Workplace Culture: What Is it and Why Is it Important in 2023?
The culture around us influences everything we do. On a global scale, it influences the food we eat, the languages we speak, and the social norms that are expected. On a smaller scale, the culture of a company can speak volumes to its mission, values, and ideals.
What is workplace culture?
Even though culture is all around us, even at work, it is likely defined by different people differently. On the most basic level, Forbes defines workplace culture as: “The shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.”
Why is workplace culture important?
Employees want to feel connected to their colleagues and to the company’s mission and core values. Put another way, employees want a positive culture. And it seems like companies want that as well. In fact, research by Deloitte shows 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to business success.
What is it about a positive culture that allows for both employees and the businesses they work for to thrive? Here are two of the most important side effects of a healthy workplace culture.
1. It attracts and retains employees.
A positive workplace culture is one that is built on meaningful work, open communication, and core values. And lucky for employers who have one, once an employee is embraced by a strong workplace culture like this, they don’t have many reasons to leave.
To attract top job candidates and retain them, organizations need to immerse new hires in this positive company culture that truly embodies their core values from day one. This helps employees to quickly start connecting with the overall business as well as their unique role within it.
That being said, reciting core values once during onboarding isn’t going to retain employees. If the company’s leadership team has employee growth and shared values in mind, however, employees are more likely to do their best work.
Workhuman® iQ data found the higher an employee rates their company culture, the lower the chances are they will leave the organization. When organizations put company policies in place that elevate an employee’s experience, such as employee recognition and flexible hours, it allows employees to feel secure and supported in their role.
2. It increases employee engagement.
A true positive workplace culture is one that shifts and evolves based on the different needs and attitudes of employees, as well as has mechanisms in place to solve problems that may lead to a toxic culture. With these mechanisms in place, employees are better able to engage in their work.
Quantum Workplace has identified six main organization-wide drivers of employee engagement. Spoiler alert, they all have to do with the importance of a positive culture in the workplace.
1. The leaders of the organization are committed to making it a great place to work.
A healthy culture is the key to creating a great place to work, but without the dedication of the organization’s leadership team, it is nearly impossible to build a sustainable positive work culture.
2. Trust in the leaders of the organization to set the right course.
Workplace culture starts at the top. Leaders who prioritize work-life balance, a positive attitude, and mutual respect with employees can actively encourage employees to feel empowered to do their best work.
3. Belief that the organization will be successful in the future.
Toxic workplace culture isn’t just bad for engagement, it’s also bad for business. Why? Because those two things go hand in hand. To prevent toxicity from seeping into a company, leaders should look at improving engagement and employee happiness as a way to ensure organizational success.
4. Understanding of how I fit into the organization’s future plans.
Workplace culture is all encompassing, but unless employees are aware of how their day-to-day work impacts the business, it can be hard to maintain engagement.
Having a culture that makes an employee feel secure and appreciated in their role can help prevent that. Gallup found when recognition is embedded in the organization’s culture, they are 5x as likely to see a path to grow at their organization.
5. The leaders of the organization value people as their most important resource.
There are few things more powerful for employee engagement than appreciation. A healthy workplace culture with a foundation of recognition shows employees they are valued and has the power to lift employees to new heights.
6. The organization makes investments to make employees more successful.
Building workplace cultures on a foundation of continuous performance management and learning and development shows employees how valuable they are to the company, boosting job satisfaction and employee happiness.
Gallup also found employees who feel their organization encourages their development were those that experience authentic, equitable, and fulfilling employee recognition embedded into the company’s culture.
What words do we use to describe good workplace culture?
Something as far-reaching as culture can be hard to describe; every company has a different mission and set of core values that shape the norms in the workplace.
There are, however, a number of words that are often used to describe positive cultures including these words pulled from Quantum’s Great Place to Work Surveys:
Quantum ranked these words from most frequently cited in their survey to least cited, but it’s worth noting that some of these may not fit in all cultures and that in many cases, moderation is key.
The top response from those surveyed, “fun,” can tell us a great deal about organizational culture. Employees want to enjoy the time they spend at work – both in their role and with their colleagues. And when done effectively, having fun can certainly help with creating a positive culture, and can have a significant impact on things like work-life balance, retaining top talent, and the comfortability to share new ideas.
What does a positive workplace culture look like?
Again, like most things, a positive work culture may look different from one organization to another. What these words have in common, however, is the focus on employee experience.
Here are four examples of what a positive work environment looks like, as explained by speakers from Workhuman® Live 2022 as well as a longtime Workhuman customer.
1. Emotional fitness to prevent burnout
For Nataly Kogan, founder and CEO of Happier, only once she was taking care of her own needs and emotions was she able to sustainably create a positive work culture for her employees. She explained:
“It is so essential to practice emotional openness, and not just for other people… it is actually so helpful for us.” She spoke about “surface acting,” explaining: “Surface acting is a term, an official psychology term, for pretending to feel good when you don’t. It’s one of the leading causes of burnout; it’s a huge form of emotional labor; it drains you tremendously…”
She continued: “I thought, as a leader, especially at work, my job was to put on a smile. Well, guess what? I was causing myself a tremendous amount of struggle surface acting, but I was also lying to no one because everyone could sense what was actually on my emotional whiteboard.” Nataly’s advice? “Practicing emotional openness is essential for you to prevent burnout, but also to create trust and openness in your team.”
2. Psychological safety and love at work
Dr. Patrick Malone has been researching workplace dynamics for more than two decades, and has continually found: “It’s not about productivity. It’s not even about financial planning. It’s not about IT support. All those things matter, but the number one factor in the workforce for a ‘mission accomplished’ is psychological safety, and we’re seeing a lot less of that in recent years.”
His counterpart at the Workhuman Live session, Dr. Zina Sutch, added to this notion by citing psychological safety expert, Amy Edmondson:
“If you create that workspace [of love and respect], what studies show you is that emotional exhaustion goes down, absenteeism goes down. Employee teamwork goes up and employee satisfaction goes up…
“This is not just about feeling good, or ‘oh, I want to make sure I feel good and my employees feel good.’ It really is about productivity and being able to get the job done. And we know we can do it if we create this kind of space.”
3. Building hope and gratitude into processes
Dan Tamasulo spent much of his career observing something that can’t be seen: hope. And while you can’t physically see hope, he found its effects are powerful and far reaching.
At Workhuman Live he explained:
“There’s something known as psychological capital … And there are four elements that are really important for business and work, right? They’re hope, confidence – sometimes called self-efficacy – resilience, and optimism. If you want people to feel really good at work, these are the four things to focus on.”
But, Dan explained, “in my research I found that the number one thing was hope.”
A sustainable workplace culture is one that provides employees the support and resources to build up their psychological capital so that they can do their best work. Building the space for employees to openly feel these things in a work environment – especially hope – increases well-being and the ability to thrive.
4. Embracing humanity at work
Organizations across all industries – and especially healthcare – could stand to add more humanity into their workplace culture. We are all human with unique wants and needs, yet when healthcare professionals spend their days providing selfless care for others, it’s easy for them to forget about their own needs.
This can be extremely draining, so it’s important to recognize these people for the work they do. Workhuman customer and healthcare pioneer Baystate Health has seen the power appreciation can have on humanity and employee morale at work since partnering with Workhuman on an employee recognition program. SVP and CHRO, Kristin Morales-Lemieux knows:
“The physical, mental, and emotional health of our employees has to be at the core of everything we do. If they’re not taken care of, they cannot take care of others.” And like it did for Baystate, the benefits gained from building thanks into the culture will surely speak for themselves.
Frequently Asked Questions
Workplace culture is something we talk about often as a concept, rather than something that can be built with intentionality, data, and agility. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions for people ready to take workplace culture from intention to impact.
1. What are different types of work cultures?
There are four main categories that most organizational cultures fall into. Developed by Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron, the “competing values framework” categorizes culture by perspective (inward vs. outward looking) and focus (stability/control vs flexibility and responsiveness).
2. What makes a good company culture?
No two companies have the same goals or value proposition, meaning no two cultures are the same. Broadly, a positive workplace culture is one that is created with the business’s mission and core values in mind, and is sustained by employee input, shifting priorities, and diversity of thought.
3. What is the most important part of a company culture?
Workplace cultures are important as a whole, but what is the most important aspect of the culture itself? The people. Without the engagement, productivity, and output of employees, there is no business or need for a positive workplace culture, meaning their opinions and needs should be top of mind at all times.
4. How do employees learn culture?
Stronger cultures are cultivated when more of the community buys into the values the culture is built on. Leading by example – whether it’s promoting diversity, embracing flexibility, taking PTO, or so many other things – can have a significant impact on workers. If leaders are living the company’s values, employees are more encouraged to take them on, too.
Creating a positive work environment is the basis for every other initiative in the workplace, and is crucial for an organization’s success. Considering the uncertainty in today’s economic climate, now is the time to ensure employees are invested in their work and feel valued by their employers. And a good workplace culture can make that happen.
It’s time to change the way we work.
That starts with equipping employees with the skills and resources they need to do their best work. Check out the free whitepaper “Easing Employee Burnout” today.