Maddie is the New York-based co-founder and editor of Enlightened-Digital. Maddie lives by building and redesigning websites, running marathons, and reading anything and everything on the NYT Best Sellers list.
Studies show that if an organization’s workforce isn’t positively engaged, nearly half of their employees will search for another job. Workplace culture has a strong effect on many facets of the employee experience, including happiness, efficiency, creativity, and turnover.
While alternative and quirky workplaces are becoming more popular, plenty of companies still stick to a more corporate environment with a traditional hierarchy.
In this article, we’ll discuss the impact of culture on positivity and productivity, examine different kinds of organizational structures, and touch on ways you can evolve your own organization’s workplace culture.
Recognize the significance of workplace culture
Before identifying the workplace culture that’s right for your organization, you’ll need to understand how a positive workplace culture can impact your team and your goals. Engaging, harmonious workplace cultures positively influence job satisfaction, with research showing a corresponding decrease in turnover intention.
Employee well-being is also strongly impacted by company culture. People with high-pressure, low-engagement jobs spend nearly 50% more on healthcare costs than their counterparts. Just as costly as physical consequences are the psychological costs of negative company cultures. Poor cultures lower productivity by 18% and increase employee absenteeism by 37%. For large businesses, subpar company cultures can cause millions in preventable losses.
Different types of positive company cultures exist, with their own advantages. Each can be effective when applied in the right context.
Explore different workplace cultures
The modern workplace has come a long way from Casual Fridays, so let’s take a moment to identify some of the different workplace cultures that persist today.
Startups offer prime examples of informal organizational structures. They encourage collaboration, relish risk, and celebrate innovation. Their particular kind of casual yet energetic workplace environment has been celebrated in some of the world’s newest corporate standard bearers companies.
Google, which consistently ranks as one of the best tech companies to work for, has one of the best-known examples of a scaled startup company culture. Some highlights are its interactive decision-making process, access to gym and laundry facilities, catered meals, and flexible work arrangements. Perhaps more significantly, Google has been able to maintain a high level of engagement, even as the company has become one of the largest, most important contributors to the tech industry.
There’s a trend to emulate this kind of workplace culture, especially among new companies. However, this isn’t the right kind of workplace for all organizations. When an informal organizational structure that’s typical of startups is introduced to an environment that it’s not suited for, it can produce a lack of financial discipline or unnecessary distractions that derail efforts.
Slower-moving, more formal cultures often place a greater emphasis on clarity, stability, and execution. In these organizations, process drives action.
At large, international corporations like Boeing or government agencies, teams heavily rely on established procedures and interdepartmental cooperation in order to get things done. This kind of culture might feel impersonal, but it also mitigates risks and provides stability. Experts argue this kind of function-based culture encourage role specialization and accountability.
Another culture example comes from Starbucks, a huge company that has succeeded in propagating a close-knit “family” type of workplace culture. Their publicized “servant-leadership” approach to management lines up well with their commitment to openness and collaboration. Their culture spans functional departments and geographic divisions, allowing the company’s structure to grow as their business expands globally.
Alternatively, results-driven organizations like GE create their workplace cultures around internal competition, emphasizing winning. This kind of organization focuses on achievements , with leadership quickly rewarding top-performers and leaving stragglers behind. While this kind of workplace culture can be fulfilling for employees who are motivated to meet aggressive goals, companies that foster such environments run the risk of being stressful or hostile.
Identifying your culture
Workplace cultures differ in many aspects, and no one structure will always be the right fit for all groups. The key to a company’s growth may lie in its ability to find the right type (or blend) of organizational style, then nurture the culture that emerges and encourage it to evolve.
A helpful tool for identifying the right kind of organizational culture is called the Competing Values Framework, developed by Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron. With this framework, you can compare your company culture values across a number of dimensions and better understand organization effectiveness.
What are the underlying cultural dynamics in your own organization? What should they be?
The Competing Values Framework
Identifying and changing your company culture will take time. Here are a few ways to get started:
Take proactive steps to understand culture and turnover
In many cases, investing in a people analytics tool (or at least an engagement survey) is an important step to identify opportunities for cultural improvement, especially in larger companies. Evaluating your employees’ perceptions with the right kind of data will give you the information you need to improve.
Get perspective from stakeholders at all levels of your organization in order to make informed decisions about your culture. What do your employees want to see more of? Are they unhappy with an outdated policy? By opening the floor up for ideas, you can solicit fresh points of view that may be lacking in the C-Suite.
Don't forget to examine your current offboarding process. Are you conducting exit interviews and discussing responses? You can identify major opportunities for culture improvements based on the feedback of departing employees.
Once you have that data, it’s time to be proactive. You can make cultural changes based on your data in order to show your employees that you care about them and that retaining them is a top priority for your company. Here are two things you can do to improve your culture and reduce turnover:
Communicate clearly defined goals & expectations
Once you have a strong understanding of your culture, it’s time to look to the future. Adopting transparent internal communication standards will help you as you start to make changes and share developments with the team.
Conducting group and one-on-one meetings while using the right kind of collaboration tools, especially during periods of change, are both easier said than done. However, they’re immensely valuable.
Transparency will help your employees understand how their day-to-day work ties into the bigger picture of the company and give them a better idea of how their performance can impact their career trajectory. Establishing and communicating a clear company mission and values will also also foster a sense of community, which helps keep employees engaged and alleviates some uncertainty about roles and responsibilities.
Identify and reward values-based efforts
Simply put, your employees won’t stick around if they don’t feel appreciated, and your culture directly contributes to that. The immediate costs of employee turnover are significant. Indirect costs are often more expensive. Think about the drop in employee morale or the loss of institutional knowledge that a particularly high achiever can leave in their wake when they move on to another, more appealing opportunity.
Initiating any kind of cultural change in an organization can be difficult. By using a comprehensive recognition and rewards program, encouraging values-based behavior can be easier and more visible. Recognizing those who embody positive culture increases employee engagement and helps individuals feel like valued members of an organization.
Want to learn more about recognition? View our guide to modern employee recognition.
Workplace culture influences many areas of an organization. A poor culture can result in high turnover and confusion. However, discovering and encouraging the right kind of workplace culture pays huge dividends, like improved employee engagement, morale, and productivity.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to culture. Instead, nuances based on industry, team, and personalities make culture unique and exciting. Fortunately, we live in a time where it’s easier than ever to learn about culture, implement helpful tools, and positively impact organizational culture.
For next steps, check out the 10 simple ways you can improve your company culture.