Workplace Culture: What Is It & Why Is It Important?

Team members working together in office

What is workplace culture

The actual term “workplace culture” could be new to you, but chances are good you know exactly what it is. It’s the “vibe” you get from the people and practices surrounding you in a job. It’s the formal, strictly professional corporate feel of one business and the laid back, ping-pong playing atmosphere of another. When you interview with a company, you get a glimpse into the workplace culture, and can often sense when it’s really positive or if something isn’t quite right for you. 

In a study, researchers collected data from 10 years of employee engagement surveys and compared them to company results. It found that a positive workplace culture with engaged employees resulted in 65% more share-price increase, 100% more unsolicited employment applications and 26% less employee turnover as well as increased employee productivity, higher customer satisfaction and less unexpected absenteeism. 

All of this is to say that “vibe” you get from a company carries a lot of weight. 

Workplace culture is more than a feeling though—there are actual external factors that contribute to it, some of which fall on the company, some on the employees and some that are completely out of everyone’s control. 

Defining workplace culture

The most stripped-down definition of workplace culture is that it’s “the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees.” Those daily attitudes and behaviors collectively create the lighthearted, laser-focused or even tense atmospheres of some companies. 

And company culture is a bit subjective -a workplace can have great culture for one personality type that just doesn't work for another. For example, if you’re a really laid-back person you might not enjoy a business-professional culture and if you’re an introvert you might not thrive at a company that operates in an open and collaborative environment. Bringing in a new employee who clearly wouldn’t do well in the existing culture could result in workplace negativity for both the new employee as well as souring the overall vibe in general.

Still, the behaviors and attitudes of employees at work aren’t entirely a result of their similar personalities, there are other factors at play as well. 

Factors that contribute to workplace culture

You could argue just about everything from personal work spaces down to the snacks in the vending machines contribute to workplace culture. Employee attitudes and behaviors are influenced by how each person feels about the organization’s direction, their role in the organization and how they feel they are being treated at work. 

Here are some common things that can contribute to the overall workplace culture:

Factors that contribute to workplace culture

Daily work environment: This has to do with the physical space where employees work. Is the office full of dimly lit cubicles or do employees have offices and open spaces to work? Is there somewhere to eat lunch or take a break? Does everything feel siloed off or is collaboration and socialization encouraged? 

Employee benefits & perks: Anything from a typical employee benefits package to office perks like a catered breakfast every Friday falls under this category. Benefits and perks are one of a company’s way of showing how much they value their employees. 

Company mission: What is the company (and, in turn, the employees) working toward? Is the end goal worthwhile? If employees are on board with the product or service they’re selling, then it creates a much more positive workplace culture. 

Leadership styles: This can include everyone from the C-Suite to direct supervisors because they are often similarly aligned. If that management style gives employees a sense of ownership and freedom in their role, then the culture will reflect that. 

Workplace relationships: Are employees encouraged to get to know each other? Are there social events? If so, are they required? The social aspect of a culture is very important, and it’s very personality-based because some people may love mandatory team-building events, while others would rather do just about anything else. 

Values & ethics: Is the company ethical and moral? Is the focus only on the bottom line or is there a clear greater purpose like a commitment to fair wages, philanthropic efforts or diversity initiatives? 

Trust & respect for employees: Do employees feel like management trusts them to do their jobs? Do they feel like they have to lie about why they’re asking for time off? Does their boss respect the boundaries they’ve put in place or completely disregard them? 

Communication: Are lower-level employees left in the dark when it comes to major business decisions, or are they regularly updated on the company’s evolving goals or changes in direction? Do they feel like they’re being heard or ignored? 

Upward Mobility: Is there evidence of upward mobility within the organization, or are external hires more common? Are there clear paths to success that demonstrate the company’s investment in the employee? 

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of factors that contribute to workplace culture, but it’s a good starting point. It demonstrates how much employees’ individual personalities influence the culture as well as the many roles an organization plays in creating an enjoyable and engaging work environment. 

Qualities of a positive workplace culture

Again, your personality style will significantly influence how positive you perceive a workplace culture to be. That being said, there are some characteristics that many positive workplace cultures share:

  • Strong communication across the organization at all levels
  • Zero tolerance for harassment, unethical practices and other toxic behavior
  • Fair treatment of employees, including benefits, flexibility, respect and salaries
  • Dedication to helping employees achieve work-life integration
  • Commitment to high morale
  • A reasonably flexible work environment
  • Clearly stated mission, values and goals
  • Investment in employees through career advancement programs
  • Regular employee reviews to provide feedback and create plans to help them achieve goals
  • Encouragement for employee socialization and collaboration

The main takeaway here is that companies and organizations that go out of their way to take care of their employees and show them appreciation are much more likely to have a positive workplace environment. Employees’ attitudes and behaviors toward their work and the organization they work for are often directly related to whether or not they feel valued. 

The personal impact

Take a step back and analyze your workplace situation. If you are excited to begin work each day, feel fulfilled by your work and know that you are appreciated in your role then take a minute to acknowledge and appreciate your role, your coworkers and your company. If you’ve been feeling particularly negative about your job lately, consider if your attitude has something to do with you or if there has been a change in your relation to your workplace culture. If it’s personal, then do a little soul-searching to find out what you need in order to be more positive. However, if your feelings are, in fact, the result of a negative workplace culture, then consider if there is something you can do to make a positive impact on the culture or if it’s a good time to start job searching. 

There are many incredible companies out there that truly do value their employees. As an employee with much to offer an employer you deserve to work for one that acknowledges your value if you aren’t already. Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to your satisfaction for what is possible in your career. 

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- June 1, 2022

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