Workplace culture is a combination of an organization’s values, beliefs, attitudes, and everyday customs and practices. Workplace culture can also be thought of as unwritten rules and traditions that dictate the employees’ actions and behavior.
An organization’s culture reflects its overall tone and “personality” and is underpinned by its mission and goals.
Workplace culture will develop, grow, and evolve on its own. However, a positive culture needs to be purposefully nurtured. The risk of allowing a culture to establish itself is that any negative attitudes that arise can become ingrained and may be challenging to turn around.
Why Is Workplace Culture Important?
Research by Deloitte has found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that workplace culture is an important factor in business success. Furthermore, a recent Forbes article highlights that a positive workplace culture “improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency and enhances retention of the workforce.”
It’s therefore important to prioritize initiatives that create a positive workplace culture to enable your organization to succeed. This will impact the following areas:
Employees who work in an organization with great culture will be engaged in their role and their work. They’ll feel greater loyalty to the company and will respond to new initiatives with a positive approach and outlook.
Efficiency and productivity
Employees who believe in and are invested in their organization’s vision and goals are more motivated to do a really good job. This will lead to greater productivity and efficiency for your business.
Recruitment and retention
Turnover reduces in workplaces with positive cultures, which means organizations spend less time on recruitment and retention and more time on helping the business succeed.
According to a recent Glassdoor survey, workplace culture is now reportedly more important than salaries to prospective employees. Building the reputation of a positive culture is, therefore, key to attracting and recruiting top talent.
Collaboration and innovation
When teams are united in their values, they’ll work in a more constructive, effective way. Employees will proactively seek opportunities to collaborate, which in turn helps the business achieve its goals. Furthermore, a culture where employees are encouraged to take risks rather than being punished for failure will result in greater innovation.
Employees will feel fulfilled by their role if they’re being rewarded sufficiently for high performance and feel part of something bigger: working towards a collective goal. Employee satisfaction will, in turn, boost team morale. Employees feel motivated and excited to come to work when the atmosphere is uplifting, and this brings the best out of each individual.
What Factors Contribute to Workplace Culture?
Because a workplace culture reflects a company’s beliefs and practices, there are numerous aspects that feed into it. Here are some of the key factors that contribute to the development of workplace culture.
The organization’s vision, values, and goals
When the employees’ own values are aligned with those of the organization, they feel connected and motivated to work for the same goals. These values must be embedded in the company’s core mission and reiterated authentically in all areas of the business, or employees will not invest in them. A consistent message is key to success.
Policies and procedures
Whether the HR infrastructure is supportive or punitive will significantly affect culture. For example, if a dress code is unnecessarily limiting and inhibits personal choice and self-expression, this will be perceived by employees as unfair. It may result in a rift between the workforce and senior managers who implement that policy, and the culture will not be cohesive.
Communication methods, channels, and styles
How the workforce communicates can greatly influence culture. If employees choose to work collaboratively rather than in silo, it encourages a team mindset and cements the idea that everyone is here to achieve a shared goal.
The way the leaders and employees communicate is also significant. For example, are employees consulted with or left to hear about organizational changes on the grapevine? Do leaders give feedback to employees in an honest and timely way? Employees will feel valued when they perceive communication to be transparent and feel that their voices are heard.
In contrast, when employees believe there is a breakdown in basic communication, this can lead to a toxic culture. This can affect other areas of the business, such as the way employees communicate with customers.
Trust and autonomy in the workplace
If leaders “micro-manage” employees’ day-to-day activities, it can come across as questioning their abilities and can lead to feelings of frustration. On the other hand, when the leadership team trusts its employees to carry out their roles and give them space to do it, it can cultivate a culture of empowerment.
Leadership and management
Senior leaders have considerable influence on the culture of an organization as employees often look up to them to model expected behaviors. When management regularly demonstrates an effective leadership style, they can spearhead positive work culture from the top down. On the other hand, an autocratic leadership style might lead to a culture where employees don’t feel “heard” or valued.
When the management styles across the company are not aligned, subcultures may arise. This can have a detrimental effect on the success of company-wide initiatives. What’s more, any perceived disconnect between management behavior and overall company values could alienate the workforce, leaving them confused about the direction they should follow.
Ways of working
Day-to-day working practices can also influence culture. For example, the degree of flexibility allowed in relation to hours and location of work can impact the extent to which employees feel “in control” in the workplace. When employees feel they are being treated fairly and provided with a supportive working environment, it will lead to a more positive workplace culture.
On the other hand, if employees feel that they are not being trusted as adults who can make their own decisions in the best interests of the company, they might develop an attitude of resentment and disengage from their work.
Reward and recognition
How your company rewards and recognizes success in the workplace also feeds into culture. Employees who are recognized are happier and more productive. Furthermore, when an organization rewards its staff, it promotes a culture of valuing the individual as a person and not just a number on a payroll spreadsheet.
Organizations have the ability to create opportunities for employees to develop both personally and professionally. This can be through soft skills training, mentoring, or more formal qualifications to support their role. These opportunities demonstrate that the company is investing in its people, giving the impression of a supportive culture where everyone is valued.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
Organizations flourish when there is a diverse network of different backgrounds and perspectives. However, some organizations strive to only recruit individuals who “fit” their existing culture and working practices, which doesn’t always promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It often leads to “affinity bias” in the recruitment process, which essentially means we tend to hire others like us.
When you promote diversity in your hiring practices, it demonstrates that your company encourages opinions and ideas from all walks of life, even if this challenges the status quo. This can be a catalyst for a culture of creativity and innovation.
In addition, ensuring inclusivity and equity leads every employee to feel they are accepted. If employees feel that they cannot “be themselves” at work, a cohesive culture will not take hold. Likewise, employees will struggle to feel loyalty to the company if they do not see everyone being treated fairly and equally.
Types of Workplace Culture
All organizations are unique and have their own “personality,” but when fostering your workplace culture there are a number of models that you might use as a jumping-off point:
- Adhocracy culture is focused on continually challenging the norm and isn’t afraid to take risks.
- Clan culture is where the organization is highly supportive and operates like a family, being extremely tight-knit.
- Customer-focused culture values great customer service as the main priority.
- Hierarchy culture is the most common type, where there is a clear structure with senior leadership above managers, supervisors, and the workforce.
- Market-driven culture is a highly competitive culture that is results-driven and places less value on the employee experience.
- Purpose-driven culture is found in organizations that are values-led and driven by what they have set out to do.
- Innovative culture focuses on coming up with original ideas and inventive technological solutions to provide new ways of doing things.
- Creative culture is where employees collaborate on achieving the end goal of creating something of value.
Note that your company culture might draw on elements from more than one of the examples above.
Who Determines What the Workplace Culture Looks Like?
Everyone in the organization influences and shapes the workplace culture. However, it is typically initiated top-down, with senior leaders developing strategies and initiatives to proactively embed a positive ethos. Middle management and supervisors will then have responsibility for implementing and enthusiastically rolling out those initiatives. Furthermore, the rest of the workforce must support and engage with any initiatives for them to make any real impact.
The HR department plays an integral role in this. It will support all areas and functions of the business in the adoption and promotion of company culture. In addition, the HR department provides feedback to the senior leaders about which initiatives are working and which aren’t. HR leaders should use analytics datasets on areas such as employee turnover to constantly review and measure the impact of workplace culture initiatives.
How To Create a Great Workplace Culture
Workplace culture isn’t significantly impacted by perks such as free fruit in the canteen or a pool table in the staffroom. Instead, you will need a well-thought-out and purposeful strategy that aligns with the overall vision, values, and wider business objectives of the company.
Attempts to change or influence workplace culture need to be authentic. Suppose an initiative is forced through without being fully considered or aligned with the wider business goals. In that case, it will appear as though the organization is simply paying lip service to the idea of improving culture. Employees could feel disconnected and disengaged as a result—the opposite of the desired outcome. By contrast, they’re much more likely to buy into an authentic initiative that they feel genuinely has their interests at its heart.
Here are the key areas to focus on when taking steps to make your workplace culture great.
Develop a strategy and be consistent
A good place to start is to identify what your current culture is and what you want it to be. There are a number of great workplace culture initiatives out there to choose from, but be sure you settle on one that fits authentically with your workplace. Defining your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to demonstrate how you plan to support, reward, and develop your employees is also key to this.
An EVP provides clarity to the workforce about exactly what you pledge to do to “win” their loyalty and commitment. Once you know what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it, you must ensure this is followed consistently to give it the best chance of making an impact on your workplace culture.
It can be said that workplace culture is at first developed in a “top-down” way, so having effective senior leaders and managers in your organization is essential. For employees to be inspired by those who are in top positions, they should see them leading by example and demonstrating integrity and self-awareness.
In addition to this, getting the buy-in from your supervisory or middle management team, who will be the cheerleaders for any culture changes, means embedding any initiatives will be far easier.
Those in senior positions in an organization should look after their employees. This can be done through regular reviews of workloads and employees’ work-life balance and by taking steps to ensure the division of work is fair and manageable.
Research has found that companies with the best organizational cultures excel in communication, clarity, and consistency. Communication methods need to be effective and fit for purpose—you should identify any challenges or causes of misunderstandings and rectify them as early as possible.
It’s also vital to ensure your employees’ psychological safety in the workplace. They should feel confident sharing their thoughts without fear of being reprimanded. This can be established by reinforcing respectful communication between employees at all levels of the organization.
Listen to and understand your employees
Senior leaders should acknowledge the value of actively listening to the needs of their employees. If you ask employees what they want from their employer and their work environment, implementing the findings can be an “easy win” in terms of improving the culture.
One way of doing this is by conducting employee engagement surveys. It’s vital, however, that an action plan is developed as a result. This action plan should then be communicated back to the team members. As a result, employees will know that the points they’re raising are being heard and acknowledged, which in turn fosters a culture of feeling valued in the workplace.
Invest in your employees
Great organizations don’t just think about what employees can offer the company—they also consider how they can invest in their employees. This mindset can significantly affect workplace culture.
One way businesses can do this is to support employees in being effective in their roles. Offer training and create opportunities for development through promotions where possible. You can also offer benefits in line with the needs of your employees—for example, flexible benefits that employees can opt in or out of.
Champion employee well-being
Supporting individual well-being is the heart of the employee experience in any organization and is a huge part of making a workplace culture great. Leaders should consider implementing well-being initiatives, such as training mental health first aiders.
Morale and job satisfaction are also important factors contributing to a person’s well-being. Celebrating individual and team successes through recognition and reward programs can be a way of building this into your company culture.
Organizations should also make a conscious effort to make their workplaces inclusive. This can be done by reviewing your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy and bringing it in line with any changes to regulations or best practice.
Keep culture a priority
It’s important to highlight that workplace culture is never “complete” or “achieved”—it’s constantly evolving. As a result, you should develop ways to continually monitor, measure, and review your employee engagement and culture initiatives to ensure they also evolve as the business grows or changes.
Workplace culture is unique to every organization. It can directly impact a business’s success, so a workplace culture should be purposeful and shaped to maximize the benefits.
It’s important to proactively nurture a positive culture because negative influences can be very difficult to change once they become ingrained. When you reward those creating a positive work culture, others around them will be encouraged to do the same.
Most importantly, you should ensure that initiatives to improve workplace culture are authentic and aligned with the wider vision and values of your business.
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