Welcome to the culture club: The truths and mistruths of workplace culture
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 should cover everything your employees need to know to work for you. 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
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 excel in their role.
To that end, you need to pay attention to how your managers run their teams. We've talked about overarching business objectives. But employees also need their own individual goals as a basis for further feedback and progression. You might think goal-setting is just a glorified to-do list, but it can seriously affect performance.
Too much emphasis on quantity can affect quality, and vice-versa. According to the book Principles of Management by Openstax, SMART Goals can be a great solution to this because they break goals down into manageable sub-tasks.
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. Everybody's collective dispositions, beliefs and attitudes have some level of impact. That's true whether you're a CEO, a manager, or even just a rank-and-file employee.
So, whenever applicants are considered for employment, the discussion partly 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 diverse staff are less likely to get stuck in one mode of thinking. This is useful because your company will then 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. Some people may be happy to coast, but for many, this is essential for 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 remember what they say about assuming?
In truth, 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
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 that doesn't mean it should 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. If you can't do that, you'll struggle to weed out applicants who would be a poor fit. And at the end of the day, drawn out hiring costs are an expense we'd all rather do without.
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. A regular staff check-in, for example, allows both managers and employees to reflect on what's been said. And our check-ins are designed to take mere minutes at a time. That way, you never have to worry about disrupting employee schedules.
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, even though things have improved, the "work til you drop" mentality unfortunately does still exist in some workplaces.
In 2019, surveyed HR leaders reported that burnout accounted for as much as half of their employee turnover. Improving workplace culture means addressing burnout in your organisation. As much as you may wish to pretend otherwise, everyone has a limit to how much stress they can handle. And it's an inescapable fact that regularly pushing people past their limits 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. It's actually a core part of both the employee and customer experience. So, even if you consider your business to be thoroughly cultureless, it definitely still exists.
Choosing to ignore it won't get you anywhere. In order to build a better workplace culture, you first have to acknowledge and accept the one you have.
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 if you want the best results. Yep, that's right, there's actually a selfish argument for being nice to your staff!
The idea of instant fixes
It might be tempting to look for a magic bullet solution to culture issues. 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. Then you'll have to create an action plan, and commit whole-heartedly to a new way of doing things.
The effectiveness of fear-based management
Scaring your employees senseless is a woefully outdated management tactic. Unfortunately, it seems that some if you didn't get the memo. And if threatening your employees with disciplinary action is your go-to move, you're more likely to damage their ability to engage.
And resist the urge to blame anyone but yourself for this. If you use fear-based management, it's entirely your fault because you've intentionally 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 makes them feel valued. And it also shows their colleagues that hard work does get noticed. According to Deloitte, organisations with recognition programs had an average of 14% higher engagement, productivity and performance than organisations without such initiatives.
You can even get employees 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.