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Why Workplace Culture is Important: How Culture Shapes the Workplace

The phrase Workplace Culture has become a major focus of companies looking to address concerns, change their workplace or set their company up for success. Within the current workforce, there is an increasing expectation to feel fulfilled by your work and generally enjoy being at work and culture plays a large role in how a workplace is perceived.

Workplace culture is important as it defines employees’ experience at work This dictates decisions and actions, influences growth opportunities and impacts them on a personal level. It is what gives your company its outward identity, influencing all aspects of the business.

The impact of the above dictates all interactions your company has with employees, clients and the larger community they are a part of. It is what makes your company different or similar to others around it.

Though some companies have a negative workplace culture, resulting in a toxic workplace, others have a positive and exciting environment that sets them up to become industry leaders and innovators. The culture that each company embodies varies greatly. I will dive further into the various aspects that are a result of workplace culture and how each will impact the business.

“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” –Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO

Defining the Work Experience

If you have worked for more than one employer, or are close to someone who works in a company other than your own, you have most likely heard stories and thought I wish my company did that, or that would never happen where I work. These are the characteristics that make up the differences in how we work, how we experience our work, and ultimately how we play our part in the day to day operations within our jobs.

Unified Vision for All

One of the most important tasks of a leadership team is to define and solidify a vision within the workplace. When setting the vision for the company, leaders are also defining how a workplace will look and operate for the employees. The vision for a company will determine what is important for the company and should be at the center of decisions made and actions taken by all employed.

Top companies do an amazing job ensuring all employees buy into the vision and help move the company toward their goals. Some examples of these visions are;

“We’re in business to save our home planet.” – Patagonia, Outdoor gear and apparel

“To be the best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.” – McDonalds, Food Services

“To entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company” Walt Disney Company, Entertainment Company

These visions drive culture and can help pull people towards something they could never achieve working alone.

Setting Expectations

From the moment an employee arrives at work they walk into an environment that has its own identity and culture. There is a set of expectations that go along with each different work-space and have nothing to do with the work being done.

  1. Do people greet each other in the morning?

  2. How do people interact?

  3. What type of language and words do they use?

  4. How do staff commute? (is there ample parking, are they expected to walk or be picked up by a company vehicle)

  5. Are there opportunities for activities before work? (fitness classes, seasonal office decorating, breakfast club)

  6. Are they to be there early ready to work, or do they arrive at their start time then settle in?

  7. Do they start their day together or as individuals?

  8. Do people gather around the water cooler or grab a coffee together?

  9. What time is acceptable to schedule a morning meeting to start?

When employees have different expectations around conduct conflict can arise. Let me give you an example. Larry comes into work 15 minutes early to grab his coffee and get settled in. Frank comes in right at his scheduled start time and gets his coffee during his shift. Larry may feel that Frank is wasting work time and it could cause conflict. Just to be clear, neither of these is right or wrong. The key here is consistency and alignment with the culture.

Expectations are demonstrated by leaders and reflected by staff. When employees see that their leaders expect more from themselves than they do from the team, this creates a culture of respect.

Positive workplace culture requires that all people abide by a set of guiding morals and values for their work and interactions. It solidifies how they behave and work together, and how your workplace will function as a whole.

Where issues arise is when the expectations are not clear, or differ, for people with seemingly no rationale. When different people have expectations that do not align with their roles or responsibilities, previously set expectations, diverge from the established culture or they are unequally disciplined for behaviors, animosities may arise.

Influence on Productivity

When a team knows what they are doing, and why they are doing it, the next step is to put it into action.

Not all workplaces are geared toward the same levels of productivity. Some work cultures are results-driven, focused on producing or moving a product, generating revenue or meeting specific outcomes. Others are focused on the process, the quality of a product or the impact of their work.

As an example – If you are in the business of customer care, you will need to ensure that your team has the time and resources to truly show care for each of your customers. If employees are held to strict time limits, given scripts for interactions, or not allowed to speak to specific customers, this will influence the connection between the client and your business. Though their efficiency may appear to be greater as they are speaking to more people, or closing more tickets, the vision for the company may not be met. If employees are bench-marked against their ability to contribute toward the vision of the company, this dichotomy in work expectations will result in frustration and negativity within the workplace, leading to a toxic work environment

When a company is able to solidify its culture it is able to allocate resources and create opportunities for staff to fulfill the vision. This will help drive productivity and may result in different answers to the same question asked by another company.

If a manufacturing company has a focus on the environment, this may slow production and product output in an effort to meet their vision. Their productivity may not immediately result in products sold, but instead options and opportunities for better long term products. The end goal is more important to them than the immediate income.

By giving people a purpose and defining what productivity means to the business, staff will know what they are doing is of value, even when there are not immediately tangible results. When people are happy and only dealing with positive stress, they will naturally become better at solving problems and creating solutions. This will contribute to companies’ productivity in all ways.

“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” ― Elbert Hubbard

Creating Community and Teamwork

When a workplace is able to pull everything together and create a culture where employees enjoy coming to work there is a sense of community and teamwork that resonates throughout.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller

When a community forms at a workplace the workplace is able to expand beyond the constraints of the business. Employees will begin to genuinely care about the people they work with and look out for them. This can result in less employee illness, lower stress levels and an increase in productivity.

As people share more of what is happening below the surface of their work, others will be able to see more opportunities, anticipate issues and pick up slack on an important task. By looking out for one another each individual will be set up to succeed, and the business’s success will follow.

By having a team to rely on, each person knows that they can utilize their own strengths and call on others to support and teach them about areas they are weaker. This will create a stronger team as a whole fostering trust and honesty within the workplace.

“You have to ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can.” ― Robert Iger, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

Rewards and Recognition

How you work together is just as important as how you play and support one another during the high points. These, sometimes simple, gestures can have a huge impact on the effectiveness and productivity within a workplace and are an integral piece in defining workplace culture.

Some questions to ask to help define the culture around rewards and recognition are:

  1. How do we celebrate individual successes?

  2. How do we celebrate team successes?

  3. How do we celebrate company-wide successes?

  4. Who gives the awards?

  5. Where do I receive recognition from?

  6. Who do I give recognition to?

  7. What ways do I give/receive recognition?

  8. Do we have specific rewards/recognition programs?

  9. How frequent are these given?

  10. Are they consistent or individualized?

  11. Are they given in a way I prefer to receive them?

  12. What do employees pass by as they make their way to their workspace?

  13. What is displayed on our walls?

  14. What do people see when they walk into our workspace?

Rewards and recognition do not require a top-down approach or have a requirement to be monetary. Employees, leaders and CEO’s all enjoy being recognized, no matter what level the person giving the feedback is at. Positive feedback, when given in the right way, at the right time, has an exponentially larger impact on the company than the time and cost it initially takes.

Depending on your company’s culture you may find that there is an invisible barrier between different levels of management. It is within each individual’s power to start breaking down these barriers. By giving praise, recognition or rewards to people that are not within your jobs immediate sphere of influence, the impacts may actually be larger than if given from someone within.

When people know that their efforts, successes, and decisions positively impact areas they did not previously perceive, it can help motivate them to do more and look at decisions in a new way. This helps create, and broaden, the sense of community, team, and accountability across the business.

How Decisions and Actions Occur

Each decision and action made within a company should feed into the vision and goals of the organization. When a business is able to set out the process and expectations around decision making, employees are given direction as to how their ideas and decisions will be processed.

Depending on the individual, the way in which decisions are made can become demotivating or empower them to excel. By creating clearly defined expectations and setting the levels of autonomy each person has, a company will define the level of impact each employee is able to make. This may differ depending on your role and rank within the company.

There are not many entry-level employees who are able to make decisions that have company-wide implications. With that said, there is no reason that they can not be given a smaller project which will have a noticeable impact. By setting out clearly defined parameters and expectations, allowing for employee growth, learning, and setting plans to mitigate or handle failures, the company is able to provide vital learning opportunities and utilize the talents of their staff.

When employees feel handcuffed, not being able to make decisions about their work without intense scrutinization and input from others, they become demotivated and apathetic towards their work.

When making decisions and taking actions. the way in which these are communicated between employees, within teams across the business is also indicative of the workplace culture.

  1. Do teams talk among one another before/after/during the decision-making process?

  2. Are certain groups required to be involved during decision making/action taking moments?

  3. Is it up to managers/directors to share changes with the teams?

  4. Do the teams know how their decisions will impact the other areas?

  5. Does information need to go through a filtering process before being sent to employees?

  6. Who does and does not have the authority to make specific decisions?

  7. Is there a threshold for decision making/actions taken?

  8. What are the consequences of taking action, or not taking action?

  9. Are employees allowed to share information on decisions outside the organization?

  10. How are changes and required actions communicated? (meetings, email, mass text notification, memos, town hall)

These examples are just some of the ways that how each work is able to carry out the tasks involved in problem-solving and decision making will impact the way the business is run.

Influencing Growth Opportunities

One of the things that can draw or repel employees from a workplace is the opportunity for growth. This can be within the specific job sector, educational upgrading opportunities, personal growth possibilities or specific skill acquisition as applicable to their role.

Allowing the opportunity to learn on the job is a great way to positively impact culture. It would be wonderful to always hire someone that possesses all of the skills an employer is looking for, in addition to the type of person that fits within the workplace culture. This is often not the case and it is far more likely to find a successful candidate that either has one or the other.

If a person has the required intelligence, and a sound basic understanding of their job, the other 80% of their performance will be based around other factors. Some of these factors include habits, attitudes, socio-economic status, self-image, education, contacts, and EQ. Though not all can be tested for, if we are only looking for those with the most skills on their resume, we may miss some employees that could become the foundation of our business.

Great businesses hire people they know they can train to become outstanding. By teaching the job-specific skills, people that may not seem like the conventional choice will apply, helping you find the perfect match for your workplace. These people may excel beyond expectations as they will meet both the job and cultural expectations.

Once someone has the position it is important for them to be able to take risks within their role in order to grow and expand their knowledge and capabilities. It is difficult, if not impossible, to learn or acquire a skill you are never exposed to. I often encounter companies who say it is important to have employees that are strong leaders, unfortunately, they often exhibit the following behaviors.

  1. They do not create opportunities for their employees to lead expecting them to create their own opportunities

  2. They do not allow employees to fail without punishment

  3. They do not work through failures with employees that are trying to lead

  4. They do not provide mentorship opportunities for those wanting to excel or move up within the company

  5. They do not have succession plans, allowing employees to know what is required to move up within the company

Companies need to take the time to nurture their future leaders, creating opportunities for others to expand upon their capabilities. This will not only create a strong workforce but also create a happier and healthier workplace as people are consistently challenged and encouraged to grow.

“There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others” – George Shinn

By creating learning opportunities inside and outside the office, staff can become better at problem-solving, bringing more value to their team through gained knowledge and perspectives. These opportunities may include formalized education, workshops, conferences, webinars, seminars, being a representative on a board or working-group,  career or skill coaching, or mentorship (being and receiving).

These different ways of encouraging growth have the ability to attract high levels of talent to your workforce. The majority of people I have met prefer to be challenged in their work, not to have a stagnant work life.

Though some may be happy where they are and in what they are doing, not necessarily looking to move into management or leadership, few would pass up the opportunity to become better at their job, more capable, or create a more effective team when encouraged and supported by their employer.

Personal Impacts of Culture

All of this directly feeds into the personal impact that workplace culture has on us.

Most of us have seen the effects that a negative or toxic workplace can have. Restless nights, illness, stress, a short temper, and degradation of our relationships can all spawn out of unhappy, negative workplace culture.

The impact of positive culture can be just as powerful. When we are satisfied at work we are happier, more engaged and have stronger relationships.

Happiness at work releases endorphins, allows us to be more creative and improves our decision-making capabilities. There is no way for these not to have a positive impact on the workplace. When employees are able to fully utilize their brain capacity, they will perform at their best and help bring out the best in those around them. This will also impact how they function at home, within the community and as a part of society.

“It is easier to sustain our own positive reality and build on our own successes when we help others to raise their levels of positive genius”  – Shawn Anchor, Before Happiness

When we have an increased level of engagement within the workplace, productivity increases, as do profits and employee satisfaction. When engaged and able to learn and move up within a company, staff may increase their earning potential, potentially sharing in a bonus structure or succession plan. This can impact the level of loyalty and staff retention experienced by a company, in turn creating an increase in stability and improved socio-economic growth for the individual.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton

External Perception

Your employees are a direct representation of your business. How they operate and function within the workforce, the community, and possibly the world is how your workplace will be perceived by other companies and individuals. Each company aims to be viewed in a very specific way by its clients and the larger community. If the culture causes interactions that do not align with the company’s desired personality, there can become issues in maintaining the business.

When a company is able to successfully create a culture in accordance with their values, the company will be able to solidify their values in both their employees, client base and community, creating trust and respect. This will allow the company to be held accountable for their actions and decisions, as well as creating a network of supporters during times of change and growth.

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