How important is a great workplace culture in shaping employee engagement?
Workplace culture and employee engagement are two of the most commonly used terms on this blog, and for good reason. The relationship between the two is extremely important to the long-term success of any business.
Updated 30th September 2023
The simplest way of putting it is that it's the environment you and your employees create. And that widespread positive employee engagement is the result of solid workplace culture.
Don't stop reading though, because there's a little more to it than that.
What is workplace culture?
Workplace culture and employee engagement are heavily intertwined, in the sense that a good culture is one with a strong emphasis on engagement. Workplace culture is basically a catch-all team for the beliefs, attitudes, aims and expectations of an organisation and its employees. If you expect retail staff to upsell whenever possible, and show up at least ten minutes before their shift starts, that's an example of workplace culture. Other examples include unspoken rules or traditions. Like if the new junior associates in a law firm are used as workhorses and expected to put in a lot of overtime.
Workplace cultures can vary almost as widely as the people within them. As a result, few if none are perfect, not all are good. In fact, they're often very personal to employees in the organisation. This means that affecting lasting change is often slow, difficult, and met with reluctance. But it's important for people, especially managers and other leaders, to confront toxic aspects of workplace culture wherever they find them.
For example, maybe part of your workplace culture is that employees treat things like job stress and excessive overtime like badges of honour. This results in employees feeling like they can't ask for help or otherwise show strain for fear of seeming weak.
Sure, it's important to be resilient to the challenges of the workplace. But employees who won't take appropriate measures to deal with workplace stress are at risk of burnout. And they'll likely become less engaged over time.
How does workplace culture shape employee engagement?
Can workplace culture impact employee engagement? It would be hard for it not to. In an extremely basic sense, engagement is an employee's ability and emotional commitment to be able to focus on the tasks their job requires of them. But a lot of the factors influencing an employee's ability to engage are defined by an organisation's culture. Some of these include:
Satisfaction doesn't necessarily equate to engagement, but it's still an influencing factor. This might be the extent to which you enjoy your work. Or it might be the knowledge that you're performing an important duty or service. Either way, true job satisfaction goes beyond mere financial incentive. Positive feedback, be it from managers or other colleagues, is much more influential here.
Employee wellbeing is another broad term. It encapsulates our physical and mental health, our sense of social identity, and our level of financial security. It's probably stating the obvious to say that wellbeing can massively impact a person's ability to be engaged at work. While wellbeing is largely a personal responsibility, employers have a duty of care to protect the wellbeing of their employees. This can include providing proper training, shielding them from abuse or aggression, and providing fair and equitable working conditions.
Workplace social connections
We tend to include social connection under the umbrella of wellbeing. But it's still worth its own entry on this list. And that's because they play such an important role in workplace culture and employee engagement. It's obviously easier to work with someone you know than a total stranger. And employees with close workplace friendships work more productively than those without them.
Understanding and believing in company objectives
It's in your best interests to help your employees to understand company objectives, and how their work contributes to them. After all, imagine doing the same tasks every day. Without knowing what the actual point was, it'll get Sisyphean pretty quickly. Sharing a mutual understanding of the goals of the business with your employees gives them a clearer metric for their own success.
What a good workplace culture looks like
Every workplace is different, and they all have their own demands. But there are a few fairly good signs that you've got a great workplace culture:
Your employees are very socially connected
As we said earlier, social connection is great for collaboration. Having a good social support net at work is also great for helping employees cope with the stressful aspects of their jobs.
Recognising everyone's accomplishments
Praise from a manager or higher up is a great positive motivator. And it's more effective long term than financial performance incentives. But it doesn't have to stop with them.
But, no matter how good you are at employee recognition, you can't be everywhere at once. Giving staff the ability to highlight each other's achievements is a great morale booster. But it also makes sure managers don't fail to notice excellent performance and discretionary effort.
Supporting employee mental health
Mental health awareness is a vital aspect of both workplace culture and employee engagement. Good company culture is one that takes the mental wellbeing of employees seriously. You can achieve this by giving them the support and flexibility to be able to seek treatment if they need it.
Managers and their employees regularly exchange feedback
At Weekly10, we believe that mutual, two-way feedback is essential for a thriving workplace culture. And that's why our employee check-in forms the heart of our service. A good manager helps their employees develop professionally while using their feedback to inform future decision-making.
Your employees are advocates for the business
Employee advocacy is perhaps the biggest sign of a great workplace culture full of engaged employees. It means they'll wholeheartedly recommend you as a business and an employer. Plus, passionate employee advocates are more likely to go the extra mile, which reflects especially well in areas such as customer experience.