Understanding Workplace Culture and Making It Work For You

This post is the first in a four part series on the subject of workplace culture.  Although it’s a relatively new concept — something our parents and grandparents might have never mentioned — workplace culture now stands at the core of every human resources philosophy.

In order to improve the complex dynamics that operate within your company, you’ll need to develop a deeper understanding of what this vital term actually means.  By defining workplace culture as an overall concept, you and your organization will be in a better position to examine and assess the interpersonal/environmental relationships that help determine the success of your organization.   That’s why the first two parts of our series will discuss the various elements that comprise it.    

The driving force behind this series is to instruct you on how to improve workplace culture.

Employee Environment and the 7 Characteristics of Culture 

Though the analogy isn’t perfect, it will be very useful to think of your workplace culture in terms that are similar those we use to describe the culture of a country, a city, a social group, etc.  Although there is no dimple definition of culture, it can still typically be understood by examining some of its essential features.  

Toward this end, it will helpful to think about the traditional seven characteristics of culture in general.  Once you’ve understood how these characteristics work to define a culture, you’ll be able to apply them in your organization.  

When we think of the culture of these entities, things like traditions, beliefs, and values come to mind.  Aspects of these cultures also include morality, acceptable behaviors, and shared attitudes.  With this analogy in mind, we can begin to explore the concept of workplace culture more deeply.

Physical Environment 

Just as a city or country’s culture largely arises from its geographic terrain and natural resources, the physical environment of your workplace will go a long way towards determining its character.  Let’s have a look at some of the key physical aspects of your workplace environment.  

The factors of your workplace’s physical environment become clear quickly once you begin to think about them.  Here are a few physical factors that contribute to your workplace culture:

  • furnishings and decorations
  • the arrangement of your workspace — how physical objects stand in relation to one another
  • the allocation of space to each staff member and the distances between them
  • equipment

This list is far from complete, but it should give you a starting point for thinking about the importance of your office’s physical environment.  

The Character of Your People

It goes without saying that people are part of your workplace culture, but it’s important to be specific about which personality traits you should consider.  It would be impossible to take every psychological factor into account, but the following list can be expanded easily.  Here are some of the most important psychological qualities to consider when thinking about the people aspect of your culture:

  • value systems
  • beliefs
  • background and personal experience
  • group membership outside the workplace
  • skill levels and talents
  • applicable strengths and weaknesses
  • emotional and social intelligence

We’ll examine these qualities more closely in a later post.  For now, just bear in mind that this is an incomplete yet useful list of the most fundamental personal qualities that typically affect workplace culture.

Workplace Communication

The final topic we’ll explore this week is the communication style within your workplace.  In order to understand your workplace’s communication style, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • How often does management communicate directly with their employees?
  • How often does management communicate with staff on a one-to-one basis?  
  • How is information shared and distributed?  
  • How often does management encourage or praise staff members?  
  • How do your employees communicate with one another?

By answering these questions, you and your management team can begin to understand many crucial aspects of the interpersonal relationships that define your workplace culture.  

Hopefully, you’ve started to get a better idea of what factors contribute to workplace culture.  Check back with us next week to find out more.