Work Culture: What It Means to Have a Healthy Workplace & Why It Matters

Work Culture: What It Means to Have a Healthy Workplace & Why It Matters
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Workhuman Editorial Team |   June 9, 2021 |    16 min

In a recent Mission & Culture survey, Glassdoor found that 77% of respondents say that they consider work culture before applying for a company position. Based on that number, it’s easy to deduce that a healthy workplace culture is just as crucial to applicants as salaries and other benefits.

If you’re seeking to create a healthy workplace, keep reading. We’ll show you why it matters to have a work culture that leads to employee satisfaction and how to establish a healthy and inclusive workplace.

What is work culture?

Work culture encompasses the values, belief systems, and attitudes that employees share to create a company identity. While individuals bring their experiences and cultural contexts into the workplace, management can also influence a company’s culture through organizational strategies.

Six examples of workplace culture

Here are six common examples of work cultures that successful companies embrace:

  • Strong leadership: This organizational culture focuses on mentorship, coaching, and leadership training programs. Nike is a great example of a company with a strong leadership culture. It provides employees with plenty of opportunities to grow professionally through development training and physically through its on-site sports facilities.
  • Customer service excellence: Companies with this workplace culture take the saying “the customer is always right” to heart. Amazon implements customer service excellence by making all of its services easy to access, conducting customer surveys, and quickly addressing customer service issues. By doing so, Amazon can consistently satisfy and retain customers.
  • Sales: In a company with a sales-focused culture, all employees have working product knowledge, commit to meeting sales goals and quotas, and perform tasks that grow the company’s revenue. Oracle encourages its employees to embrace its sales culture by offering significant commissions for meeting goals. Companies that successfully blend a sales-focused culture with a customer-focused culture often experience long-term growth.
  • Empowerment: In a company that emphasizes empowerment, the leadership makes every effort to ensure that all team members know they are valuable to the organization. Ben and Jerry’s empowers its employees by paying them outstanding salaries, supporting their community service efforts, and letting them help name new ice cream flavors. One benefit of an empowerment culture is where all team members feel comfortable approaching management with ideas and concerns.
  • Innovation: A company that embraces an innovation culture prioritizes staying on the cutting edge of industry trends and developments. Conventional ideas, strict lines of communication, and structural hierarchies often take a backseat to airing new ideas and breaking new ground through agile strategies. Companies like Tesla encourage innovation by creating a think-tank environment devoted to developing new concepts.
  • Mission-driven: Biotechnology companies like Genentech typically embrace a mission-driven culture that prioritizes hiring employees who are passionate about the company’s cause and their particular line of work. Mission-driven companies expect team members to maintain that passion, which can sometimes lead to employees losing focus on life outside the workplace.

While these are examples of workplace cultures that are typical of successful companies, it’s important to remember that no company’s culture fits neatly into one category. Companies that embrace strong leadership or a sales culture also want to excel at customer service, which is why many companies blend the best characteristics of several culture types into one that fits their needs.

Incorporating the company’s core values into the day-to-day of workers also strengthens company culture. By living your core values, employees are more connected to the culture – which is a win for them and the company.

Elements of work culture

Several factors affect workplace culture. These include: company values, employee recognition, and leadership. Other elements of work culture are company processes, communication, and employee development. A positive workplaces uses these elements to help its employees thrive, while negative workplaces are likely to ignore these elements completely.

Healthy work culture

A healthy work culture is one where employees trust one another and the leadership, cooperate to meet common goals, and feel that the company values them. When creating a positive work culture, leadership should prioritize:

  • Building trust in the workplace
  • Making all employees feel a sense of belonging
  • Interacting with team members
  • Celebrating successes in the workplace and outside the workplace
  • Collaborating across teams and departments
  • Providing opportunities for learning, growth, and advancement
  • Listening to ideas and concerns

Toxic (bad) work culture

In a toxic work culture, employees don’t respect each other or leadership; in fact, they feel like they’re in a dead-end job, and often end up leaving. Leadership often plays a part in creating a toxic workplace by engaging in negative behaviors, such as:

  • Failing to communicate
  • Dismissing concerns and ideas
  • Making themselves unavailable when an employee has a question
  • Ignoring achievements
  • Micromanaging
  • Singling out employees in a negative way
  • Making some team members feel excluded

Importance of a positive work culture

A positive workplace culture doesn’t just help employees thrive; it also helps companies grow. Studies show that organizations that score in the top 25% of employee experience surveys see 3x the return on assets compared to companies with low employee satisfaction. Companies that prioritize celebrating their employees and recognizing their achievements also experience lower turnover rates and greater employee productivity.

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On the flip side, a toxic work culture will result in high turnover rates, with 1 out of every 5 employees leaving companies because of the negative environment. Employees who stay tend to be disengaged and unproductive. It’s estimated that toxic culture costs businesses more than $44 billion a year. These statistics highlight the importance of establishing a positive, people-first culture that works for all employees.

Building an inclusive work environment

An inclusive work environment is vital to creating a healthy workplace. Remember, while hiring a diverse workforce is a good start, it doesn’t automatically translate into an inclusive workplace. In an inclusive environment, every team member feels welcome, safe, and comfortable with being themselves, and fostering those feelings requires effort.

While leadership is responsible for establishing an inclusive environment, it’s up to everyone in the company to maintain a healthy culture. Here are steps you can take to build an inclusive work environment and encourage all team members to engage.

Create a DE&I mission statement

Whether you create a brand-new DE&I statement or revise your current one, your company’s mission statement should reflect your commitment to inclusion and diversity of experiences and thought. Make it clear that you recognize having a diverse workforce benefits the company and that all employees are more successful when they embrace team members from all backgrounds.

Current employees and new hires should expect that they’ll receive respect and inclusion from others after reading the mission statement. The statement should also emphasize that the company expects them to return respect and inclusion to their peers and leadership.

Examples of common words used to describe good company cultures

The following words typically describe a company with a positive culture:

  • Friendly
  • Challenging
  • Motivating
  • Engaging
  • Nurturing
  • Collaborative
  • Flexible

While you’ll want to include some of these words or similar adjectives in your company’s mission statement, you’ll also want to add descriptors that are specific to your workplace. A specific description of your company’s work culture sets you apart from other employers and lets potential hires know what to expect. It also helps to ensure you’re hiring the right people that will connect and stay at your company.

Prioritize inclusive values and ethics

Besides diverse hiring practices and expecting team members to treat each other with respect, there are more values you can embrace to make your work environment more inclusive. You can lead by example by:

  • Being supportive. Whenever you see an employee struggling with something, offer your assistance and encourage other members to do the same. If someone asks you for help and you aren’t tied up trying to meet a deadline, being generous with your time goes a long way in making someone feel included. And if you aren’t able to help, guide the employee to someone who can.
  • Watching your language. Make sure that everyone feels included in office jokes and memes. If an ongoing joke has idioms or slang that a new hire is not familiar with, you can explain it to them and ask them to share any jokes they might know. Make it clear to all team members that jokes need to be inoffensive and safe for work.
  • Being collaborative. Every team member should feel comfortable voicing opinions, sharing ideas, and addressing concerns. Encourage employees to brainstorm with each other on projects and ask each other for feedback.
  • Being generous with your feedback. In an inclusive environment, leadership and peers provide feedback early and often. Any feedback you give should be kind, clear, and constructive, focusing on company goals and not your personal preferences. Whenever you provide feedback, ensure that the team member receiving it knows that they are valuable to the company, and include a moment of appreciation for their excellent work.
  • Being kind. All communication should be conducted with kindness, whether it’s between leadership and employees or peer-to-peer. Face-to-face communication is the best way to convey friendly and polite social cues, but if you have to communicate through email, don’t be afraid to use GIFs and emojis. Avoid sarcasm, especially online, because it doesn’t easily translate.

Embrace a changing work culture

When building an inclusive work environment, you might need to make some changes in your corporate culture. Embracing these changes will make it easier to get employees to take part in inclusion efforts. Start making changes by:

  • Evaluating your current work environment. You can’t make changes if you don’t know what needs to be changed. Hiring an outside consultant makes this task easier because employees are typically more open with someone who isn’t dictating their paycheck. Plus, someone from outside the company is coming in without any preconceptions of the company or its current issues. Be prepared to implement their recommendations if you’re serious about making lasting changes to the culture.
  • Involving team members. Before implementing changes, ask for feedback from your team members. You want to ensure that the changes you’re considering will actually motivate your workforce. Create a pulse survey that allows for anonymous answers to identify the most pressing issues around workplace culture and effective solutions.
  • Hosting training sessions and implementing support systems. Change isn’t easy, which is why training and support are necessary to help team members adapt to evolving work culture. Your training sessions and support systems should emphasize that change is necessary to help the company succeed and team members to thrive. Ensure that every employee sees that their contributions matter and that the company recognizes their value as an individual.
  • Celebrating diversity. You can celebrate diversity by encouraging employees to observe the holidays that are important to them. If they’re comfortable with sharing information about holidays and customs with the team, it is a great learning experience for the company and empowering for that employee. Company-wide observations of awareness months are also a great way to recognize diversity in the workforce. Bring in experts that can inform employees on issues that they themselves may not face, but are necessary to know in order to be an effective ally.
  • Encouraging continuous communications. As your company culture continues to evolve, share progress reports with your team members and update them on any impending policy changes. Encourage feedback and ensure that your employees know that they’re part of the process. And when you see employees exercising this open communication, recognize them for it! Recognizing an example of a job well done is one of the most powerful ways to spread that practice throughout the organization.
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Global view on work culture

Remember, while workplace culture differs from one organization to the next, cultural expectations can also change based on a person’s nationality and life experiences, as well as where the company is located. For example, in some countries, employees don’t speak unless spoken to, while other cultures encourage employees to speak up and hustle for what they want. Generational differences can lead to team members prioritizing work-life balance more than others, while religion can affect a person’s view of what’s ethical.

Conclusion

If you have an employee who is struggling to adapt to your company culture, be patient and offer assistance whenever you can. Try to learn about your employees’ backgrounds because it can give you insight into their work habits and help you make accommodations when possible. Ensure that your policies are respectful of everyone’s beliefs while upholding a fair code of conduct.

As you can see, it takes quite an effort to establish a healthy work culture. However, it’s well worth it if you want your company to succeed and your employees to thrive.