Work Life
January 26, 2023

Work Culture: What It Is, Why It's Important, and How to Improve It

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If you’re looking to improve your workplace, better your employees’ lives, increase retention, make recruiting easier, and enhance the productivity, engagement, and morale level of your organization, you know that there’s no magical solution to do all that…right?

Well, yes, that’s mostly correct. But by focusing on one specific aspect of your business, you can see improvements in all of those aspects: your company culture.

Company culture influences everything from how employees feel at work to how motivated they are to help the company succeed. With a wholesome, supportive culture that puts employees first, you get the very best from your workforce. But with a toxic, unsupportive, or “hustle” culture, you increase the risk of disengagement, burnout, stress, and unhappiness.

What Is Work Culture?

Work culture can be described as the attitudes, behaviors, values, and beliefs that create the atmosphere or ambiance of an organization. Culture encompasses the principles, ideologies, and policies of the organization, and it includes how those three factors affect the thoughts and attitudes of the employees.

Your culture manifests itself in many different ways, such as:

  • Communication styles
  • Leadership behaviors
  • Internal messaging
  • Corporate celebrations
  • Recognition frequency
  • Benefits, perks, and amenities
  • Learning and growth opportunities

You may have heard some of the common descriptions for culture: startup/hustle, innovative, fun, risk-taking, employee-centric, etc. But these one-word descriptors aren’t nearly descriptive enough—suffice to say, culture is how employees (from entry level to leadership) feel and act at work.

Why Is Work Culture So Important?

The key to an efficient, productive, and successful business is to create a culture based on a strongly held and widely shared set of beliefs that support the business strategy and structure. When such a strong, clear work culture exists, employees know what’s expected of them, they have bought in on the work they do, and they know they’ll be rewarded for their efforts.

This brings a whole host of amazing benefits to the table. A strong, supportive culture:

  • Builds a cohesive identity for your organization. Good cultures are built on company values. For example, if your company values communication, hard work, and customer service, then your culture will prioritize these core values. This type of value-driven culture builds and maintains a direction for employees and increases their trust in the company.
  • Increases both retention and recruitment success. A good culture attracts better talent and retains that talent. When your culture supports your employees, recognizes and rewards them for their efforts, and helps them develop and grow in their roles, they’re much more likely to stick around, which lowers your turnover.
  • Lowers stress and increases motivation, productivity, and engagement. When your culture supports employees, prioritizes open communication, provides clear expectations, and rewards effort, employees are going to simply be happier. They’ll know how to succeed and feel the motivation to do so.

On the flip side of things, toxic or unsupportive cultures actively harm your business. For example, according to a recent study, people are 10X more likely to quit a job because of a bad culture rather than subpar compensation. 

Your culture shouldn’t be an overlooked or ignored byproduct of your work. It should be the foundation of everything you do.

4 Examples of a Good Work Culture

We know that the word “culture” can be intimidating—what does it actually mean, and how do you improve your own? We hope that seeing a few examples of good cultures will help you get inspired.

1. Google

Google is known for encouraging freedom and creativity. They have clear core values, and they strive to make each employee know how they contribute to those values and the company’s mission. They also encourage transparency and honest communication at all levels of the company. Google is also known for investing in their employees, prioritizing development and upward mobility for their people.

2. Microsoft

Microsoft has recently made an effort to build a culture of growth, experimentation, and even failure. They encourage their employees to try new things and grow, and to not be afraid of making mistakes. They’re also known to put a big focus on collaboration and teamwork, creating a culture of trust and unity. Microsoft also prioritizes work-life balance for their teams.

3. American Express

American Express puts a ton of effort into supporting their employees’ wellbeing. Through their “Grief and Loss Support” program, they provide licensed therapists for employees to talk to, along with other resources for support. They’ve built a culture of work-life balance and wellbeing, which shows that they care about their employees.

4. Zappos

At Zappos, they’ve created a culture of value-driven work and rewarding recognition. They instill their 10 core values into each employee from the start, which ensures their people know why they work. They also offer consistent raises based on employee skills, capabilities, and growth, not office politics. And Zappos also takes pride in making their workplace fun.

All of these companies believe the same thing: when you gave a company culture that supports and rewards your employees, productivity, engagement, and a good work ethic will naturally happen on their own.

4 Signs of Bad a Work Culture

Many companies try to build a hardworking, focused, and productive culture, but without the right focus, it’s scarily easy to build a culture that actually adds stress or unhappiness to your people. And problems such as inequality, harassment, or toxicity have no place in the workplace. Stamp them out if they exist in your culture. Here are some other things to watch out for when it comes to your company culture.

1. Lack of Core Values

Do you have core values to direct your company’s work? Or are your core values simply words on a wall somewhere that employees don’t even remember? Without values that really inform the work people do, employees may feel directionless or feel that their work doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

On a related note, leaders and managers need to practice and be examples of the core values of your organization. If leaders don’t follow them, it can lower trust in employees. Hold everyone accountable for pushing the values and mission of your company forward.

2. Lack of Employee Recognition

Have you ever done a task that’s gone completely ignored? All of your employees need to know that the efforts they put forth are noticed and valued—not just the highest performer. Every measure of morale, performance, productivity, and retention goes up when leaders regularly recognize But when employees aren’t recognized, they’re twice as likely to quit.

An employee recognition software can be a catalyst for change in your culture. And as feelings of gratitude and appreciation spread from leaders to entry-level employees, people are going to be more satisfied at work.

3. Overwhelming Stress and Pressure

A hustle culture is still seen as a good thing at this point, but setting competitive goals is different than pushing employees to the edge with unreasonable expectations. If employees feel like they need to work through lunch, skip breaks, or answer communications after hours, your culture is too focused on results and not focused on employee wellbeing.

Focusing on employee wellbeing and work-life balance creates a culture of sustainable effort and growth. Overwhelming stress leads to burnout and disengagement, but a healthy level or stress, along with achievable goals, can push your people to do their best.

4. Lack of Growth Opportunities

Are your employees stuck in their current jobs without any clear path forward/upward? Do employees lack satisfactory raises or promotional opportunities? Do they miss out on opportunities to learn new skills and grow as people? If so, your culture is a breeding ground for discontent. 

71% of employees say learning and development opportunities increase job satisfaction because employees care about their futures. Show that you care as well by creating a culture of career growth.

What About Remote Work Culture?

Remote work culture may be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. While in-person interactions may be lower, the same principles listed above help create a remote culture that shines:

  • Prioritize communication and be clear about your (realistic) expectations.
  • Ensure remote workers know how their work contributes to the company’s core values and mission.
  • Help remote teams feel valued by recognizing and rewarding them, creating career growth opportunities for them, and involving them in work strategy.
  • Schedule time for team building, social interactions, and fun.
  • Be available to talk and support remote people as consistently as possible.
  • Don’t micromanage their work or time—show trust in their ability to get quality work done at home.

Join the Company Culture Renaissance

The culture of your company is the leading reason why employees either stay or quit. It’s time to invest in creating a culture that employees want to be a part of. With that culture, you’ll empower employees to succeed, and everyone will be on the same page: finding success for the company and your people.

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