“That’s not the way we do things here,” echoes throughout offices, factories and stores around the world. It signals that workers identify with and want to protect the culture of their workplace. When people work together regularly, even just two or three, they develop a culture that is as important as the work and may be a driver of or an obstacle to the work. Those who ignore the powerful force of workplace culture do so at their own peril.
What is culture in the workplace?
Culture involves a system of behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and values. It develops over time and is passed on from one generation of workers to the next. It is a reflection of what is valued. For example, the Google workplace culture is based on Ten Things We Know to Be True. These drive the company and shape its culture. (1)
Why is it important?
If you are like many workers, you spend more time at work than you do with your family and friends; so, you want it to be meaningful, enjoyable and productive. Frequently, these factors are as important, if not more important than the salary you are paid. (2)
Workplace culture drives employee loyalty. It is easier to attract and retain the best employees when an organization has a dynamic, thriving culture where employees feel valued and enjoy their work. Employee perceptions of the workplace also influence the public reputation of the organization. Companies like SAS and Google frequently top the lists of best places to work. Although they offer excellent pay and benefits, the main reason for their ranking is the relationship between the firm and its workers.
Leadership and Culture
Leadership is a major driver of workplace culture. In some organizations, workers are told little about how their work fits into the overall scheme of things. Teams tend to work in isolated silos and there is little cooperation across teams. (3) When a strong positive culture is present, leaders and workers share the same goals, and employees understand their roles and are engaged in the work. The business typically reaches its strategic and financial objectives.
Many leaders underestimate the role of workplace culture. Management consultant Peter Drucker, said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and the best strategic plans will wither and die in the face of organizational culture.
Other Cultural Factors
Language and communication styles are cultural signals that help you understand the environment. In some organizations, it is acceptable for an employee to hold an impromptu hallway meeting with co-workers to discuss a work issue, while in other organizations, all meetings must be scheduled. In addition, each workplace has its own jargon that sets it apart from other companies and also separates departments in a company. For example, computer engineers talk about cloud computing and icons while human resources representatives talk about coordination of benefits (COB).
In addition, dress code; workspace allocation – who gets a cubicle and who gets an office; the presence of union agreements; along with state and federal labor laws help shape the culture.
Your Well-being and Organizational Culture
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, well-being is “the state of being or doing well in life” and by understanding your organization’s culture, you can support and even enhance your well-being at work. Use the following suggestions to learn more about your workplace culture and use it to support your well-being at work.
- Opt for face-to-face or web-based conferencing software for discussions or meetings rather than telephone calls or e-mails. Body language says a lot about the culture and power hierarchy at work. Notice how and under what conditions others make eye contact. As others speak and listen, notice their facial expressions, gestures, posture and movements. These are signs of what they are thinking or feeling.
- Don’t take your smartphone to meetings. According to a recent study conducted by Washington, Okono, and Cardon (2013) at the University of Southern California, the majority of people surveyed reported that they considered using smartphones in a meeting as disrespectful. It showed the person was not listening and was at the “beck and call” of others. In other words, the person had no power. The study covered the various types of phone use including answering calls, reading messages, texting and surfing the internet. (4)
- Take time to get to know your co-workers. A chat at the coffee stand or the copy machine can help you build bridges that lead to trust and cooperation.
- Do not hoard information – share it. People don’t like to be surprised, especially your boss. There are those at work, who use information as power or currency. However, they may not be respected or even well liked.
- Ask questions. If you are not sure of the appropriate response in a specific situation, ask questions to clarify it. “Will you say a little more about that?” “What can you tell me about XYZ?”
- Be willing to laugh at yourself. It shows that you can “see the forest and not just the trees”. Self-deprecating humor reduces stress and builds bonds with your co-workers.
- Get involved. Offer to help your co-workers, volunteer to serve on committees, or company-sponsored charitable or community activities.
- Google Corporate Philosophy: Ten Things We Know to be True http://www.google.com/intl/en/corporate/tenthings.html
- Rynes, S. L., Gerhart, B., and Minette, M L., “The Importance of Pay in Employee Motivation,” Human Resources Management Journal, Winter, 2004pp. 381 – 394http://www.utm.edu/staff/mikem/documents/Payasamotivator.pdf
- Money Instructor: What is Work-Place Culture and Why Do I Care? http://www.moneyinstructor.com/art/workculture.asp
- Washington, M. C., Okono, E. A.. and Cardon, P.W. “Perceptions of Civility for Mobile Phone Use in Formal and Informal Meetings,” Business Communications Quarterly,October 24, 2013
In case you are interested…