Let’s be honest, it’s a difficult time for staff retention in the tech industry. In a recent report, Gartner found that only 29% of tech employees show ‘high intent’ to stick around. 

The reasons for this are numerous, but the same report found that 82% of employees want their organization to respect them as people, and only a paltry 45% feel this is the case in their work life.

When it comes to SaaS, it’s really a team effort. You can think of a SaaS org as a well-oiled machine, but that doesn’t mean that your employees are cogs to be put in and replaced.

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SaaS companies that succeed are those that are able to respect the individual needs of each employee and so create the kind of positive work culture that leads to professional alignment. Alignment = growth. But a culture of fear stops people from communicating. 

As SaaS companies grow it becomes increasingly difficult to keep employees in line with the company vision. Or, other words, to keep them motivated by your company’s mission statement. 

Coupled with economic downturn, an increasingly competitive industry, and the proliferation of remote/ hybrid work, it's no wonder it’s become so difficult to maintain a healthy work culture. 

A positive work culture isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a must have if you want a company that’s driven, inspired, and a product that’s propelled by a genuine desire to strive for innovation and excellence. 

So, without further ado, let’s dive into our top tips for a positive SaaS workplace culture. 

What is a toxic work culture? 

You know it when you see it, and we’re sure many of our readers will know what it feels like. Simply put, a toxic work culture is a company with policies designed for the best interests of the organization with little regard for the human needs of its employees. It often breeds resentment, animosity between employees, and detachment from your company’s core goals and aims. 

A toxic workplace will often lack firm company values. There’s no clear aspiration for how team members should treat each other, and this isn’t consolidated in any kind of documentation or framework. 

Toxic work culture generates fear, which leads to a breakdown in communication, which in turn, culminates in minor issues turning major, deadlines being missed, and whole projects falling through due to high employee turnover. 

Signs of a toxic work culture

Do you feel like your organization may be festering under a toxic work culture? The key is to look out for the small signs before they become insurmountable. Or worse, it becomes the norm. You may have heard of the boiling frog analogy, where the heat is turned up in such small increments that the frog doesn’t realize it’s boiling until it’s too late.

A toxic work culture can be very like that. Here are the telltale signs to watch out for:

1. Cliquey behavior and gossiping – Employees often have to let off steam and frustration, but if your culture is defined by gossip, it’s likely that there’s a lack of respect between your staff, which is ultimately going to impact work performance. 

2. Burnt out staff, high absence rate – if you’ve got a lot of people going off sick, it can mean that stress is making your workforce sick. Ensure that you don’t take a confrontational approach to this. Approach staff in a humane manner. “Is everything alright, are you coping?” is preferable to “what’s going on?”

3. Breakdown in communication – Are projects falling apart because your team simply aren’t talking to each other? That can be a sign that your team has no rapport or connection, are working in silos, and have no concept of the company’s wider vision. 

4. High staff turnover – Do you have employees leaving left right and center? In a toxic work culture, where teams don’t feel comfortable communicating with senior management, they will often leave before you have a chance to fix the problem. 

5. Lack of support from the team – You want to have the kind of environment where your staff feel like other members of the team are going to jump to their rescue when they’re struggling. If you don’t, your employees are going to be struggling away in their separate silos, and showing up to work becomes an unpleasant experience. 

How to fix a toxic work culture 

The bad news is that there are many ways that a toxic culture can take hold, but the good news is: there are many ways that you can overcome a toxic work culture. Let’s dive into them here: 

Make yourself accountable

It all starts with the founders/C-suite and trickles on down. Nobody’s perfect, no organization is perfect and when you’re juggling so many things at once, there are bound to be mistakes made. The important thing is that when problems arise, you’re able to reflect on your own performance and judge how you went wrong.

It’s only then that you can start taking steps to rectify mistakes and start introducing better practices going forward. Leaders who fail to conduct self-reflection are the ones who make themselves unapproachable to the team, and a distrust runs rampant throughout the org. 

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Foster a culture of communication and feedback 

All organizations need to have hierarchies, but this doesn’t mean that you should become the kind of leader who is completely resistant to change and feedback. You can start establishing who you are from the get go. Make it known that this is the kind of org where employees are welcome to share ideas freely and make it a collaborative environment.

You’re never going to know everything there is to know and if you aren’t able to create that environment of free communication and collaboration, you’re going to find that employees hide things from you, and you fail to develop your own expertise. This will undoubtedly have a knock on effect on product launches and all major projects. 

Send out regular questionnaires

Your employees want to feel like you care about their well-being, but you can’t ask everybody every day, so a good way to address their needs, and find out what their concerns are, send out company-wide questionnaires.

You’re always going to get those individuals who feel very confident sharing their grievances, but equally you’re going to get people who are shy about revealing the problems they’re having. 

Anonymous questionnaires are a great way to establish a common consensus on what the most pressing issues are in terms of employee well-being. Once you’ve done this you can highlight the problems that are most likely to lead to employee churn and setup priorities.

Monitor your progress over time

There’s no point in having these kinds of goals unless you’re monitoring the impact you’re having over time. Send out regular surveys and determine what’s happening, and make adjustments where needed. 

Ensure that employees have attainable professional goals

One of the major reasons why employees choose to jump ship: they don’t feel there is any upward trajectory in their career. Make sure that employees have goals – agreed on between them and their line manager– which they feel they’re actively working toward. When employees fail to make that promotion, clearly communicate the reasons and establish alternative pathways for progression. 

Celebrate employee progression

Make sure employee achievements are recognized and celebrated in your org. Another major reason for churn is that staff simply don’t feel respected. A positive side effect of this is that employees hoping to progress can clearly see a reason to stick around with you. If they can’t, they’re going to feel demotivated. 

Ensure there are opportunities for upskilling

SaaS companies need to make their staff feel supported in their upward mobility. A great way to strengthen the bond and show support for their success is to invest in educational resources, such as courses, training days and seminars. Employees who don’t invest in the success of their team are in for a rude awakening, as your staff undoubtedly invest a lot of their time and effort into you. 

Gamify success

Reaching goals is important, but it need not be all gloom and doom. Foster an environment of friendly competition in your team to keep the atmosphere light and ensure your team has fun reaching their goals. 

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Offer mentorships

As a founder, you can’t be a buddy to everyone all the time. By having a matchmaking system within your org, where senior employees are paired up with juniors to help them progress, you strengthen bonds and ensure that important knowledge is shared. 

Encourage time off

We all need our down time in order to operate at 100%. Ensure the following: 1. Employees are taking their time off and not burning themselves out

2. You encourage time off for mental well being

Some organizations make the mistake of rewarding staff for overworking. While this might seem positive on the surface, it can lead to a toxic culture when employees are reluctant to take time out. 

Wrapping up 

There are external factors that are undeniably impacting these challenging times, and all we can do is what’s within our control. It’s within our power to make sure that, whatever the challenges, we’re spreading a culture of positivity and respect at a company wide level. 

The reality is times have changed and employees simply don’t stay in jobs for as long as they used to, but by establishing a united front in the face of these challenges, you can make a significant difference in the longevity of your employees.