As we round out a tumultuous and historic year, it’s a good time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of your organisation’s culture. Is it strong and defined? Did it withstand the events of the past year and shield your organisation from internal disengagement? Does it resist toxicity, or are toxic traits perpetuated? Does the culture promote positivity, unity and productivity? And what elements of the culture can be improved?
According to research by Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct culture is important to a business’ success. The same report found that 83% of executives and 84% of employees ranked having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that sustainably contributes to a company’s success. Looking at these numbers alone is enough reason to make striving for a positive culture a top item on the agenda.
Workplace culture vs corporate culture
While the terms corporate culture and workplace culture are often used interchangeably, there are slight differences. Corporate culture refers to the organisation’s core values, beliefs and mission, whereas workplace culture can be defined as the embodiment of these values through the members of the organisation who, driven by shared beliefs, approach challenges and solutions in alignment. The culture is the “personality” of an organisation; its beating heart. A business cannot be successful without a positive and well-defined culture.
A toxic workplace: the signs
Although corporate culture and workplace culture inform one another, they can fall out of sync when members of the organisation do not practice and preserve the values. This can lead to toxicity. Symptoms of a toxic workplace include low morale, mass disengagement and high turnover.
Examples of toxicity include:
- Bullying that does not lead to disciplinary action
- Normalising harassment
- Conflict that unreported or unresolved
- Normalising over-working or setting unrealistic goals
- Unhealthy competition
- Environments that induce anxiety
- Other bad behaviours such as people taking credit for other people’s work, people discrediting others, and shifting blame
The danger of long-lasting and unresolved workplace toxicity is that it can warp a sense of what’s acceptable. When a type of behaviour is endorsed, employees will begin to think that it’s the way things should be, and not recognise or strive for better working conditions. It may also influence behaviour shifts in employees, meaning toxicity becomes self-perpetuating.
Indeed, nothing will kill a great employee’s engagement faster than watching you tolerate a bad one, and it’s important to remember that the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour a leader is willing to tolerate.
Toxicity in the workplace can be stamped out of an organisation if its leadership establishes strong values and demonstrates commitment to those values. The values must be communicated through management who must lead by example and callout behaviour that is deemed toxic.
When an organisation breeds positive practices, engagement becomes rife – and, fortunately, engagement is contagious. In turn, motivation and productivity increases which reduces turnover. It really is win-win.
4 elements of a positive and inspiring workplace culture
So, what does a positive culture actually look like, what are its characteristics, and what should your organisation put in place to cultivate a culture strong enough to weather any storm?
- Openness and transparency
This year has reiterated how important open and transparent communication is in the workplace. During VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times (this year being the VUCA situation par excellence), employees crave transparency from the top – as well as from management and HR.
Organisations have likely made countless big decisions throughout the pandemic to navigate the chaotic territory, but no decision that impacts the workforce should be executed without communicating the “why” to employees. Humans are innately habitual so may resist mass change if they do not understand the reasoning behind the change.
Similarly, employees crave knowledge to remedy uncertainty, so any communication that concerns them should be informative to build a sense of trust.
- Recognition and feedback
Fostering a culture of recognition and feedback is a sign of organisational health, where morale is high, and employees are empowered and productive.
Recognition is about recognising a job well done or acknowledging a particular behaviour – a figurative or literal pat on the back. It can be as simple as a manager saying “thanks” for a job well done – this can have a tremendous impact on motivation. In order for a recognition program to be effective it must happen in real-time. The best recognition programs involve the use of public work channels, e.g. social media, messaging platforms, or during team meetings (either virtual or in-person). Recognition doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a reward to be valuable – it can be highly motivating on its own.
Similarly, employees crave feedback, because it means they are being acknowledged. Not all feedback is positive, but if it is angled as constructive with an aim to motivate the employee to improve, it is effective, nonetheless.
- Learning and development
Another key ingredient of a positive culture is investment in the professional development of employees through training initiatives. An employer who cares about the future success of its workers inspires motivation and productivity – and enhances retention.
Two-thirds (63%) of employers report a lack of career progression as the main reason employees leave, and 91% of Millennials want rapid career progression. To satisfy an appetite for learning, employers should encourage the upskilling and cross-skilling of employees, or implement other cost-effective career development opportunities, such as internal mentoring programs, job rotations or short-term secondments in different departments.
- Empowerment through surveys
By regularly surveying employees, an employer can gain valuable feedback on the many aspects of business. Through surveys, employers can gauge how effective business processes are. They can also measure the pulse of the organisation and employee sentiment and satisfaction. This is critical insight into how positive or negative a culture is.
Research by Gartner found that three-quarters (74%) of organisations rely on annual employee surveys to determine employee sentiment. However, once-a-year surveys are not effective. Take this year, for example – employee sentiment will no doubt be different today than a few months ago during the height of the pandemic. Therefore, to gain authentic insight into how the workplace culture is perceived – and to make effective change – it’s important that pulse surveys are conducted more frequently.
With a positive and strong workplace culture as its foundation, an organisation can effectively implement change, drive productivity and increase retention. Better yet, it will be strong enough to take on whatever the future has in store.
ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll can help HR professionals manage their workforce, even while operating remotely. As a cloud-based solution, ELMO helps employers manage their teams from anywhere at any time from a secure, centralised location. All employee-employer touchpoints are covered by ELMO’s suite, from ‘hire to retire’. This includes recruitment and onboarding, learning & development, performance management, payroll, rostering / time & attendance, and more. For further information on any ELMO solution, please contact us.
 “Core beliefs and culture: Chairman’s survey findings”, Deloitte, 2018
 “Turnover and Retention Research Report”, Australian HR Institute, 2018
 “66% Of Employees Would Quit If They Feel Unappreciated”, Forbes, 2019
 “Are employees burnt out from COVID-19?”, HRD, June 2020