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Workplace Culture 101: How to Create Positivity at Work

According to a survey of 5,000 workers1,Wong%2C%20Glassdoor%20President%20and%20COO., over half of people think a good workplace culture is more important than salary for job satisfaction.  

Employees want to work at a company whose culture they like. And this is good for companies too. A strong culture enhances collaboration, skyrockets productivity, and becomes a magnetic force that attracts top talent. 

Whether you’re a manager, in HR or an employee, this article will show you how you can contribute to creating a top-level workplace culture.

What is Workplace Culture?

Workplace culture refers to the collective values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that shape the environment and interactions within an organization. Workplace culture influences how employees feel, communicate, and collaborate.

  • If you have a positive workplace culture, you enjoy working, feel supported, and like your teammates.
  • If you have a negative workplace culture, you dread going to work, often feel undermined or underestimated, and do not feel supported by your teammates.

Workplace culture is important because it shapes employee engagement, collaboration, and overall job satisfaction, ultimately driving the vitality of the entire organization.

The Top 6 Qualities of the Best Workplace Cultures

Quantum Workplace2 surveyed over 500,000 employees in their “Best Places to Work” program and found that the top words that employees use to describe awesome workplace cultures are:

  1. Friendly
  2. Challenging
  3. Engaging
  4. Rewarding
  5. Collaborative
  6. Fun

Let’s dive deeper into each one.

1. Friendly

Friendliness in the workplace fosters a sense of community and belonging. The warm “Good morning!” you receive makes you feel genuinely welcome.

Southwest Airlines is famous for its friendly and supportive culture. They have a practice called a “culture blitz3,” where their culture service team visits an airport and brings snacks, games, and appreciation to the Southwest staff. The culture team even helps the airport crew clean the airplanes! 

Here are some ideas you could try out:

  • Start a “Kindness Kudos” board where team members can post shoutouts for supportive or friendly behavior.
  • Organize a monthly “Coffee Connection” where team members are paired randomly to grab coffee.
  • Implement a buddy system for new hires to help them acclimate to the friendly culture faster.

Consider some of these team-building questions to create a more friendly connection with each other.

2. Challenging

A challenging work environment pushes employees to reach their full potential. It keeps the work interesting and sparks a sense of achievement.

SpaceX consistently challenges its engineers to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible, aiming for goals as audacious as colonizing Mars.

Here are some ideas you could consider for your office:

  • Incorporate “stretch goals” in quarterly planning for the team and individuals to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.
  • Hold periodic multi-day hackathons where employees can deep-dive into new and innovative projects.

Examine your Commit: Complete ratio. 

  • Make a list of all the projects your team has committed to in the last year. How many have you accomplished? That’s your commit: complete ratio. It should NOT be 100%. If it is, you are under-challenging yourself. Aim for 70 to 80%. That’s the sweet spot for challenging yourself.

3. Engaging

An engaging workplace keeps employees’ minds activated and their spirits high. When employees are deeply involved in their tasks, time flies.

Research suggests that teams engaged in their work are more productive and profitable, with less turnover and fewer skipped days.

Twice a year, Adobe holds an event where employees can present a “sneak4” in a Ted-style presentation. A sneak is a passion project they’ve been working on that could help the company. Many of these sneaks end up becoming actual Adobe products.

Adobe has a system that rewards its employees for being engaged, passionate, and innovative in their work.

Here are some ideas you could try:

  • Offer “Innovation Hours” once a week, where employees can work on projects outside of their usual scope.
  • Prioritize engaging work! Use your check-ins to make sure that people are interested in the projects they are taking on.

4. Rewarding

Work feels rewarding when it provides a sense of fulfillment and achievement beyond monetary compensation. Often, this is associated with work that has a positive impact and contributes to a better future for humanity. 

Work can also feel rewarding when people are acknowledged for their hard work.

Here are some possibilities for your company:

  • Create an “Employee Recognition Wall” where outstanding accomplishments are showcased.
  • Connect your company’s goals to a greater purpose or a picture of a more beautiful world. Then, link that to each employee’s responsibility.  

Apple created a strong image for its mission in this 1984 TV ad, painting itself as a beacon of free thinking. Imagine how rewarding it would be to work for a company you believe saves the world from conformity.

5. Collaborative

A collaborative culture prioritizes teamwork, making sharing ideas easier and achieving common goals.

When everyone feels like they’re on the same team, there’s a more profound camaraderie and trust in one another.

And it goes both ways: good teamwork makes a culture more positive, and a positive culture strengthens the team. 94 percent of managers5 agree that a positive work culture helps make a team more resilient.

Here are some ideas you could try to up your company’s collaborative spirit:

  • Try a monthly team-building activity that fosters teamwork, like an escape room or solving a tough puzzle together.
  • Create a system where, each week, everyone has to recognize a peer for their achievements or support.
  • Schedule a monthly “Lunch and Learn” and invite team members to volunteer as speakers, offering a small incentive or token of appreciation for their time and effort.

6. Fun

A workplace infused with fun cultivates positive emotions and camaraderie among employees. If work is fun, then employees will look forward to Mondays.

Google is renowned for its fun culture, complete with recreational rooms, quirky office setups, and even a slide in one of its offices, helping to stimulate creativity and relieve stress.

Here are some ideas you could consider for your office:

  • Start each team meeting with an interesting conversation starter. Like, “What did you want to be when you were a kid?” or “What is your unique hobby?”
  • Celebrate birthdays in the office. Go out to lunch or throw small parties for each person. 
  • Try team icebreakers
  • Initiate a monthly “Fun Day” with team games or a group outing.
  • Create a “Fun Committee” where employees can volunteer to organize small, enjoyable activities.
  • Create a “Wall of Fame” to display humorous memes, jokes, or employee-generated content.

By incorporating these elements into your workplace culture, you’re not just ticking boxes but investing in a holistic approach to well-being, satisfaction, and long-term success for everyone involved.

How Managers Can Create a Culture That Employees Will Flock To

Leaders are the linchpins in creating and sustaining a positive workplace culture. 70% of the variance6 in team engagement is due to the manager.

Their actions, attitudes, and communication styles serve as a model for the team, and the environment they foster can either stifle or stimulate productivity, innovation, and job satisfaction. Put, leaders don’t just manage tasks; they sculpt the culture that the team operates within.

To create an optimum work environment, below are the qualities that People-First Jobs, the leading job board for positive workplace culture, considers paramount. 

You don’t have to take on all of the following criteria. But consider that the more of the following ideas you implement, the more your employees will want to stick around.

Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication refers to exchanging information that doesn’t require an immediate response from the receiving party. This mode allows team members to address tasks and messages at their own pace.  

Encourage a work culture where team members can communicate on their own time. This way, workers can attune to their schedules and don’t feel bogged down in endless meetings. 

Action Step: Roll out an asynchronous communication tool like Slack and set clear guidelines on expected response times. Be very sparing with “urgent” messages.

“Deep work” culture

Deep work, a term coined by Cal Newport, refers to a state of concentration where there are no distractions, and your brain is operating at its maximum potential.

Promote an atmosphere that allows for periods of uninterrupted work. This encourages team members to focus on complex tasks, improving productivity and quality of work.

Action Step: Block off “focus periods” on the company calendar and discourage meetings or interruptions during these times.

Diversity and inclusion

Establish a welcoming and inclusive work environment, making a conscious effort to mitigate biases and promote diversity.

The fact that you are making an effort will make your workplace feel more inviting to marginalized groups.

Action Steps: Review your hiring practices to ensure they are inclusive, and consider implementing unconscious bias training for all staff. Here is a guide with some great ideas on how to make your office more inclusive and bias-aware.

You could also brush up on a few of these cultural differences in communication.

And you could try to be aware of how your language in describing marginalized groups might “other” them. Here are some terms to look out for, borrowed from Buffer’s diversity guide7

A two column chart, one side with affirmative terms and one side with negative terms. It's purpose is to help people be aware of how their language in describing marginalized groups might “other” them. The goal is to use the affirmative terms and not the negative ones. This relates to the article which is about workplace culture.

Flexible scheduling

Support a balanced life by offering flexibility in work hours, acknowledging that personal lives don’t always fit into a traditional 9-5 model.

I work from 5 p.m.-3 a.m. I know my night owl tendencies are on the end, but I feel incredibly grateful to write when I feel most creative instead of forcing my brain into a schedule that feels unnatural to me (which I have done for many jobs in the past!)

Action Step: Allow employees to submit their preferred working hours and make team schedules that accommodate these as much as possible.

Outcome-oriented focus

Shift the emphasis from hours worked to goals accomplished, fostering a results-driven atmosphere.

This motivates employees to work efficiently and effectively instead of wasting time. And waiting for the clock to tick

Action Step: Set measurable quarterly objectives for each team and individual and review performance based on these metrics rather than time spent.

Professional development

Cultivate a culture that actively encourages the professional growth of each team member, offering opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge.

This turns work into more than just a job, but a place for people to become better versions of themselves.

Action Step: Establish a professional development fund for courses or books, and make time for regular one-on-one career planning sessions.

Remote work flexibility

Consider adopting a remote-friendly or remote-first approach that accommodates various work styles and situations, promoting trust and respect within the team.

Studies suggest8 that when people have the opportunity to work remotely, 87% choose to do so. This is only for some teams, but remote work is becoming the norm. And it might be wise to hop on that train instead of chasing after it.

Action Step: Define and communicate a clear remote work policy and provide the tools and resources for effective remote collaboration.

If you’re interested, here’s a guide covering everything you need about remote work.

Sensible work hours

Acknowledge the importance of rest and balance. And discourage excessive work hours that can lead to burnout and reduced quality of work.

This starts with your work-life balance as a leader. If you work weekends and never take vacations, tell your team that that is the norm.

Action Step: Implement a time-tracking tool that flags when employees are nearing or exceeding 40 hours a week, prompting a managerial review.

By putting these strategies into practice, you’re taking tangible steps to build a workplace culture that’s productive and deeply respectful of individual needs and aspirations.

You don’t want your employees to feel like this!

Overcoming Key Challenges in Building Great Workplace Culture

Challenges are inevitable, but how you navigate these obstacles can make all the difference. Here are three common challenges and strategies to turn them into opportunities for growth.

Resistance to change

You might have brilliant ideas and initiatives to change your company culture, but they’re all met with resistance. Change can be scary for many, and many folks are inclined to stick with what they know.

Strategy: Communication is key. Involve employees in the decision-making process and keep them informed every step of the way. People will likely get on board when they understand the “why” behind the change.

Cliques and silos

It’s natural for people to gravitate toward those they get along with, but this can sometimes lead to cliques or departmental silos. This division can stifle collaboration and contribute to an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.

Strategy: Introduce team-building activities that mix departments and roles. Cross-functional projects can also help break down these barriers by encouraging different parts of the business to work together toward a common goal.

Employee burnout

High-pressure environments and overwhelming workloads can lead to employee burnout, negatively affecting productivity and office morale.

Strategy: Implement regular check-ins to monitor workload and stress levels. Discourage after-hours emails, and make sure people take vacation.

Navigating these challenges successfully fortifies your workplace culture and shows your team that you’re committed to creating an environment where everyone can flourish. Each obstacle offers a chance to improve, so embrace them as their growth opportunities.

Tips for Employees to Shape Their Workplace Environment

As an employee, you don’t have to sit on the sidelines when creating the kind of workplace culture you want to be a part of. Step into the game and be the change-maker your office didn’t know it needed. Here are some tips to empower you in sculpting a culture that resonates with you.

Suggest a culture committee.

A culture committee is a powerful way to democratize the office environment, giving employees from all corners of the organization a seat at the table to talk about culture.

Action Step: Take the lead and propose forming a culture committee that comprises team members from various departments to brainstorm and enact culture-improving initiatives.

Organize skill-sharing sessions

Skill-sharing sessions, often held over a laid-back lunch, can be a great way to promote a culture of continuous learning and community bonding.

Action Step: Offer to host a “Lunch and Learn” where you teach a skill you excel at, whether mastering Excel formulas or effective communication tactics.

Be a mentor

Mentorship, especially to newcomers, is an excellent way to foster a supportive culture. It shows that experienced team members are approachable and willing to share their wisdom.

Mentorship creates connection, belonging, and personal development. Volunteering as a mentor is one of the best ways to “be the change you seek.”

Action Step: If you’ve been with the company for a while, consider becoming a mentor to newer employees to facilitate a smoother onboarding process.

Create a feedback loop

Constructive feedback is the cornerstone of improvement. By opening channels for honest communication about work, you’re laying the foundation for collective growth.

Action Step: Recommend setting up a recurring meeting where team members can share project feedback, both positive and constructive, fostering a growth-oriented culture.

Launch a” ‘random acts of kindness” program

Kindness has a ripple effect. Even small gestures can make a big difference in building a positive and caring work environment.

Action Step: Start a program where team members can carry out random acts of kindness for colleagues, like buying coffee or leaving uplifting notes, and create a space to share these stories.

Additionally, here are 62 ideas to practice kindness.

Advocate for mental health initiatives

Mental health matters, and advocating for its inclusion in company policy can significantly boost the overall well-being of the workforce.

Action Step: Champion integrating mental health days or well-being programs to foster an environment where mental health is acknowledged and nurtured.

Promote transparency

Transparency is key to trust. When the leadership is open about the company’s direction and challenges, it creates a more engaged and committed team.

Action Step: Suggest regular “State of the Union” updates from the company’s leaders to ensure everyone is on the same page, enhancing the culture of openness and trust.

You’ve got the power to make a difference, so why not use it? Cultivating a positive workplace culture is a collective effort, and your contributions are the building blocks that make it possible. Take action, and watch how it transforms not only your experience but also the experiences of those around you.

Taking the initiative to improve your workplace culture is a great way to cultivate leadership skills that will support your career for years to come. If you’d like more tips on how to boost your career, you might enjoy this free goodie:

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Why a Positive Workplace Culture is Good for Everyone

A positive workplace culture is more than just a perk; it’s a business imperative that boosts morale and productivity. Here are some of the positive effects that come with a culture-first company.

  • Boosted employee morale. When work is a place where people feel safe, respected, and belonging, it creates an underlying current of optimism that makes even mundane tasks seem meaningful. The workday becomes less about clocking in and out and more about contributing to something greater.
  • Enhanced retention rates. People are less likely to jump ship when they genuinely enjoy where they work. For example, the social media marketing company Buffer, known for its incredible workplace culture, has a retention rate of 94%9 You can only get those numbers if you are very intentional with your culture.
  • Uplifted overall job satisfaction. When people are happy at work, that happiness spills over into their work quality and overall job satisfaction. 94% of executives and 88% of employees10 agree that a distinct workplace culture is important for business success.
  • A magnet for top talent. A strong, positive culture isn’t just an internal benefit—it shines like a beacon to potential hires. When word gets out that your company is a great place to work, your job postings will gain loads of traffic. This allows you to be choosier with who you hire and uplevel your workforce’s quality.

Frequently Asked Questions About Workplace Culture

How does workplace culture affect employee satisfaction?

Workplace culture plays a huge role in employee satisfaction because it sets the tone for everything from day-to-day interactions to long-term career growth. A supportive, inclusive, and engaging culture helps employees feel valued, leading to increased satisfaction and overall well-being.

How can a positive workplace culture benefit a company?

A positive workplace culture can benefit a company by boosting employee morale, productivity, and retention rates. When people love where they work, they’re more invested in its success, leading to higher quality work and a competitive edge in the market.

What are the key elements of a healthy workplace culture?

The key elements of a healthy workplace culture include effective communication, shared values, supportive leadership, and opportunities for professional growth. Nailing these core components creates an environment where employees can thrive individually and collectively.

How can leaders and managers contribute to building a positive workplace culture?

Leaders and managers play a pivotal role in building a positive workplace culture by setting the tone, modeling desired behaviors, and fostering open communication. Their active involvement in promoting inclusivity and professional development can help create a positive work environment.

What are the challenges in developing a strong workplace culture?

The challenges in developing a strong workplace culture often include resistance to change, formation of cliques or silos, and the risk of employee burnout. However, proactive leadership and active employee participation can navigate these challenges, turning them into opportunities for growth.

How can employees actively participate in shaping workplace culture?

Employees can actively shape workplace culture by proposing new ideas, engaging in team-building activities, and advocating for transparent communication. Their contributions make a workplace more than just a place to earn a paycheck; it is a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging.

Takeaways on Workplace Culture

Best of luck in creating a fantastic company culture!

Just remember that the best workplace cultures are:

  • Fun
  • Challenging
  • Friendly
  • Engaging
  • Rewarding
  • Collaborative

And if you are a manager, consider implementing changes that allow for

  • Asynchronous communication
  • A deep work culture
  • Emphasis on inclusion
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Focusing on outcomes, not hours clocked
  • Professional development
  • Remote work possibilities
  • Keeping an eye on employee burnout

In some ways, the easiest way to craft a culture is to be very intentional with which job candidates you bring into the company. If you’d like to learn how to create an optimal company culture from a hiring perspective, you may enjoy this article.

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