Workplace culture: What is it and why is it important?

Culture is all around us. It touches every aspect of our lives, has the potential to influence the foods we eat, and dictates the social norms we’re expected to follow. Culture can also be found in the workplace, and a company’s culture can be the reason it’s thriving or barely surviving.

What is workplace culture?

You may be asking yourself, what is culture in the workplace?

There are many definitions of workplace culture floating around. Some may simply refer to it as, ‘the way we do things around here’ – a phrase many employees have heard before.

Forbes defines workplace culture as “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share”, which sums it up quite nicely. At its heart, work cultures are less about a set of written rules to follow and more about how it feels to be at work.

Every business has a different atmosphere and personality, but these are just two factors influencing an organisation’s culture. The policies, leadership, and environment all play a part in work culture, as do the company’s values and goals. As a result, no two cultures are the same.

Additionally, work culture is not a fixed thing; it evolves based on the behaviours of people working at an organisation.

Why is workplace culture important?

As individuals, we want to feel connected to those around us. The same is true in the workplace and employees want to engage with their colleagues.

In other words, employees want a positive, healthy culture; and it seems like businesses want the same thing.

Research by Deloitte shows that 94% of executives believe having a distinct and positive workplace culture helps a business achieve its goals. This research also revealed that 76% of employees surveyed agree that a “clearly defined business strategy” helps to foster a positive culture.

Positive workplaces not only enhance workforce retention, they can also reduce stress in employees. When you take into account the fact that we spend around a third of our lives at work, it makes sense that the environment we’re in can have a significant impact on our wellbeing.  

Stressed workers are not only less engaged while in the office, but they’re also more likely to call in sick frequently and eventually leave. This pattern then leads to rates of absenteeism and turnover that can cost your business greatly.

It’s well-known that poor work environments can affect sickness absence rates, but what about bad leaders? A Swedish longitudinal study found that poor managerial leadership may increase the risk of heart problems by 25%.

So, why exactly does a positive work culture allow employees and businesses to thrive?

Increased attraction and retention rates

High turnover isn’t just bad for morale, it’s bad for the company’s wallet too. While you may be able to attract lots of potential employees, especially in sought-after industries, if your turnover rates are high you can end up spending thousands of pounds each year trying to fill open roles. Not to mention the cost of any training or development you invested into employees who are then departing with that knowledge. 

Being able to prove a positive work environment and culture to potential employees will increase attraction as many people now look for this when searching for jobs. A strong culture often reduces the reasons for an employee to leave, improving your retention rates.

Strong cultures increase employee engagement

As company culture is influenced by the behaviours of employees, it has a direct impact on your profitability. Having a positive workplace culture and values that align with those of their employees mean businesses with healthy cultures typically perform better financially.

This is because employees who are happy in their jobs are often more productive than disgruntled workers. Job satisfaction also has the added benefit of creating brand ambassadors of your employees when they share the positive experience of being in a healthy workplace at your company. Good reviews from current and past employees looks great to future employees and clients.

It can lead to a growth mentality

Positive work environments encourage the development of a growth mindset. Employee growth and development isn’t just at the personal level but also the organisational level. When you encourage employees to pursue opportunities, they feel empowered and often work to the best of their ability.

People are far more likely to perform better and invest themselves in the future of your business if employees feel valued. Providing professional development can help improve employee wellbeing and offers performance management opportunities.

Company culture in action: HubSpot

One of the best ways to understand the impact a positive work culture has is to take a look at someone doing it well.

HubSpot has received numerous awards for their fun and engaging work culture, and it’s no surprise why. The company has invested a lot of time in establishing a shared set of values and behaviours that work towards a unified vision.

There’s no such thing as a corner office at HubSpot. As they have a ‘No Door’ policy, they don’t have individual offices at all. The reason for this policy is that the company operates under a ‘team-first’ corporate culture and they prioritise transparency.

Similarly, all employees have complete access to long-term strategy information and the company’s profit and loss statements. These policies create a work culture of accountability, collaboration, and opportunity.

Another work culture element HubSpot has done well is the creation and implementation of their values, using their self-proclaimed ‘cheesy’ acronym, HEART:

  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Remarkable
  • Transparent

HubSpot ensure that these values inform all aspects of their business, most evident through the last value, ‘transparent’. We can see that this clearly defined value has led to clear and direct action in the form of their No Door policy and corporate transparency.

One reason HubSpot is so successful at creating a healthy workplace culture is because they truly prioritise work-life balance. Employees receive amazing learning and development opportunities like:

  • TEDTalk-style speaking series
  • Free masterclasses
  • Ability to request any business book without approval
  • $5,000 every year in tuition reimbursement for any classes
  • In-office wellbeing programme

On top of this, employees also benefit from greater flexibility at HubSpot. They have several initiatives that consistently attract high-quality talent, such as:

  • A month-long sabbatical after 5 years of employment
  • Unlimited vacation
  • Flexible start and finish times
  • ‘Use Good Judgement’ policy that counters extensive strict policies and micromanagement

By placing a high value on employee development and flexibility, employees feel valued leading to higher retention and productivity rates.

All these elements make up HubSpot’s ‘Culture Code’, a document that has clear direction and is constantly updated to reflect changes in the business. This code is why HubSpot’s business success is so high; it enables them to create positive cultures, increase employee happiness, and win workplace culture awards.

Tips for creating a positive work culture

Great workplace culture takes time, it won’t happen overnight. If you think there’s room for improvement in your existing culture, don’t worry. Here are some tips for how to improve workplace culture and creating a positive environment.

Establish clear company values

The most important part of creating positive company culture is to establish a set of clear core values that actually reflect what your organisation stands for. Your employees will look to these values to guide their behaviour at work so ensure you communicate them effectively.

When creating your values, don’t just write down what you think should be there. Take time to evaluate your company’s purpose and business practices, then use your current behaviours to guide you. 

Encourage collaboration and communication

Open communication is more important than ever with higher numbers of remote employees in today’s workforce. People want to know what’s happening in their business, even when something may not directly affect them. Easily accessible documents and leaders make it easier for employees to give feedback, reduce misunderstandings, and create a culture of mutual respect.

Social interaction between employees also provides opportunities for team members to nurture their relationships while adding to a positive culture. Consider including optional coffee mornings or weekly chats to your schedule. Increased employee engagement and happiness cultivates a healthy workplace culture.

Promoting diversity and inclusivity

Gone are the days when simply having a diverse workforce made your company look good – it’s now essential for an organisation’s success. People expect their workplace to be inclusive, and not offering equal opportunities to all employees can result in discrimination claims.

Different voices within your business will open you up to new ideas and give you the opportunity to leverage unique skills and reach new clients. A workplace that not only embraces, but actively nurtures diversity will take your workplace culture to new heights.

Lead by example

Having a set of cultural values isn’t any good if they’re not consistently applied throughout your business. Strong cultures are built on the shared belief in a set of values, weak application can hurt your workplace culture. 

One way to improve positivity in your work environment is to lead by example. Employees will adopt your values if they feel encouraged by their leaders. Your leadership team should be taking an active role by living the core values themselves and providing a clear action plan for employees to follow.

Create a culture handbook

Workplace culture is characterised by the values and beliefs of an organisation, so how can you communicate this to your staff consistently? A culture handbook can help you here. 

These documents set expectations about employees’ behaviour and interactions during the workday and usually include your company’s mission statement. Your employees need to understand the workplace cultures if you want them to implement and follow it.

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