Table of Contents
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Table of Contents
What Is Workplace Culture?
A company’s culture can be best defined as the beliefs and practices associated with your organization: the why and how you do what you do.
Britannica.com says that workplace culture can be referred to as a company’s “psychological assets.” If a company were an actual person, the workplace culture could be looked at as its personality.
An article published in the Harvard Business Review puts it like this: “In short, culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off.” In other words, there can’t be a written guide for everything your employees do. On-the-fly or subconscious decisions have to be made all the time, and culture is what influences those decisions.
Employees want to feel comfortable, safe, valued, and productive at the company where they work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big, midsize, or small business—those needs are the same, and the culture at your company has a lot to do with whether those needs are met.
Culture defines your workplace and can have a big influence on recruiting, productivity, and turnover. Your company’s culture will develop naturally, but your organization will benefit from investing in shaping that culture in a way that benefits your employees and your customers.
HR professionals can quite often be considered the stewards of a company’s workplace culture and should therefore be keenly aware and responsive to what really makes the company tick.
How Workplace Culture Has Changed Over the Years
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “the only thing constant is change.” Workplace culture has continued to evolve and adapt as new generations have entered the workforce. Employees’ shifting expectations have also led to some of these changes. Gone are the days of “working 9 to 5” (we still love you Dolly Parton!) that has been the norm over the past few decades. As telework, corporate campuses and fringe benefits have continued to expand throughout time, workplace culture has had to become even more flexible to stay caught up with the pace.
Whether it be the war for talent or the 2021 Great Resignation, finding and keeping quality employees has become increasingly difficult. In the past, many companies had culture fit embedded into aspects of their interview process. But now, employees are the ones putting workplace culture under the microscope as a major deciding factor for whether they should stay or leave their employer. Glassdoor’s 2019 Mission and Culture Survey discovered that 77% of adults consider a company’s culture before applying to a job. With these changes happening in the way employees approach work, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your company is deliberately creating a culture that will attract and retain top talent.
The Importance of Being Intentional About Culture in the Workplace
In chess there are endless strategies that can lead you to a win, but you have to pick one early on and stick to it. If you sit down at the chessboard and just let the game happen, you’ll lose every time. The same thing applies to company culture. If you define a strong company culture early on, it can guide the way you do HR. By just letting culture go where it will, you lose the power and direction that comes with a strategic and intentional culture.
If a company is not intentional about culture in the workplace, they are missing the mark in so many key aspects of their business. Avoid this mistake by sitting down with your executives and writing out what you want your culture to look like and how to get it there. Do you want more camaraderie? Put together an activities committee. Do you value quality over quantity? Build an incentive program. The key here is knowing what you want. With an intentional culture, you’ll see improvements in your…
- Talent attraction. Workplace culture can often be a magnetic and organic marketing tool. If companies are successful at creating a palpable workplace culture, they will likely start to have their pick at talent, rather than having to go search for it. People will be naturally drawn into a company as they hear feedback from existing employees and can view themselves as wanting to work there.
- Talent retention. Workplace culture can be a powerful retention tool. Pay and benefits continue to decline as the primary reason why employees choose to leave a company. Aspects of the workplace culture (such as manager relationships, work-life balance, etc.) are beginning to take the top spots for attrition. The “vibe” of an organization speaks volumes to employees. If your organization is able to foster positive company culture and encourage all employees to adhere to it, employee retention will follow.
- Employee engagement. Engagement comes from employees at every level of the company owning the goals of the company. When company goals become their own, employees become much more motivated to do a great job. As your employees come to believe in the organization’s goals, their productivity and customer service will increase, and your business will become more profitable.
- Employee satisfaction. When employees are unhappy at work, the productivity and quality of your business will suffer. But when they feel supported and satisfied, the work they produce will improve your business and give it strength to grow.
- Service. It’s no question that a happy workplace translates into employees being more productive. When your employees are emulating the positive company culture you’ve established, your customers will feel it and continue coming back. What an effective business model!
- Collaboration and innovation. When employees are empowered through beliefs, leadership behaviors, and corporate systems, collaboration comes naturally. Team members who work together typically create an environment of open ideas and innovation as they strive to benefit the organization.
Factors Affecting Culture in the Workplace
A novel (or several) could likely be written on all the various aspects of workplace culture. While the factors below are just a few that can contribute to workplace culture, they can vary widely from company to company. Culture is also something that can’t really be copied. Just as individuals are vastly different, so are their contributions to workplace culture.
To drive a company culture that’s positive and inviting, examine communication first and foremost. Look at the way your employees communicate with each other and with customers, and the way leadership communicates with them. Typically the former is a direct reflection of the latter. Many employees will evaluate this before they even start working for your organization, which can be a major factor in their decision whether to move forward with your company or go to another.
If employees don’t feel like they are being heard, they could shut down, stop contributing or (at the worst) actually become toxic to workplace culture. Interpersonal relationships (teamwork) and lack of or nonexistent feedback are just a few examples of where deficiencies or difficulties in communication can ruin even the best cultural experiences in a company. If employees feel like they have to put more work into being noticed and heard than they do their actual job responsibilities, there is definitely going to be some problems.
A common phrase in HR and the overall business field is that “people leave managers, not companies.” Even within the greater company culture, there can be subcultures created based on a variety of management styles and preferences. Leaders act as agents of the company and its culture, as most front-line employees may never have the opportunity to meet a top-level executive.
Many employees look to leaders to exemplify what the company stands for. If employees experience a disconnect between leaders’ behavior and company values, that could bring the company’s overall culture into question, even when the company may have the best intentions.
Even without positive, supportive leadership, your culture is still being shaped, just not in the direction you may want. Consider this when evaluating leadership at your organization. A leader should emulate the type of culture you are trying to create because they will be a major factor in shaping the continuous company culture.
The way decisions are made shapes the culture even if your executives don’t like it. How your organization decides to move forward or not on a policy, system, or process is a reflection of your culture. You are setting the tone for your employees by how you handle major decisions and this, in turn, defines your culture.
Assuming a 40-hour work week, employees will spend 2,080 hours at work every year. At least a third of an employee’s waking hours are spent on the job! They will seek out a place they enjoy, feel like they belong, feel welcome and feel included. If they do not experience these things in their workplace, their personality may be more like that of a rebellious teenager lashing out at mistreatment, which can have damaging effects on the workplace culture.
An employee lifecycle is the process of hiring, onboarding, developing, promoting, retaining, or terminating an employee. The way your organization does this directly reflects your culture. This will greatly affect your organization because this is the first interaction many will have with your company and it can make or break the relationship. Begin a positive employee lifecycle from the first interaction all the way to the last in order to foster a positive culture.
Depending on how you hire, new employees can either strengthen your company culture or tear it down. After all, culture doesn’t exist without people! While it’s critical that leaders model a positive company culture, it’s also important that each employee embodies the culture you’re aiming for.
Keep in mind that skills can be trained, but culture can’t be. If you have to choose between a candidate that excels at all the right skills but does not share company values and a candidate that is a perfect culture fit but lacks a few skills, choose the latter.
Types of Company Culture
While a company can assimilate to any culture, there are a few cultures that can be a typical starting point for the direction your organization will follow. Let’s review them below.
Organizations with this type of culture are typically flexible and not inhibited by bureaucratic procedures and policies, hence the name, ‘ad hoc’ and bureaucracy. If your company has an adhocracy culture, you put an emphasis on improving and constantly innovating. Your organization will be fast-paced and exciting while still providing a little leeway to be innovative and creative. A start-up is often a good example of these cultures, as they want to come out of the gate fast and get as much ground covered as possible from the beginning. While this culture is creative and innovative, if your organization is looking for a bit more structure, it’s okay to adopt some of this culture to blend with others to make your culture unique.
If you’re looking for a family-type culture, clan culture is for you. You’ll see these mostly with family-owned businesses where employees are all valued at the same level and you truly feel that close-knit support. In a clan culture, you’ll see the organization work hard to ensure each employee feels like an equal no matter their position. This creates open and honest feedback and helps the company keep employee engagement high. Customer service often follows suit with five-star ratings as employees feel truly valued. As the organization continues to develop and grow, this type of culture may fizzle out because it’s difficult to maintain. Blending other cultural ideas into the clan culture can ensure you keep the family mentality for years to come.
The hierarchy culture is the most common in the corporate world today. Think of structure, procedure, and well, a hierarchy. This type of culture creates clarity and a concise vision. Employees know exactly where they fit into the chain of command and there are typically no issues regarding who reports to who. You’ll see that duties, operations, and systems are clearly defined and streamlined allowing these organizations to mitigate risk and operate efficiently. A downfall to this culture is the lack of innovation and flexibility, so adding a bit of a “start-up mentality” culture can assist your organization if you find yourself operating within a hierarchy system.
The numbers game is where market culture falls. Anything to stay ahead of the competition and keep those profit margins is a great way to define this culture. Market culture is results-oriented with a strong customer satisfaction focus. You’ll find a great deal of innovation in these cultures because without innovation, you can’t stay competitive. With the strive to be innovative comes an immense amount of pressure. While this culture typically creates long-term achievables for the business, it is typically difficult for employees to maintain long-term. This culture could benefit from a bit of the clan culture to ensure employees feel valued just as much as customers.
How to Shape Your Company’s Culture
As overwhelming as this may seem, let’s see what the steps are to shape your company culture.
Step 1: Start Now
It doesn’t matter if you think you’re too small or your organization is too large. Start now. Create a dialogue between employees, executives, leaders, and even customers to see what makes your workplace stand out, then use that as your baseline. These conversations will help you see what the current culture is. You can decide from there what you would like to preserve and what you would like to change. There is no better time than the present to start shaping your company’s culture.
Step 2: Cast Vision
Once you recognize where your company culture is currently, take time to clearly define what you want it to look like moving forward. Ask questions like: how do you want customers to feel about your company? What day-to-day experiences do you want employees to have? What is an absolute “no go” for your organization? Answering these questions can help you cast a vision for the direction of your specific culture.
Step 3: Lead by Example
You must not spend time and research focusing on how to create company culture without emulating it yourself from the top down. Leaders need to step into action and make sure the company’s mission and vision statements are being lived out. That mission and vision should be driving culture home daily. Ensure your leadership is building trust as you establish the culture. Make every interaction with your employees count, especially as you’re taking steps to shape your culture.
Step 4: Keep Track
Shaping a company culture is not a one-and-done deal. It may require a few attempts. If you establish something that breeds a high turnover and does not support the long-term goals of the organization, head back to the drawing board. Keep track of where you were and the feedback you received in the process to pave the way for where you are headed. Asking for feedback and utilizing it in your strategic HR decisions will continually help your organization shape and adapt your culture over the years.
Tips for Building a Winning Culture
The ideas below can be considered some of the foundational pieces a company can look to if they feel like their workplace culture needs improvement.
Tip 1: Find and Follow Good Examples
Company culture is more than just ping pong tables and go-home-early Fridays. It is an expression of what your company values. For example, Google values creativity and innovation, and so encourages employees to spend a small portion of their time on passion projects unrelated to their job description. As you’re considering culture, do some research and find some company culture examples in businesses you admire and consider adapting some of their practices.
Tip 2: Be True to Your Mission, Vision and Values
What does the company stand for? What does the company aspire to? What characteristics does the company hold near and dear to their heart? Having a set of mission, vision and/or values can give employees something to connect to and feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. These guiding principles should be more than just catchy motivational quotes or words on a page. They need to be reflected in everything the company does, from performance management and development opportunities to social responsibility.
For example, if a company espouses integrity but has questionable accounting methodology, the values misalignment can create some very confused and conflicted employees. Employees have their own set of personal values, whether they realize them or not, and they will often seek out companies that align with those values. The more apparent those values are in a company, the easier it will be for candidates and employees to recognize, connect with and share those same values.
Tip 3: Recognize the Impact of Recognition
Employees want to know that their company values them and notices their work. Creating a culture of recognition throughout a company can have a profound impact, if done correctly. Companies will need to be cognizant that they are not just rewarding top performers or those who make the biggest contributions, as favoritism is often the enemy of fairness.
Recognition is not a one-time effort; it must be done on a continual basis to be the most effective. Recognition must also be genuine, as opposed to forced or generic. An Achiever’s Engagement and Retention Report found that a whopping 76% of employees don’t feel like they are recognized by their leader. If only a quarter of the workforce feels recognized, there is a vast opportunity to explore in the realm of rewarding and recognizing.
Tip 4: Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on several specified characteristics, many businesses still miss the mark on celebrating and fostering a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. If employees feel like they have to hide or can’t embrace who they truly are at work, the whole purpose of culture is being stifled. Workplace culture should always take into account employee differences, as those unique differences can actually be the catalyst for creativity, connection and confidence in the workplace.
Tip 5: Build Camaraderie
Invest in helping employees build relationships with each other. At your company, this may mean setting aside the budget for regular team-building activities, experiences, and lunches. Consider your work environment—whether remote or in-person—and see how you can foster spontaneous conversations and interactions between employees. Don’t get upset about off-topic employee discussions—join right in.
Tip 6: Be Flexible
The past few years have brought a number of new workplace trends, including a focus on remote work and flexibility. Stay in tune with the times and bake flexibility into your workplace culture. Be willing to work with individuals to accommodate scheduling changes, and focus on results rather than time spent in the office. Encourage (and even provide funding for) vacations.
Tip 7: Be Transparent
Transparency in business practices is becoming a new calling card in workplace culture. Whether it be in hiring, pay, promotions, etc., companies are feeling the pressure from employees to draw back the curtains on some of these widespread issues. The more transparent a company can be, from top to bottom, the more trust can be built and the more learning can happen from mistakes that are made. While there may be plenty of things that should not necessarily be publicized, workplace culture can be fostered more fully where secrets are not kept.
Tip 8: Provide Development Opportunities
Hopefully your employees are focused on meeting company goals, but they have their own goals as well. Find out what these goals are and help your people achieve them. By helping them meet their goals, you will help your employees grow. They’ll be happier and more able to deliver great work.
Give your employees opportunities to continue learning. There are a million ways to do this, but make sure it happens. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Give employees education time during the work week.
- Get a corporate Audible account and fill it with books that will inspire, teach, and motivate.
- Pay for online classes to help employees learn skills that they’re interested in.
Tip 9: Make Sure Your Workplace Culture Is Free From Fear
One of the most important parts of workplace culture is safety. Not safety from danger—though that’s important too—but safety to fail without facing overly-harsh repercussions.
For example, say there’s a marketer for a high-intensity, performance-driven software company. They have a crazy idea for an out-of-the-box campaign that you want to try. It’s a bit risky, but it could be groundbreaking. Then, their friend on the development team gets a temporary pay cut because a feature he built into the product flopped. Is the marketer going to even pitch their idea? Not likely. The fear of failure keeps them from making bold bets.
But if there’s one thing that is consistent among the most successful people and organizations, it’s that they are the most free to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, wrote that “failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.”
If you want your business to be filled with bold, forward-thinking innovators, create a culture that welcomes new ideas. Reward success, but don’t punish failure.
Questions You’ve Asked Us About Workplace Culture
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With a personalized license plate that literally reads “HRGUY”, I’m pretty passionate about the field of work that I’ve chose to indulge in! I have found Human Resources to be a very enjoyable career! With HR, I have had exposure to various disciplines, such as: Recruiting, Worker’s Compensation, Learning and Development, Benefits, Associate Relations, etc. Being a well-rounded Generalist has given me the ability to widen and deepen my knowledge and expertise in the HR field. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in various industries, including: Restaurant and Entertainment, Call Center, Retail, Non-Profit, Transportation, Printing Services, and Defense/Aerospace. Continual progress and development keeps me going! Inside and outside of work, I love and appreciate opportunities to learn and serve. Whether it be my children’s school, Toastmasters International, Sigma Phi Epsilon, or other community groups, I find different ways to stretch and grow personally and professionally. I currently lead a small HR team that serves upwards of 700-800 associates. We continue to look for ways to add value for our Operations partners, while still being great advocates for the associates, and keeping an engaged and dedicated workforce.
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Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!