What is workplace culture, and what are its characteristics?

Updated 5 September 2023

Workplace culture plays a vital role in the overall performance and satisfaction of employees in an organisation. It's the personality and character of your organisation, so it's one of the significant factors that employees consider when applying for jobs. Understanding what is workplace culture can help you impact happiness and improve your employee's performance. In this article, we discuss what workplace culture is, its importance, what impacts it and tips on creating a positive workplace culture.

What is workplace culture?

Despite it being a common term, many people wonder 'what is workplace culture?' Workplace culture combines the principles and ideologies of an organisation. It's the environment you create for your employees and the sum of your organisations' traditions, interactions, attitudes, values and behaviours. A healthy workplace culture aligns the company policies and employee behaviours with the company's goals while focusing on the well-being of individuals.

Related: How to define workplace culture (its importance and tips)

Characteristics of a healthy work culture

Though workplace culture is different from one organisation to the other, all healthy workplace cultures have common traits, which include:

Equity

Every person in an organisation has value, and treating everyone with equity boosts the morale of your employees. Partiality and favouritism in the workplace can lead to resentment and distrust among colleagues, creating a toxic workplace culture. It's essential that you create an equitable workplace where employees only get judged by their work.

Recognition

Healthy working cultures recognise the efforts of their employees. When an employee does good work, it's essential that you reward them to boost their morale and encourage them to work on their talents. Avoid criticising those with poor performance. Instead, encourage them to do better next time.

Related: Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression in the workplace promotes happiness and satisfaction among employees. It allows everyone to feel valued and respected. Managers and team leaders can ensure freedom of expression by giving everyone a chance to state their ideas and ask them for opinions on company issues.

Friendly policies

Organisations that have friendly employee policies tend to attract more talent and improve productivity. It's important that the staff have policies and regulations that affirm their beliefs and values. For example, expecting employees to work till evening on holidays or during major religious events can lead to a depressing and toxic environment. Discipline is still crucial if the policies are to remain effective and beneficial to the organisation.

Related: Elements of a successful hybrid culture (plus benefits)

Communication

Communication is vital to the growth of an organisation. It's crucial that everyone be able to express their ideas, collaborate, receive feedback and solve problems. It's the only effective way to work as a team and is essential in creating a healthy work culture.

What impacts workplace culture?

Various factors play a role in determining the workplace culture of an organisation. Some of these factors include:

Leadership

Leadership is one of the major determining factors of employment cultures. How you interact with employees, communicate with them and how you reward them can significantly impact the workplace. As a leader, it's crucial that you let your employees work on their own without micromanaging them. They only need to know that you're open to any questions or guidance. That way, you create a safe and trusting environment.

Related: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

Workplace policies

Friendly policies tend to create a healthy workplace. Most people appreciate working for organisations that recognise their beliefs, values and traditions. Therefore, you can set procedures such as dress code, scheduling, attendance and code of conduct, keeping the wellbeing of employees in mind. This is in addition to organisational attitudes towards compensation, promotions and recruitment.

Personnel

The people you hire can have an impact on your workplace culture. It's crucial that you hire persons that share the values and beliefs guiding your organisation. Note that it's common to have employees with conflicting ideas and opinions. What's important is that you create an environment that respect's everyone's cultures and works together as a team.

Communication

The manner in which people communicate in the workplace impacts the workplace culture. For example, if employees can freely communicate with their superiors, sharing their ideas and opinions openly, the workplace culture is likely to be healthy. If there isn't this open communication between colleagues, employees and managers, the workplace culture may be toxic.

What's the importance of workplace culture?

Here are some of the reasons why healthy workplace culture is essential:

Employees' wellbeing

Employees' wellbeing is crucial for the growth of an organisation. Only when employees feel happy and satisfied can they perform at their very best. Healthy workplace cultures help employees feel valued and proud of their jobs. Organisations must create a balance between personal and career life to ensure employees get adequate time with their families and friends.

Productivity

A thriving workplace culture influences the productivity of employees. A healthy workplace gives people a reason to work and boosts their morale to work, even in challenging moments. Generally, organisations with healthy cultures tend to be more successful in terms of performance and productivity.

Employee retention

Retaining your employees for a long time allows you to have an experienced pool of individuals to perform a specific task. It saves on cost and time since you don't have to keep recruiting and training new personnel. Happy and satisfied employees can stay at their jobs for long without moving, reducing employee turnover.

Boosted morale

Creating a positive workplace culture can help your employee feel valued and heard. It boosts team morale since everyone feels valuable to the group. Thus, each person has a part to play in attaining objectives. With high morale, teams can achieve goals quickly and efficiently, hence company growth. For example, if the organisation recognises excellent employees, everyone gets the enthusiasm to do better to be recognised.

Reputation

Organisations that support employees' well-being and have solid ethical practices tend to attract more business and talent. A healthy workplace creates a good reputation for the company, which positively impacts the business. Therefore, by creating an atmosphere that empowers employees, you portray a positive image to the community and your clients.

Related: What is business transparency and how can you promote it?

Accountability

A healthy workplace culture encourages employees to be accountable for their job. It allows people to feel confident enough to take credit for their work and own their mistakes. This ensures that employees see challenges as an opportunity to learn instead of competing with each other. Even in teams, the team members take credit for both successes and failures without assigning blame. This promotes responsibility and collaboration.

How to create a positive workplace culture

Each culture is unique to individual company needs. However, you can use the following common steps to improve the employment culture, regardless of the industry:

1. Cultivate employee relationships

Strong workplace relationships lead to effective communication and collaboration. When employees create a bond with colleagues from their department and other departments, it becomes easier to attain the organisation's goals. So, cultivate your staff relationship by hosting team-building activities so that people can know each other better.

Related: Team building skills: definitions and examples

2. Have transparent policies

It's crucial that everyone in the organisation knows what's expected of them. For example, you can create policies on promotions and remunerations so that everyone knows what's needed to get them. Also, it establishes fairness and builds trust, since everyone gets a position or reward based on the same set criteria.

Related: Creating a healthy corporate culture

3. Create a comfortable workplace

Most employees spend a lot of hours at work. It's crucial that they feel comfortable to motivate them to work and feel valued. For example, provide a comfortable working chair and desk to protect them from getting back and neck pains. In addition, you can decorate the office with items such as office plants to make it more habitable or welcoming.

4. Reward employees

Whenever employees achieve their set goals, it's best that you reward them as a sign of appreciation and recognition. When employees get rewarded, they feel valued and also get motivated to perform better. Be sure to learn various reward methods and understand each employee to help you give effective rewards.

5. Hire the right employees

When recruiting employees, it's important that you consider your work culture. As much as competency and skills are important, it would be best to factor in their behaviours, values and traditions. That way, you can have a pool of people who share the same values and beliefs, making it easier to achieve set goals.

6. Promote equity

Organisations that treat their employees equally tend to have a higher level of success. Setting policies and regulations that guide you and other leaders on specific practices, such as promotions and rewards, can ensure that everyone gets the same treatment. That way, employees feel nurtured and supported.

7. Develop accountability

As a leader, it's essential that you lead by example. Learn to take responsibility for your mistakes and that of your team. That way, your juniors can learn to be accountable for their work. This creates a responsible team that's focused on achieving the set objectives.

Related: How to develop a coaching culture in the workplace

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