To start, I’m going to ask you a personal question.
What’s your workplace culture like? Are you satisfied with it? Is it really all it was made out to be? How do you leave your office in the afternoon? Content, buoyant and filled with verve or wistfully feeling like something’s missing?
Businesses are eager to use the term “workplace culture”, to brag about their great “company culture.” But what does it entail? Is it ping-pong desks? Hybrid working? A selection of bespoke teas? In this article, we discuss and unpack the elusive term “workplace culture.”
A definition to start, because… well, I’ll admit, I am not quite sure of what the term means myself. A fact: I hail from the labile realm of freelance which means these shiny words don’t roll off my tongue as easily as they once did.
What is workplace culture?
Workplace culture refers to the beliefs, values, behaviours, and social norms that shape the collective experience within an organisation. They set the tone and atmosphere of the workplace, impacting employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall organisational performance.
Did that definition mean much to you or did your eyes glaze over? Did you wince at the sound of “organisation”, “behaviour”,“values”? Is it a sentence packed with too many meta-terms that have left it devoid of meaning?
Let me propose: A new definition
The deeper I venture into HR topics, the more I find them vague, difficult to understand, too mechanical. If you read my earlier articles (neurodiversity, leadership) I have made a not-so-subtle stab at the antiquated way we speak in business. I think it is obstinate, archaic and in need of some humanising. Experts in our field seem to agree, the public sphere is rift with claims we need a new way of working.
And a new way of working needs a new way of thinking and a new way of speaking to match. Traditional definitions of workplace culture are simply not relevant anymore. Archaic, vague, taxonomic, they deny our human sentience. We need a redefinition.
What is culture?
Culture. It pervades all that we do. Call it ambience, expression, personality, feeling, atmosphere. Or if you’re under twenty-five and have a penchant for TikTok’s, perhaps we can call it “vibes.” It is that undefinable essence, the presence of your company.
What is company culture?
Company culture, then, is that intangible and unexplainable force that characterises your brand. The interface between the outside realm and your company cosm. I understand to our mechanised minds this might still seem difficult to grasp, so let’s step out from the 9-5 for a moment.
Think of company culture much like a good date:
Good company culture: can be felt instantly when you walk in, you catch eyes from across the room, sigh of relief or inhale deeply (is that a oud- lily fragrance?). It leaves a lasting impression, has you wondering how long you can wait until you call them up again?
Bad company culture: will have you excusing yourself to the bathroom between h’ores deurves, calling your friend from the cubicle, sizing up your methods of escape.
Just as a good date leaves a lasting impression and could blossom into romance, good company culture can set the foundation for long term success and meaningful connection between employees and their organisation.
I regard company culture as relying on three key components.
- Physical: The setting.
- Mental: Stimulation
- Values: invoking a feeling
When all of these are in balance, you can create something magical, synergetic, ideas spawn, glasses clink, eyes glitter, it produces something akin to love. Over the next three articles, we unpack the term “company culture” using these three pillars.
Note: this article won’t land you a date.