free consultation.

What is cultural change?

Cultural change within an organisation refers to a planned shift in the company’s core values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. It’s essentially moving the organisation from its current way of working to a desired future state.

What are the benefits of improving organisational culture?

The benefits are wide and varied, covering aspects from a safer working environment through to influencing public image, all of which contribute to long term success of a company.


When it comes to safety, a positive company culture plays a significant role while a toxic culture can lead to accidents, whether by mistake or even deliberate. A whistleblower for the Nuclear waste facilities at Sellafield who said she was sacked after raising concerns over Sellafield’s culture and sexual harassment, commented:

“If employees are demoralised and scared to speak out or are being treated really badly then it will have a direct impact on safety. The risks at Sellafield, they’re not just confined to the risks of an accident or a mistake – as serious as that could be – there are other really serious risks at Sellafield such as acts of terrorism, or even deliberate sabotage. And obviously those risks are far more likely to materialise if you’re working in a highly toxic and dysfunctional culture.”

A culture that is filled with negativity can affect the mental wellbeing of your staff. The resulting stress, anxiety, depression and eventually burnout among employees, can increase the chances of an accident or incident occurring. Adopting a healthier employee focused culture, however, can have a positive effect in this area.

Even within a healthcare setting with its tight deadlines and limiting budgets it is important that management demonstrates this commitment through their actions and words, making it clear that safety is more important than deadlines or taking shortcuts.

An environment where employees are encouraged to participate in safety discussions and improvement initiatives fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for safety in the workplace.

By cultivating these aspects of safety culture, companies can create a work environment where everyone feels empowered to prioritise safety. This translates to fewer accidents, a healthier workforce, and lower costs associated with workplace injuries.

Employee performance

Company culture significantly influences how employees feel about their work, impacting their motivation, engagement and collaboration. By feeling connected and a valued member of the business leads to greater motivation, higher engagement and dedication.

A Just Culture where open communication is welcomed, ensuring employees feel safe to share ideas, offer constructive criticism, and ask questions without fear of judgement, leads to better collaboration and ability to learn from mistakes.

Additionally, organisations with a positive company culture will also find it easier to attract ambitious talent, as well as retain employees, by showing a commitment to work-life balance and training programmes. By prioritising well-being, growth, diversity, and open communication, organisations can create an environment where employees feel valued and empowered to do their best work.


Brand perception

Consumers are increasingly conscious of company culture and a toxic work environment can have a devastating impact on a company’s public image. News of a toxic culture can spread quickly through social media and news outlets, damaging the company’s reputation.

Reports of poorly treated employees undermines the trust customers have in a company whereas socially responsible practices, diversity initiatives, and a focus on employee well-being create a positive public image.

A strong positive culture shapes a company’s brand image which fosters customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth promotion. Employees who feel positive about the company they work for are more likely to act as brand ambassadors and go the extra mile to provide exceptional customer service. It also increases the chances of investment as it fosters stability, reduces employee turnover, and improves overall performance which represents a lower risk profile for investors looking for more sustainable investments in the long run.

What are the causes of a negative workplace culture?

Identifying the root causes of a poor company culture creates a roadmap to a more positive work environment, which in turn improves company performance. Here are some of the reasons why an organisation may be experiencing difficulties.

Poor managerial leadership

Micromanaging employees or exhibiting bullying or harassing behaviour creates a negative and stressful work environment. Where leadership is unable to set out or adhere to clear company visions and values, employees do not have a clear path to success in achieving business objectives. This lack in communication creates confusion, frustration and a feeling of not being valued with employees becoming cynical, disengaged and productivity falling.

Focusing on short term gains

A culture that prioritises short-term profits over employee well-being or ethical practices breeds distrust and resentment. The lack of recognition and appreciation for staff coupled with unrealistic workloads and a lack of support further contribute to a culture that demotivates not motivates employees.

Discrimination and harassment

Treating employees unfairly solely on the basis of their sex, such as denying them job opportunities, employee benefits or rights, significantly hampers equality, respect, and professional growth. A lack of diversity within the workforce can also add to a fractured workplace culture. When employees feel like they don’t belong or their voices aren’t heard, it has a negative impact on culture.

Such issues can lead to high staff turnover which can be another indication that the culture of a company is disengaged. It can be difficult to establish a strong collaborative culture if teamwork and morale is disrupted by high staff turnover.

Work-life imbalance

A company culture that expects employees to be constantly available and work long hours can lead to burnout and resentment. Disregard for employee well-being ultimately hurts the company and top talent isn’t attracted to the business.


How to improve company culture

Improving company culture follows the same process as creating a patient safety culture, with the importance of strong accountable leadership, open communication, robust systems and processes, and methods of being able to learn from mistakes without repercussion.

Our top recommendations on how to change workplace culture include:

  1. Employee involvement: Giving employees the chance to speak up and be part of the solution will ensure buy-in from the beginning. Managers must also lead by example, be an active role model and hold themselves and others to account.
  2. Effective communication: Having a two way model of communication allows information to freely travel through the business hierarchy allowing for stronger informed decision to be made as well as communicating the benefits of those changes.
  3. Focus on benefits: By focusing on the benefits that any change will bring creates a positive working environment and by and moving the focus and conversation to more positive outcomes boosts staff morale and retention.
  4. Recognition and rewards: By rewarding those individuals that live the change and promote the positive benefits of such changes can be a real champion both inside and outside an organisation.
  5. Empowering employees: Building trust within your workforce is key to improving company culture. Through feedback surveys and, importantly, acting upon those surveys allows for key changes to be brought about.
  6. Celebrate diversity: Create an inclusive culture where everyone feels welcome, valued, and has equal opportunities to succeed this fosters a sense of belonging and loyalty.
  7. Training and support: Promoting a culture of continual professional development allows teams to grow and succeed as well as attracting the right talent to the business.
  8. Culture building workshops: Through structured tools like this for example, allows collaborative working to create a positive and ambitious culture. By managers and employees having ownership over the process fosters greater buy-in to the end result.
  9. Measuring progress: As a business and its workforces grows the culture will naturally develop and grow too. By assessing those soft and hard data points areas can be developed further and move the direction of the business forward.

In our experience, changing culture in the workplace is a challenging process for leaders, requiring sustained action in many areas. But if the above seems overwhelming, we can help you get more insight into what your culture is really like, and what practical steps you can take to improve it.


How to know if your company has a negative culture

Assessing a company’s culture requires a multi faceted approach, gathering insights from both hard data, for example company performance analysis, and soft data, such as employee feedback. At Verita, we understand and process the company’s data to build a comprehensive picture of the underlying values and behaviours. Once this picture is developed, we can identify patterns, trends and areas of concern that will, in turn, inform the decision making process and identify areas for cultural improvement.

Employee surveys

Anonymous surveys with clear, well-designed questions allow employees to provide honest feedback on their experience. These can gauge aspects like leadership effectiveness, teamwork, work-life balance, overall satisfaction, and any barrier to positive change. When employees leave the company, conducting exit interviews can reveal underlying cultural issues that may not have surfaced otherwise. While reasons for leaving may be varied, these conversations can shed light on aspects that contribute to a negative culture.

Workplace observations

Observing everyday interactions within a company can offer valuable insights into its culture. This can be through employee interactions, for example tone of voice or body language, through to management style, for example open door policy or micromanagement.

Company policies and procedures

A crucial aspect of assessing company culture is examining how well the organisation’s stated values and priorities translate into everyday practices. Do the company’s policies and procedures reflect these values? Are there clear guidelines that promote safety, inclusivity, and other aspects of a positive work environment?

Furthermore, is there evidence that these values are filtered down throughout the organisation? This could be seen in training programmes, communication styles, and even the physical work environment. Ultimately, the company’s approach should align with what a positive culture typically offers, such as open communication, recognition, and opportunities for growth.

Data analysis

Data can be used to inform cultural change as well as measure any impact a change of culture has on an organisation. A high turnover rate can indicate employee dissatisfaction and a potential toxic culture, by looking at trends over time and comparing these to industry benchmarks can highlight areas of improvement. Such as analysing absenteeism rates across departments and teams and considering their potential explanations beyond that of illness, such as stress or a lack of feeling valued.


Challenges to changing culture in the workplace

One of the biggest barriers to be encountered when transforming a company’s culture can be the workforces resistance to change. The fear of the unknown and incohesive working styles can lead to employees feeling uncertain and resisting any changes that are implemented. This results in poor employee motivation with the loss of values and respect within the business. Without clear and structured communication, messages for change, and why it needs to be implemented, can be lost.

Managers must get buy-in from all in order for change to be implemented throughout. If previous attempts of change have failed due to poor management or a lack of conviction for this change then employees can be disengaged. Employees need to feel that they are part of the conversation and be part of the solution to change the culture of an organisation.

Lack of leadership is a barrier to organisational change. Managers must lead by example, be an active role model and hold themselves and others to account. This strong stance as well as clear lines of communication will allow change to be effective and permeate through all levels of the business.

Sustainable organisational change can only happen if the correct resources and support are in place. This could be ensuring new tools and systems are effective but also that training is readily available to use those new tools and systems. Gathering employee feedback on these new resources and systems will allow managers to measure the success of any new cultural implementation as well as identifying any gaps that need plugging.

Again, this cycle of communication will enable employees to feel heard and motivated as well as allowing managers to implement the change that is needed.

Key takeaways

It is important to note that company culture continually evolves, and is not a one time assessment. Regularly evaluating and adapting culture is essential for building a thriving and successful work environment.

Developing a culture that removes barriers to communication and the empowerment and trust of employees as can lead to a wide range of business benefits. These include better collaboration, shared learning and feeling valued and listened to, which in turn can increase productivity, staff morale as well as attracting top talent.

If you would like to learn more about changing culture in the workplace then please book a free consultation or contact Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].


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