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Workplace culture: does it really matter? – part 1

Workplace culture: the term is often promoted as intrinsic to business success but is it something that has a genuine impact on bottom line? In the first of our two-part series we’ll take a simple definition of workplace culture look and examine two contrasting perspectives on whether workplace culture deserves our attention.

What is workplace culture?

Culture is often defined as the personality of a business: the attitudes, behaviours, experiences, assumptions, values and interactions of a group of people working together. For me, two statements effectively sum up workplace culture:

  • the way we do things around here
  • how employees behave when no one is looking

Why culture matters: the argument for

Much of the information published around workplace culture focuses on benefits a positive culture can bring to a business. Improved employee engagement and team cohesion, increased productivity, creativity, innovation and financial performance, reduced absenteeism and lower employee turnover are all frequently linked with positive workplace culture.

A Harvard Business Review article from 2015 links workplace culture to factors such as stress, accidents, errors and defects. The authors provide statistics to highlight their conclusion that businesses with a positive culture will see dramatic benefits for employers, employees and the company bottom line.

Why culture doesn’t matter: the argument against

While a little more challenging to locate, those speaking against workplace culture as an influencer of organisational effectiveness can still be found.  In a frank assessment aHR speaker, writer and entrepreneur Laurie Ruettimann states:

For years, I’ve been saying that your company doesn’t have a culture. You are incorrectly applying the word “culture” to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office.

Other critics, such as Hofstede Insights Group CEO Egbert Schram, believe culture has relevance only in certain business environments:

Culture becomes more important the less economically successful you are as a company or the more “un-sexy” products or services you sell or “unknown” you are. It is at this stage, when you feel you are pressed against the wall, that people start behaving more in a way that comes natural to them; their true values by which they were raised come out and impact their workplace behaviour more profoundly.

So where to from here?

While I respect the viewpoints of those who feel workplace culture doesn’t exist – or is less relevant in certain industries or circumstances – I’ve witnessed examples where “the way we do things around here” could best be described as “pretty poor”. In such workplaces, it’s not hard to see productivity is impacted, absenteeism is above industry standards and, from a significant percentage of employees, there seems to be an attitude of apathy.  And there’s the dilemma for employers: sometimes you can be so caught up working in the business, you neglect to work on it.

Bare Bones Consulting’s Greg Bowmer has over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources and took his first HR Manager role in 2004. That’s genuine senior level experience in HR across a diversity of industries that can translate into business results for you. Our approach to employment and people is based on simple tailored solutions to your HR challenges…including cultural transformation strategies for a workplace not operating to optimal capacity. Call us today to find out how 2019 can be your best year ever!

In our next blog we’ll look at indicators of good and poor workplace culture, why workplace culture (both good and bad) becomes ingrained in a business, the challenges in attempting to transform a culture and some cost-effective strategies for moving towards a more positive workplace culture.

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