Trevor R. Thomas
“Office culture” or “workplace culture” are phrases that you probably hear a lot, no matter what type of work you do. The nebulous concept of “culture” influences everything from hiring decisions to internal policy and legal matters.
But what, exactly, do we mean when we say “workplace culture”?
One way to describe it is the “vibe” in a given workplace. It’s a measure of how workers interact with their workplaces, and includes the following factors:
Workers’ feelings about their job
Workers’ feelings about their colleagues and management
Workers’ opinions of the organization as a whole
When thinking about the culture in your own workplace, you might ask yourself:
Do I feel valued and respected at work?
Can I approach my employer if I have a concern about my work or workplace?
Can I speak openly with my colleagues and supervisors?
Do I care about the work I’m doing? Do I believe in the company’s mission?
Ultimately, culture is rooted in the values of the organization. While culture is highly nuanced, an organization that respects its employees as people and upholds values of trust and mutual respect will likely have a more positive workplace culture than an organization that values profit above all else.
Why is Workplace Culture so Important?
A positive workplace culture can strengthen an organization in a number of ways.
Employee turnover represents a massive cost for businesses, and so it’s in employers’ best interests to invest in ways to reduce turnover. Having a positive workplace culture is one of the best retention strategies out there.
Most employees want to stay in jobs where the workplace culture is positive and supportive. On the other hand, a negative culture will drive employees away no matter how good the pay is or how many benefits and perks you offer.
A positive office culture also affords opportunities for growth, for both employees and the organization as a whole.
For example, in a culture where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities, employees tend to feel more comfortable asking questions and learning new programs and tasks. If a mistake happens, an organization with a supportive culture can treat the situation as an opportunity to improve internal processes or provide better training for employees.
In an organization without this positive culture, employees may be afraid to try new things or develop their skills for fear of reprimand or losing a job.
Fostering employee growth and giving employees opportunities to branch out and advance in their career within an organization is also a key factor in employee retention.
A good workplace culture lets employees grow with the organization, rather than growing out of it.
Having a culture where employees feel like they belong, and are valued, gives employees incentive to show up for work – not just physically, but also in a sense of being present, and caring about the work they do.
Employees that are fully engaged are generally more productive and more willing to work toward the organization’s collective goals. And if all your employees are engaged in driving your company forward, you’re much more likely to succeed in the long run.
How Can Employers Build a Positive Workplace Culture?
If workplace culture is determined by an organization’s values, then it should be as simple as aligning your workplace with those values. However, in many cases, the “values” of an organization aren’t specifically stated.
The first step in developing a positive workplace culture, then, might be to spend some time outlining your values. Ideally, your values should be written in a company handbook, quality policy, or another place where they are readily accessible to all employees.
The second and most important step is to live by those values in the day-to-day function of the organization.
Without action behind them, your values are empty words. And this can come across not only in your internal office culture, but also in your brand’s reputation with customers.
How you “live” your company’s values depends on exactly what the values are. For example, let’s say some of your company’s values emphasize learning and growth. One way to live these values would be scheduled meetings where management shares their mistakes and demonstrates how they were able to grow from the experience.
Such a recurring event could help create a sense that everyone at the company is on a level playing field. It might encourage employees to get more involved in new initiatives or offer suggestions to their supervisors, knowing they won’t risk being punished for it.
If your company values honesty and transparency, then part of living those values might be making certain financial information available to all employees, or being fully transparent about employee pay rates.
Creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture is a fine balance. Employers need to make space for employees to be their best selves at work, but they also need to hire employees whose personalities and values mesh well with other staff members and the organization as a whole.
Culture, therefore, is something that should be considered from the start of a business, as it can be difficult to change once it’s ingrained.
What can Employees Bring to the Table?
On the one hand, employees can uphold good office culture by living the organization’s values, and being willing to fully engage at work. This might mean being more authentic at work; being willing to talk openly about your struggles and victories, and supporting your colleagues in theirs.
Of course, it’s a fine line – you don’t want to overshare, and you are at work to work, not only to socialize. Another way to contribute is talking to the organization leaders about what can be done to improve workplace culture. But, again, employers need to make space for employees to speak openly.
Essentially, everyone in an organization contributes to office culture, but the onus is on employers to make space for that culture to flourish.
Workplace culture is a curious thing. Every organization has its own unique culture – if you don’t make an effort to build a positive one, a certain culture will take hold regardless, influenced by the actions your company takes, and the people you hire. This culture that develops organically may not be positive. If you’re starting a company, culture is something that you need to consider right from the very beginning. Because once it develops, it can be very difficult to alter.
A good workplace culture takes a long time to build, but it can also come undone very quickly if the organization takes an action that is not in keeping with the values that it purports to uphold. There needs to be a conscious effort every day to uphold those values. Culture is not set-it-and-forget-it, though it should feel more natural over time.
One mistake that many organizations make in this regard is treating culture and team-building activities as the most expendable. It’s true that social events and meetings where you share your mistakes and achievements may not result in any tangible deliverable. But cutting out these opportunities for the development of workplace culture, or letting them fall by the wayside, can have a significant impact on employee morale, productivity, and retention rates. Once again, it’s important to strike a balance.
Wondering what steps you can take to foster a positive culture in your organization?
Growing your company and need a crash course on hiring for culture fit?
Call or email Ascent today! We’ve made a lot of effort to build a positive, supportive culture in our own workplace, and we’re happy to share our wisdom with you – as well as provide clear guidance on developing policy and stating values.