Surroundings dictate whether certain comments are acceptable or deemed inappropriate. For example, never shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. Likewise, in the corporate world, comments acceptable in one organization might be considered blasphemy in another.

The line between inappropriate versus appropriate commentary is a barometer of a company’s cultural health. Healthy corporate culture is a strong predictor of healthy financial performance. In an unhealthy culture, much of the corporate vernacular sounds like finger pointing or justification for poor performance.

Look out for this type of language when evaluating company culture:

“Nobody told me I was supposed to do that.” This could be an indication that employees are waiting to be told what to do. It may reveal an unhealthy authoritative culture where people are not given reasonable responsibility and fear making mistakes.

In healthy cultures, employees take ownership of their work, and accountability for performance is expected from every level of the organization.

“I didn’t receive enough training on the new system.” This is an indication employees may not be initiating learning and do not feel empowered to figure things out. In a culture where management spoon-feeds employees, innovation is probably absent. If enough employees bring up lack of training as an issue, management may not be putting enough emphasis on innovation and accountability.

In an innovative culture, employees are constantly learning. While leadership provides training opportunities, employees also seek out development opportunities. Information sharing between colleagues is prevalent and staff are eager help one another learn new systems.

“I am so confused” is a defensive mechanism people use to either avoid admitting they have no clue about expectations or avoid admitting they think their coworker or supervisor is an idiot. This type of language is indicative of a passive-aggressive culture where people are afraid to speak up and ask questions. Instead, disapproval and irritation are expressed through biting comments and negative behavior.

In a corporate culture where leadership sets a good example, employees at all levels are able to express opinions assertively, not aggressively or passive-aggressively.

“Could you come in on Saturday?” Employees should be aware of their deadlines and should not have to be told whether or not to work on Saturday. A culture where supervisors feel they must tell their employees when to work on a weekend is either an indication of poor planning or employees who are not taking ownership of their jobs.

There are busy weeks or months in every organization. There will be times when an extra push is needed and employees come in on weekends to get work done. In a healthy organization, staff know when this is necessary and get the work done.

“My previous company allowed me to _______” quickly generates negative comparisons and can lead to cynicism. If continued, these sentiments can provoke gossip and complaining.

In organizations with healthy corporate cultures, employees are enthusiastic about their work, appreciate the organization’s strengths, and have the best interest of the company in mind.

“This is the way I have always done it” typically means there’s no concrete reason for how work is performed, or the employee is not aware of the purpose of the work. Neither excuse is good. In an organization where this answer is acceptable, innovation and drive for improvement are typically lacking.

In high-performing organizations, employees understand the logic behind their work and consistently question how it can be done better.

People working in healthy company cultures don’t consider these comments acceptable. In many cases, the unwritten rules of acceptable behavior are a direct reflection of a company’s cultural health.

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