What does workplace culture mean? Can you define yours?

17 February 2023 Sharyn Waterworth

Untitled Design (5)

​Fostering happy, high-performing employees involves so much more than offering a competitive salary.

While salary might be the initial drawcard for some job seekers (from our own research we've found that salary is a top priority when comparing job offers), it isn’t always enough to persuade talented employees to accept a role or to stay at the company long-term.

According to research from Robert Walters, 73% of professionals have left a job because they disliked the company culture and 67% felt they had been misled about the company culture during the induction process.

Dissatisfaction with company culture can lead to higher turnover rates and fractured companies that are constantly in a hiring loop and losing money as a result.

So, how can you, as a leader or manager, solve the issue? The first step is understanding what the term “company culture” means and unpacking what aspects of the workplace influence it. Only then can you start identifying yours.

What is company culture?

Company culture is essentially the character of a workplace, or as Betterup puts it, “the shared values, attitudes, behaviours, and standards that make up a work environment”.

These elements have a direct impact on a company's communication style, management structure, and business operations, influencing employees internally and clients externally.

Why is company culture important?

Culture is essential to the day-to-day running of an organisation and its continued growth. When you have a positive workplace culture you experience:

  1. Higher employee retention

A positive workplace culture improves employee job satisfaction, leading to higher employee retention. When an employee feels involved in the company mission, enjoys coming to work and feels valued, they’re more likely to see a long-term future at their current job.

  1. Greater employee engagement

Employees are more engaged when they feel satisfied with their jobs — and this all stems from workplace culture. Because the people are the company, their engagement, or lack of engagement can be felt everywhere.

In fact, when employees are enthusiastic and involved with their work, productivity levels increase. And according to a Gallup study, companies with engaged employees are 23% more profitable.​

  1. Stronger corporate identity

Having a strong sense of identity impacts how your company is perceived not only internally among your employees, but also by clients and prospective employees.

Building a strong company brand helps you stand out from the crowd and attract top-tier talent to your job listings. To prove this, take a look at Apple — they’ve managed to top Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” list for the 15th year in a row.

And though they’re a beloved tech giant, their claim to the throne is mainly due to their “ability to attract, develop and retain talented people”.

What affects company culture?

  1. Leadership and management

Culture starts from the top, and that begins with leadership and management. How those in charge communicate, behave and make decisions has a trickle-down effect that every employee feels.

While it’s up to leadership to assess and define company culture, the people who have to enact and display these qualities every day are managers. After all, they’re responsible for their team’s engagement; their job is to support, advocate and communicate expectations.

If a team’s experience with their manager is negative and they feel micromanaged, uncared for and undervalued, they’re going to have low job satisfaction. It’s up to the company's leaders to coach and provide the tools managers need to succeed in this way.

  1. Company policies and value statement

A company’s values guide its decisions; big and small. A value statement is a message that conveys what a company’s core principles are. These values represent what the company at large believes in, stands for and acts on.

A company’s policies, however, are the physical proof of this value statement. For example, if one of the company’s focuses is on mental and physical health, but their policies don’t allow their employees flexibility to prioritise their personal life or well-being, then it feels disingenuous and misaligned.

If your company doesn’t have a value statement, it should. However, you shouldn’t have one just to say you do — this message should act as your company’s guidebook around decisions and how to act.

Your value statement should be specific, showcase the company’s priorities and provide your employees and candidates with a clear picture of what you stand for (and therefore what’s expected of them).

  1. Workplace practices

When you really get down to it, your workplace culture is determined in your workplace. This encapsulates:

How employees are treated (i.e. how do managers interact with them? What benefits are they given? Do they feel valued?)
How employees are expected to work (i.e. this includes everything from what tools they’re given, to where they sit, to what their expected output is)
Whether employees are expected to answer emails and phone calls after work hours (i.e. does your company have a culture of “taking work home”?)
What your hiring and onboarding practices are like (i.e. do you have measures in place to avoid hiring bias? Is diversity and inclusion a priority? Is your onboarding seamless and informative?)

  1. People

Without your people, you don’t have a company — they’re the most integral part of your organisation. How people interact and work is indicative of your company culture.

Some companies foster a casual social environment where everyone is free to chat and discuss their weekend. Others don’t encourage this and everyone says very little about their personal lives.

Improving your company culture starts during the hiring process. Bringing on candidates who embody the values you want to see reflected in the workplace can help shape the culture of your company.

  1. Environment

The environment your employees work in influences their motivation as well as job satisfaction. This is because a person’s physical surroundings directly impact their well-being. Therefore, how your workplace is set up and designed is critical to your employee’s happiness and job performance.

If an environment is open and bright, it will naturally foster a collaborative and social culture. On the other hand, if your workplace is sectioned off and divided into cubicles, interaction and teamwork aren’t going to be as prevalent.

Noise and airflow, right down to your colour palette and which posters you choose to blue-tack on the walls, all have an effect on your team. Knowing this, choose an environment that’s suitable for the culture you’re hoping to build.

Interested in more HR and recruitment insights? Click here to keep reading.