What Is Work Culture? Definition, Elements, and Examples
When deciding where to apply for jobs, most people look for an atmosphere that affirms their goals and values through a healthy work culture. Every workplace has a unique environment that forms over time through the interactions of the people who work there. The workplace influences individuals and vice versa, so it’s important to seek a company where you see the potential for growth. In this article, we explain what a work culture is by providing an overview of the elements and importance of a healthy culture in the workplace.
Work culture is a collection of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment. Healthy workplace cultures align employee behaviours and company policies with company goals. They also consider the well-being of individuals. The culture of a company determines how well a person fits into their new job environment and their ability to build professional relationships with colleagues. Your attitude, work-life balance, growth opportunities, and job satisfaction all depend on the culture of your workplace.
Elements of a healthy company culture
Work culture is a complex concept that evolves in the workplace based on many elements. Some people may value a more traditional work environment, while others want something more modern and fun. It’s ideal to understand yourself as an employee in order to look for a company whose culture most accurately aligns with your workplace values. A company that aligns with your beliefs is likely to be a place that values your contributions. All thriving workplaces have many traits in common. Look for these signs of prospering company culture when considering possible employers:
When each person who works at a company is accountable for their behaviour, it indicates a healthy work environment. A balanced workplace enables people to feel comfortable enough to take credit for their ideas and their mistakes. Open accountability allows each employee to learn from challenges instead of avoiding them. Accountability fosters an environment based on teamwork, open communication, trustworthiness, and responsibility.
Companies that treat their employees fairly often have healthy environments. Every position within an organization has value. Giving everyone opportunities boosts employee morale. Favouritism in the workplace is a sign of a toxic workplace. It may cause distrust and resentment between coworkers. Thus, making an equitable workplace environment essential.
People are generally happier, more productive, and more focused when they feel able to express themselves in the workplace. If employees have some freedom in their style and how they decorate their workspace, it indicates a level of comfort within the office. For example, some offices might decide to have a casual dress code that allows employees to wear what makes them feel most comfortable.
A thriving workplace has effective and clear communication between its employees. Executive employees can develop direct lines of communication with the rest of the staff. When employees have open communication with their supervisors and team members, teamwork flourishes. It also helps teammates keep one another accountable to contribute to an equitable workplace.
A thriving workplace recognizes employee successes and rewards people when they do well. Management in a healthy work environment looks for positive attributes of everyone on the team. Employee recognition builds a culture of appreciation and mutual respect.
Culture in the workplace
What is workplace culture, and why does it matter?
Workplace culture is the sum of every decision you take regarding your workplace. Is your organization hierarchical or flat? Casual or formal? Are people professional and polite with coworkers or genuinely best of buds?
A study by Columbia University suggests that the likelihood of employee turnover at an organization with a strong focus on company culture is just 13.9%. The probability of employee turnover at businesses with weak company cultures is 48.4%.
And if that works for you, fantastic! Equally, what we’ll call ‘startup zaniness’ isn’t the only way to create a great workplace culture. Formal or more rigid workplaces can also offer a great company culture – it’s about being respectful, supportive and transparent above anything else.
What impacts culture in the workplace?
- Industry: some industries (e.g. legal) lean towards more formal workplaces, others are more liberal
- Leadership: the availability and visibility of your leadership team can have a significant effect on how people see workplace hierarchies
- Location: local employment laws (e.g. vacation, working hours) and customs can affect the environment you work in
- Employee demographics: your employees’ age, parental status, gender and more all contribute to the personality of your workplace
- Values and goals: the purpose of your organization might encourage certain types of employees to apply for positions
Understanding and developing workplace culture
That’s not to say your workplace culture has to be set in stone. As a decision-maker, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to create a company culture that will be a major asset to your business.
Your company values are yours to define, no matter what industry you work in. A factory with tight health and safety regs and tight shift patterns can feel welcoming, inclusive and fun with the right emphasis. Adjust your values in line with the culture you want to build and the hires you want to make and things will start to shift in the right direction.
Regardless of where you fall on HR’s own chicken and egg conundrum, hiring for personality (as well as skills) can help you build the culture that you feel you need. When hiring managers in particular, look at their managerial style and people skills alongside their results, and consider whether that would work for your business.
There isn’t a single type of company culture that can’t be improved by a solid recognition and rewards strategy. Career development, salary progression and a great benefits package are all important here, but don’t forget the smaller stuff. A simple ‘thank you’ just once per month to your employees doubles employee engagement, halves the risk of them leaving and triples the likelihood of them sticking with you in the long term
Where does your current leadership excel? What could it be doing better? Building a culture of continuous improvement includes taking on feedback as leaders so you can lead the charge here more effectively.
Positive workplace culture vs toxic workplace culture
Positive workplace culture
Ultimately, everyone’s striving towards a common goal. Individuals and teams work together without silos or sniping, and employees generally feel satisfied with their work-life balance. Communication is open and transparent, and employees feel appreciated for the effort they put in.
General positivity and employee recognition are central here. Celebrate successes well, and frame feedback as a way to improve, rather than personal criticism. A degree of stability is needed for a positive workplace culture – review your salary and benefits packages regularly to keep employee retention and satisfaction high and workloads reasonable.
It’s not essential, but you could also consider throwing in some nice little extras, just to emphasize how much you appreciate your employees. A day of paid time off on birthdays, free food and complementary activities are all lovely to offer – though make sure you don’t start to use these as substitutes for the basics.
Toxic workplace culture
Everyone for themselves! You show up to work to take the cash and go home, whilst feeling incredibly frustrated at how disjointed everything is. You have probably passive aggressively CC’d someone’s boss into an email chain more than once. No love lost – they would have done exactly the same to you.
Typically, toxic workplace culture is bred by stress, lack of appreciation and poor communication. These form a vicious circle (overworked employees communicate poorly, resulting in late delivery, resulting in lack of appreciation, resulting in poor morale – the cycle repeats).
Start by figuring out which of these you can fix. That’s the key to breaking the downward spiral of negative workplace culture and reversing it. For example, you might not be able to fix the staff shortage that’s resulting in overwork. Equally, there are plenty of other actions you could take to turn things around elsewhere, including
The future of workplace cultures
Workplace cultures are changing and evolving, and businesses in the future will look increasingly different from how they appear now. Specifically, workplaces of the future will include:
Diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion is becoming a need-to-have quality for organisations to succeed. Communities and political leaders increasingly expect businesses to reflect the customers they serve in terms of who they hire and who they choose to lead.
Effective work spaces and flexibility
Like diversity, flexibility is fast becoming a requirement for all organisations. Technology is more accessible, and people are working collaboratively on a global basis. As these trends grow, people will expect businesses to offer flexible work-life options and efficient work spaces.
Adaptability to workforce changes
With increasing amounts of artificial intelligence being used by businesses, and with automation and robotics replacing many jobs, one of the key challenges in future workplace cultures will be the need to accept even more change in how things are done. People will need to be adaptable to create a positive workplace culture.