Colleagues sit around a desk in discussion. On the desk are various paper documents and a tablet
Share

Workplace culture: what is it and why is it so important?

We define workplace culture, outline why it’s so important as a focus for senior management and why, no matter the frills, it’s the basics that work best

Share

Did you know that 47% of active job seekers cite workplace culture as their driving reason for looking for work?

It makes sense that a great workplace culture attracts top talent. In theory, senior decision-makers recognize this. So why is there such a talent retention crisis right now? If we know that workplace culture is hugely important in hanging onto our staff, why do so many efforts fail? 

It’s potentially a consequence of focusing on added extras rather than the fundamentals. Breakfast bars instead of better salaries, gym membership instead of great career progression and that perennial quick fix lunchtime yoga instead of reasonable working hours and empathetic management practices. 

And, whilst these perks look enticing on a job ad, that free lunchtime yoga isn’t going to do much if employees are overworked, underpaid and dislike everyone else in the yoga session with them. 

In this article, we’ll explore how to create a truly fantastic employee culture from the ground up, and how to maintain it. 

Culture in the workplace

What is workplace culture, and why does it matter?

Recruitment website Indeed’s definition of workplace culture is pretty comprehensive – we’ll go with that as a starting point: 

“The environment you create for your employees and the sum of your organizations’ traditions, interactions, attitudes, values and behaviors”

Workplace culture is the sum of every decision you take regarding your workplace. Is your organization hierarchical or flat? Casual or formal? Are people professional and polite with coworkers or genuinely best of buds? 

All of this, and more, contributes to the overall personality of your workplace. Here’s why this is important. 

1. A great company culture helps retain talent

A study by Columbia University suggests that the likelihood of employee turnover at an organization with a strong focus on company culture is just 13.9%. The probability of employee turnover at businesses with weak company cultures is 48.4%.

Open vacancies are at an all-time high, with a huge shortage of workers to fill them. Being able to hold onto your top performers right now could make all the difference in outflanking your competition.  

2. Defining your company culture allows you to make great hires

We get it. As soon as you hear the words “great company culture” you think of ball pit meeting rooms, lunchtime yoga and job titles ending in ‘wizard’, ‘ninja’ or ‘octopus’. 

And if that works for you, fantastic! Equally, what we’ll call ‘startup zaniness’ isn’t the only way to create a great workplace culture. Formal or more rigid workplaces can also offer a great company culture – it’s about being respectful, supportive and transparent above anything else. 

Knowing how you work, and how your workforce likes to work, helps you attract those great culture fit hires that feel at home immediately – and perform as such.

What impacts culture in the workplace? 

Your workplace culture is unique to your organization. We can guarantee that there is no culture quite like yours because so many factors can influence it. These include: 

  • Industry: some industries (e.g. legal) lean towards more formal workplaces, others are more liberal
  • Leadership: the availability and visibility of your leadership team can have a significant effect on how people see workplace hierarchies
  • Location: local employment laws (e.g. vacation, working hours) and customs can affect the environment you work in
  • Employee demographics: your employees’ age, parental status, gender and more all contribute to the personality of your workplace
  • Values and goals: the purpose of your organization might encourage certain types of employees to apply for positions 

Understanding and developing workplace culture  

That’s not to say your workplace culture has to be set in stone. As a decision-maker, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to create a company culture that will be a major asset to your business. 

If you want your workplace culture to develop in a particular direction, you could try: 

Adjusting your company values

Your company values are yours to define, no matter what industry you work in. A factory with tight health and safety regs and tight shift patterns can feel welcoming, inclusive and fun with the right emphasis. Adjust your values in line with the culture you want to build and the hires you want to make and things will start to shift in the right direction.  

Hiring the right people

Does the culture create the people or do the people create the culture? 

Regardless of where you fall on HR’s own chicken and egg conundrum, hiring for personality (as well as skills) can help you build the culture that you feel you need. When hiring managers in particular, look at their managerial style and people skills alongside their results, and consider whether that would work for your business. 

Recognizing success 

There isn’t a single type of company culture that can’t be improved by a solid recognition and rewards strategy. Career development, salary progression and a great benefits package are all important here, but don’t forget the smaller stuff. A simple ‘thank you’ just once per month to your employees doubles employee engagement, halves the risk of them leaving and triples the likelihood of them sticking with you in the long term

Asking for feedback

Where does your current leadership excel? What could it be doing better? Building a culture of continuous improvement includes taking on feedback as leaders so you can lead the charge here more effectively.

Positive workplace culture vs toxic workplace culture

Knowing how to build your workplace culture is one thing. Knowing how to make it truly great is another. Here’s a quick overview of the two extremes and how to process them. 

Positive workplace culture

What it feels like

Ultimately, everyone’s striving towards a common goal. Individuals and teams work together without silos or sniping, and employees generally feel satisfied with their work-life balance. Communication is open and transparent, and employees feel appreciated for the effort they put in.  

How to maintain it

General positivity and employee recognition are central here. Celebrate successes well, and frame feedback as a way to improve, rather than personal criticism. A degree of stability is needed for a positive workplace culture – review your salary and benefits packages regularly to keep employee retention and satisfaction high and workloads reasonable.  

It’s not essential, but you could also consider throwing in some nice little extras, just to emphasize how much you appreciate your employees. A day of paid time off on birthdays, free food and complementary activities are all lovely to offer – though make sure you don’t start to use these as substitutes for the basics. 

Toxic workplace culture

What it feels like

Everyone for themselves! You show up to work to take the cash and go home, whilst feeling incredibly frustrated at how disjointed everything is. You have probably passive aggressively CC’d someone’s boss into an email chain more than once. No love lost – they would have done exactly the same to you. 

How to turn it around

Typically, toxic workplace culture is bred by stress, lack of appreciation and poor communication. These form a vicious circle (overworked employees communicate poorly, resulting in late delivery, resulting in lack of appreciation, resulting in poor morale – the cycle repeats). 

Start by figuring out which of these you can fix. That’s the key to breaking the downward spiral of negative workplace culture and reversing it. For example, you might not be able to fix the staff shortage that’s resulting in overwork. Equally, there are plenty of other actions you could take to turn things around elsewhere, including

  • Generous overtime payments
  • Extra leave to make up for late working
  • An employee survey to identify major problem areas
  • Refocusing on positive employee performance rather than chiding for mistakes

A small token of thanks, plus a genuine commitment to taking employee feedback on board and doing better will, slowly but surely, start to turn things around. 

How to manage workplace culture for remote and frontline workers

If your workforce isn’t desk-based and on-site, it can seem difficult to develop a strong workplace culture. This leads many businesses to mistakenly thinking it can’t be done, and neglecting culture building in these areas. 

That isn’t the case. 

Sure your workplace culture might look a little different, but building a supportive and productive culture among mobile and distributed teams is absolutely possible. It’s all about using the right tech to emphasize inclusion, respect and two-way communication. 

Using an employee app like Blink, you can encourage frontline and mobile teams to share insights, thoughts and feedback on company-related matters which could prove invaluable to desk-based teams. Meanwhile, remote workers can use social feeds to network within the business and inbuilt messaging tools to check in with colleagues. As a result, employees feel more connected to each other and the wider workplace as a whole. 

Workplace culture examples

Enough with the theory. Here are a few businesses from a wide range of industries that have a great company culture nailed down. 

Google

Google’s perks are well known – free dinners, nap pods, on-site fitness suites and the rest – but they’re built on a solid culture of employee development, recognition and approachability. 

A particularly good example of this commitment is the company’s Googler to Googler program, which builds networks across the 140,000 strong organization and gives employees the chance to develop key skills that will help them progress. 

John Lewis 

UK retailer John Lewis is a model of employee engagement. According to recent figures, 84% of John Lewis retail partners recommend John Lewis as a great place to work and 86% of customers feel valued when they shop with John Lewis outlets. You can’t help but feel the two are connected. 

The business is entirely employee owned, and sees its frontline workers as ‘partners’ rather than employees. Partners get a share of the group’s annual profits and a say in how it is run. This drives a huge amount of employee engagement as a result. 

Patagonia

How to ensure that your outdoor apparel business attracts employees? Make it an outdoor lover’s dream workplace!

Their “let my people go surfing” model takes flexibility to the max, with it being a given that when the conditions are good, you’re fine to indulge in your hobby of choice. Patagonia also offers a three day weekend every other week for maximum work life balance. 

Does it pay off? With just 4% turnover each year and over 9,000 applicants for the jobs that do open up, it certainly seems so. 

Final thoughts on workplace culture

Your workplace culture can be formal or informal, flexible or tied to specific hours or locations. Fun, serious, kooky, loud, introspective, whatever. It can all work, as long as you have the basics down. 

A great company culture:

  • Recognizes the work employees put in, both by offering a fair salary/benefits package and creating a culture of recognition.
  • Offers support and transparency from all levels of leadership, from local line managers to senior execs.
  • Regularly asks for feedback on key workplace issues, and acts in it. 

Once these are in place, you can add in a selection of great perks as the cherry on top of an already excellent offering. 

Blink’s employee app helps you build a great workplace culture, wherever your employees work. Book your free demo today.

Read by topic