Workplace culture can be complex to define and measure. As social researchers, we define workplace culture as, at its simplest: ‘how we do things around here.’ It encompasses the character, values, purpose, structures, and the pattern of behaviour of the people in an organisation.
In a workplace, culture is the environment that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is created for workers. Whether a workplace has a positive or negative culture, it can flow out and impact other aspects of the organisation, including productivity and interaction with clients and customers.
Why workplace culture is important
First and foremost, people matter. They have intrinsic value and should never be taken for granted. Secondly, workplace culture has an impact on organisational health and business success. Where there’s a positive culture, people are highly engaged and give a better service to clients and customers. Positive workplace cultures attract talent, drive engagement, impact employee satisfaction, and affect performance. Workplace culture does have an impact on the bottom line.
It was John Wooden who said, ‘Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.’ The same applies for business. You can develop a strong product, bring something new to market and sustain success for a while. But your culture determines whether you can repeat that. That is why it is important to invest into a healthy workplace culture, because it leads to long term gains and the creation of a legacy.
How to define a healthy workplace culture
One way to tell if an organisation has a healthy workplace culture is when people care more about a win for the team than a win for themselves. This collective mindset is very powerful. Another is when organisational values and behaviour are aligned. When these are out of sync, people lack trust with one another, and toxic workplace cultures can ensue.
Another factor of a healthy workplace culture is when there is humility in leadership. While leaders have a responsibility with regards to their role in shaping culture, humble leaders create a safe environment for other people to succeed. When a leader knows who they are, they know what they have to offer, but they also know what their weaknesses are and where they need other people’s input. When a leader can use every opportunity to grow people, rather than look like they have all the answers, it brings growth for the organisation as a whole. At the end of the day, the team’s growth is more important than a leader’s ego. Leaders that come alongside and empower others often lead more engaged and healthy teams who feel comfortable to bring their imperfect ideas to the table (which leads to innovation) and their whole self to work.
Who is responsible for creating a healthy workplace culture?
Creating a healthy and engaging workplace culture is a shared responsibility. While the leader might drive the conversation, everyone within an organisation is a cultivator of and contributor to the culture. Culture is most effective when it is owned by the collective. When the team holds each other to account for the way things are done, and when everyone takes it upon themselves to call out behaviour that doesn’t align. If it is the leader alone who owns the culture, there very quickly become a ceiling on the organisation because they can’t be everywhere. They can’t see everything. As we move to a more decentralised working environment, it becomes increasingly important that it is the collective that owns culture.
It is important to be able to move quickly on culture when something happens that doesn’t align, because it can very quickly become the new accepted norm. Whatever we don’t address, we accept. You can’t fight every battle as a leader, but if there is one battle to fight, it is the battle of culture, because it communicates so much to the team about the organisation and what it stands for.
Shaping workplace culture in a decentralised working environment
After having reprioritised their lives, workers today increasingly expect a hybrid way of working. If leaders respond to this with a traditional, autocratic approach of mandating that everyone return to the office fulltime, it is likely we will see employees pushback, which could further contribute to the ‘The Great Resignation’ trend . If leaders can have conversations with empathy and understanding, then they have a greater chance of retaining their team members.
Similarly, workplace culture can be enhanced when workers also have empathy and understanding for their leaders. It is true that leaders are having to navigate a space that they’ve never had to before. There is no rule book about how to do hybrid work and workplaces haven’t had to shape culture without a collective experience before.
There is merit in having the conversation and listening to the perspective of both sides, to crafting a hybrid solution that works for as many as possible. This requires a greater level of trust and openness from both leaders and employees. When leaders invite team members to help create the solution, employees have buy-in and a better outcome and workplace culture can be created for all.