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What is workplace culture?

Welcome to the Culture Club: The Truths and Misconceptions of Workplace Culture

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Unless you work in a yoghurt factory, workplace culture can be pretty difficult to define. It’s a very broad concept, and as a result, can be quite hard to define. So, what is workplace culture, and what are the common misconceptions that cause it to be so poorly understood?

What is workplace culture?

Simply put, workplace culture is the sum total of beliefs and attitudes perpetuated throughout an organisation. But it’s also a little more complicated than that, as there are quite a few different moving parts to be aware of:

  • Official policies for professional conduct: Firstly, there are the rules and protocols which a business expects its employees to abide by. These are generally made clear to new employees as part of on-boarding, and should exist as a written resource. Official workplace policies often cover things such as protocol for using communication tools, rules for booking time off, or workplace disciplinary procedures in the event of misconduct.
  • Company goals and expectations as set by leaders and managers:  Whether it’s their goals for company growth, aims to increase diversity, or a new green policy, the long-term goals of a business can significantly affect the sort of workplace culture it has. But equally, if an organisation’s workplace culture doesn’t effectively reflect the goals of its leadership, then it will be much harder for that organisation to achieve success. After all, what is workplace culture good for if you have to constantly fight against it to make headway?
  • The employee experience: The day-to-day experiences of your employees say a lot about your workplace culture. In fact, when all the other bells and whistles are stripped away, employee experiences remain one of your strongest indicators. A good workplace culture should enable employees to take pride in their work. They should have strong social connections with their colleagues, be supported by their managers, and feel empowered by a sense of ownership to provide discretionary effort. But if the employee experience in your business seems to fall more along the lines of presenteeism, unchecked job stress, and a lack of confidence in leadership, then that suggests your workplace culture has a lot of room for improvement.
  • The people in your organisation: It should go without saying that the people who work in your business have a huge impact on workplace culture. From CEOs and managers, all the way down to rank-and-file employees, everyone’s collective dispositions, beliefs and attitudes have some level of impact. This is why, whenever applicants are considered for employment, part of that discussion inevitably focuses on whether said applicant would be a “good fit” for the company. Then there’s the issue of diversity in the workplace. Organisations with staff from a diverse array of backgrounds are less likely to get stuck in one mode of thinking, and will be much more capable of appealing to different demographics.

Why workplace culture is important for business success

Positive workplace culture is vital for employee engagement, and can therefore have a significant impact on how your business performs. For example, a strong culture of feedback in your organisation can help employees to develop professionally, increasing their level of job satisfaction. And while job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily equate to engagement, it’s still a major factor.

Every workplace has its own culture, and many are a grab-bag of positive and negative aspects. So, the ingrained aspects of your organisation’s culture can either help or hinder employee engagement and business development. It may be easy to assume it can’t matter all that much, but a good, supportive culture is essential for getting the most out of your employees, and attracting top talent. After all, what is workplace culture, if not a reflection of the values of its leadership?

How to build a better culture in your organisation

The fact is that, even if you’re considering this for the first time, your organisation already has some form of culture. Good or bad, the thing about pre-existing workplace cultures is that they can often be very entrenched. This is especially true for businesses with a strong sense of tradition, such as law firms. So here are five tips for building a better culture for your business.

  • Workplace culture starts with recruitment and onboarding: It’s easy for new employees to become disengaged if the job doesn’t live up to their expectations. Of course, when you’re recruiting, you need to make your business seem attractive to top talent, but this shouldn’t come at the cost of honesty. You need to set realistic expectations of what working in your company will be like during recruitment and onboarding, in order to weed out applicants who would be a poor fit.
  • Effective communication and feedback are essential: Good communication and systems for exchanging feedback are two of the most important things to get right. After all, what is workplace culture good for if it doesn’t facilitate personal development and effective collaboration? An open-door policy is all well and good. But for feedback especially, you need a solid framework in place, such as a regular staff check-in that allows both managers and employees to reflect on what’s been said.
  • Do away with burnout culture: There was a time when your average worker did sixty hours a day, six days a week. Thankfully, people aren’t expected to have their nose to the grindstone quite that much these days, but the “work til you drop” mentality does still exist in some workplaces. Improving workplace culture means addressing burnout in your organisation, because everyone has a limit to how much stress they can handle, and regularly pushing people past them just isn’t sustainable.
  • Use teamwork to build resilience: Touching again on the importance of social wellbeing, it’s important to build connections between members of your team. This is because, ultimately, it’s our friends and colleagues at work who support us, and help us to stay resilient in the face of stress.
  • Lead change from the top down: People often look at sudden change with suspicion. And without employee buy-in, you’ll struggle to bring about any real, lasting change to your workplace culture. But employees tend to look to the business’s leadership for cues on how to act, so when you introduce a new tool or way of doing things, it’s vital that you openly use it and highlight the benefits, so that everyone else will follow your lead.

Common misconceptions about workplace culture

  • Organisations being separate from their cultures: If you think workplace culture doesn’t reflect on your business, think again. Culture isn’t something to be tacked on at the end, but is actually a core part of both the employee and customer experience.
  • Flashy perks and financial incentives: You want people to work harder, so just give them some Pizza Hut coupons and a performance-based cash bonus, right? Wrong. Evidence shows that while these incentives have some short-term benefit, they can actually cause performance and engagement to deteriorate in the long run. In fact, managerial praise has been found to be far more effective, so you should go out of your way to highlight positive performance.
  • The idea of instant fixes: It might be tempting to look for a magic bullet solution, but addressing toxic elements of workplace is rarely so simple. It’s not the sort of thing that can be changed by the discourse of a single meeting. If you really want to create lasting change, you’ll need to analyse employee sentiment, create an action plan, and commit whole-heartedly to a new way of doing things.
  • The effectiveness of fear-based management: A particularly outdated form of people management is the technique of getting your staff to work harder by putting the fear of God in them. But if threatening your employees with disciplinary action is your go-to move, you’re more likely to damage their ability to engage, because you’ve just turned their job stress up to eleven.
  • The importance of celebrating milestones: Who cares about milestones, you ask? Well, the people who achieve them, for starters. Taking the time to acknowledge your employee’s achievements not only makes them feel valued, but it also shows their colleagues that hard work does get noticed. You can even get them to celebrate each other’s achievements by providing a means for them to recognise each other’s accomplishments, such as the recognition-based questions on our employee check-in.

To read our latest musings on employee engagement and workplace culture, or to find out how Weekly10 can benefit your business, visit our blog today!

Weekly10’s powerful employee engagement and performance tools help maximise the effectiveness of your people. Why not check out a demo with one of our team?

Head of People Science