What is Workplace Culture?

By Sean Stevenson – Latest Revision January 3rd, 2021

A well-defined workplace culture is integral for the continued success of any organization.

Workplace culture represents the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that define your organization.  These tend to create the overall character and practices of an enterprise.

Letting your workplace culture form itself naturally can be an odious mistake. It is now more important than ever to actively shape workplace cultural norms. 

A positively reinforced workplace culture will retain and attract talented employees.  Further, it will drive existing employee engagement, increase workplace satisfaction, and improve overall productivity.

Forming and managing your own workplace culture can appear daunting at first.  For best practice, workplace culture can and should be actively managed in the workplace.

In this article, I’ll define for you what workplace culture is.  I’ll also provide key reasons as to why it is so important for the success of any organization. 

Why Is Workplace Culture Important?

Your workplace culture defines your business capabilities.  Much like a business strategy, it will set the tone for your entire enterprise. 

A well formed and managed workplace culture is exceedingly important.  Here is a list of a few key aspects as to why:

1. It affects performance at every level

Performance is perhaps most impacted by workplace cultural practices.  It directly affects those on the frontline, who often have to deal with complex situations.

Organizations with strong workplace cultures enjoy happier workers.  According to www.ox.ac.uk, “An extensive study into happiness and productivity has found that workers are 13% more productive when happy.” 

This alone is a staggering number.  A 13% boost in productivity is significant.  Picture this as a ripple effect that not only makes your business 13% better, it makes it 13% faster as well.

This alone signals that a well-managed and positive workplace culture would outperform an organization that did not enjoy the same benefit.

2. It impacts the happiness of workers

We just addressed the 13% benefit to productivity in a happy workplace.  However, what about at a more personal level?

Consider the following in your own situation: if you had to go into work everyday knowing that your workplace was toxic, would you maybe stay home more often? 

Most people would certainly answer yes.  Workplaces with poor attendance are often associated with very poor working conditions.  This is directly tied to workplace cultural norms.  Moreover, the mental health issues that spring from this negativity, have been well-documented to be severe. 

It stands to reason that happiness isn’t just about productivity.  It’s also about your mindset.  You shouldn’t be forced to endure something that destroys your mental health. 

A well managed workplace culture would mean you wouldn’t have to.  A well-managed workplace is one that doesn’t scream “stay away or suffer the consequences.”

3. It Attracts Talented People and Teams

Job candidates in today’s world are becoming increasingly savvy at scoping out the prevailing attitudes and tendencies of a business they’d like to work for.  With employment information available on the internet, it’s only a matter of taking the time to read a few reviews.  

Naturally, a workplace culture with clearly defined goals and a can-do attitude is infinitely more appealing than toxic employment of any kind.

If toxicity is a problem and wages are low, your ability to attract and retain talent is unlikely to thrive.  Word will get out.  People will mark you with a red flag online.

The only people who actively join a toxic company at that point, are the ones who have no choice, or didn’t do their homework beforehand.  How engaged and hard-working will those newly-minted employees be? 

More than likely, they’ll jump ship as soon as possible, having done little in their position.

4. It will drive employee engagement to the moon

A powerful workplace culture will completely change how employees perceive and act upon their place of work.

For example:  By promoting ownership, and granting a culture of merit, you can instill a powerful sense of duty in workers.  Rather than coming in for “just another day” they will see opportunity for personal development and teamwork.

An optimized workplace culture for employee engagement has educational opportunities.  More than just getting paid their rates, people love the opportunity to grow.  More than ever, they want to learn new skills.

This can be a huge boon to an organization.  Skilled and educated workers are the crown jewels of any organization.  They tend to be more engaged also.

What is Workplace Culture?

"Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion."

–Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb

What Creates Workplace Culture?

Innumerable factors play into workplace culture.  Moreover, these factors can play entirely differently in certain companies, or even in entire industries.

For our purposes, we can identify several of these important influences on workplace culture indefinitely:

Leadership

The way in which the leadership of any organization interacts and communicates with employees will play a huge role in its workplace culture.

Employees are greatly influenced by their leaders.  For good or ill, they believe that they often know best.  Whatever is recognized, celebrated, or denounced by leaders within the organization, will be replicated by the workforce. 

While this can set a positive tone if used correctly, leaders often forget themselves and make mistakes.  It is vital for any act of leadership to remain rooted in facts alone. 

If you want employees to embrace a certain way of thinking, you need to focus on promoting that understanding using examples.  A great way of doing this, is by sharing a vision for the company’s future.  This gives workers something to rally around.  Moreover, it has the added benefit of becoming a story that can be repeatedly told and referenced to.

For example, by letting others know of a new item of machinery, or a large sale that occurred, you give them a reference point of organizational success.  They can now share this information amongst themselves, and be motivated knowing the future is bright.

Effective leadership can set the tone for any workplace culture.  It is in fact, essential to stable and continuous prosperity.

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Management

Not to be confused with leadership.  Management is how the systems of an enterprise are organized.  Everything from its procedures, goals, and structure, all fall under the sway of management.

Systems under management need to be audited continuously by both workers and leaders alike.  This sets an excellent resonance for employees, as they are making viable decisions to build their future.  They will feel more engaged, and likely offer excellent information to feed the process.

Empowering and supporting these systems is integral to success.  It has a huge impact on workplace culture and teamwork. 

By scaling and creating powerful systems, a manager can create a workplace culture that is rooted in effectiveness.  This gives a huge boon to employee confidence.  They will come to understand that management decisions are made to profit both the systems in place, and the people involved.

Workplace Policies, Practices, and Philosophies

How a workplace culture deals with its own dress code, conduct, attendance, compensation, hiring, and even scheduling, are all facets of this category.  Employmenthero.com states that, “Workplace policies shouldn’t be mysterious documents that wither away on dusty shelves- instead, they’re dynamic tools that articulate your organization’s values, culture, systems and processes.” 

The goal here should always be to keep things reasonable and user-friendly. 

Great examples of this would be compensation that is fair, and time off that is granted when needed.

Moreover, specific practices related to recruitment, and even benefits, would have to be assessed carefully.  Any enterprise must take into consideration its own needs, along with the needs of the stakeholders involved.

Mission, Future Vision, and Values

The actual statement of these, is what can easily define an entire culture.  In the workplace, everyone must know what the mission, future vision, and values of the organization are.  This is integral to inspiring everyone to work towards a shared goal.

Communicating these shared fundamentals should be a priority.  They must be continuously emphasized to promote stable work habits.  Moreover, they should also promote a conversation among everyone within the organization, as to the future of the enterprise.

People

Collaboration is always something that should be encouraged in any workplace culture.

Likewise, the people you hire must be made aware of the rules and expected code of conduct.  They must also fit into the existing structures, so as to fully benefit the organization.

Confrontational behavior can never be abided.  The risks for an incident are too high.  Moreover, it diminishes workplace productivity.

Communications

The forms and uses of communication are key to any work culture.  How leaders and managers choose to present important information sets the tone for the decisions being made.

The frequency of communication can vary.  What should remain consistent, is that the quality of information being shared is high.

Transparency is also important.  It allows stakeholders an unbiased view of how the operation is faring, and what can be done to improve it.

Work Environment

The space of an office building, or a factory floor, are excellent examples of what constitutes a work environment.

Signs, artifacts, furniture, or other objects also fall into this category. 

Oftentimes, an organization will use common spaces to display their values or other important information.  This may even include historic moments in the company’s history.

These can create inspired spaces that convey the importance of an organization’s mission.  Visitors and employees alike should be able to gleam the importance and magnitude of an organizational culture, by looking upon its work environment.

When Defining Your Own Workplace Culture

To mould an effective workplace culture, you must take an active hand in its creation.  Most organization’s fail in this regard.  They do not seize the opportunity and develop it from within.

Creating an effective and positive workplace culture is actually not difficult, it just takes effort. 

It requires fair policies and practices for employees.  These can take the form of programs, and policies that are tailored to your organization’s needs.  All too often, many companies act based on what other companies do.  This makes little sense, as it is often unlikely to address your own specific needs.

Moreover, the work environment itself should be reinforced with positive elements.  Work-related posters and information should be clearly presented for everyone to read.  There should also be clear references made as to where they might obtain further counsel or information.

In terms of retention and hiring, it is also common for many employers to seek external “temp agencies.”  This is erroneous and can cause many complications.  It is far better to do your own hiring.

Conclusion – What Is Workplace Culture?

Workplace culture is the defining character of your organization.  It can be molded to suit your needs and benefit your enterprise.

All of the items noted above must be taken into careful consideration when forming a workplace culture.  Take some time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your own culture.  This will allow you to formulate methods to actively improve it.

Remember that a workplace culture is just as important as a business strategy.  Without it, you may incur severe -and entirely unforeseen- penalties in the future.

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