Workplace culture is the tacit, (unspoken) social order of an organization, the shared patterns which determine what is viewed as appropriate behaviour of the employees and the group and help the employees make meaning of their collective environment. Its implicit and explicit systems define how an organization works in practice, regardless of what is written policy or stated intent. In an ideal workplace, structures and relationships work together around core values which transcend self-interest. Core values inspire value-creating efforts as employees feel inspired to do what is right, even when the right thing is hard to do.
The concept of culture in organizational contexts arose in the late-nineteenth century and expanded in the mid- twentieth and late-twentieth century with the recognition of group behaviours which develop around shared work. Societal changes require that workplace cultures evolve for the organization to thrive, and how a workplace chooses to do so, in turn, impacts societal trends. What is understood as the workplace today is becoming more complex with the expanding number of physical and virtual environments where employees work, as well as the increase in the number of diverse types of people with often ambiguous or quickly changing roles.
Workplace culture is fundamental to the organization, yet it is complex and is to be understood and effectively managed for the organization and its employees to thrive. In the process of managing workplace culture, issues and opportunities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion can be linked with specific aspects of the organization such as structure, values, physical artifacts, communication, and behaviour etc. and can lead to actions which are aligned and consistent with both values and goals.
Workplace culture affects every way the employees think and act in relation to their work, which is why it is important to know what it is and how to manage it. Culture merits the same attention which is given to core aspects of the business, such as operation, marketing, design, and accounting. As architects, it is to be known that building and maintaining something requires the integration and coordination of many things.
Ethics are the values of the organization. They demonstrate in its goals, policies and practices and are the heart of the workplace culture. The quality of experience in the organization depends on the quality of its culture. A positive culture enlivens and enriches the experience of the employees, customers or stakeholders with regards to the organization while a negative culture diminishes it. Organizations with ethical workplace cultures, where trust in managers and management runs high; outperform their competitors and peers in all the categories which matter.
Workplace culture is often made out to be, the way employees work in a given environment, the way they perceive their jobs, the way they do their jobs and, their expectations from their jobs. While these are not entirely untrue, what one often overlooks is the reason for these behavioural attitudes.
In the organization, in order to achieve certain goals and objectives, employees are brought together on a common platform and motivated do deliver their level best. It is essential for the employees to enjoy at the workplace for them to develop a sense of loyalty towards the organization. Workplace culture plays an important role in extracting the best out of the employees and making them stick to the organization for a longer duration. The organization is required to offer a positive ambience to the employees for them to concentrate on their work rather than interfering in each other’s work.
Workplace culture is a concept which deals with (i) beliefs, thought processes, attitudes of the employees, and (ii) ideologies and principles of the organization. It is the work culture which decides the way employees interact with each other and how an organization functions. In layman’s language work culture refers to the mentality of the employees which further decides the ambience of the organization.
Workplace culture has been practically contained some definitions of the pattern of values, attitudes, behaviour, intention and results of the work, including any instrument, work systems, technology and the language it used. Culture has closely been linked to the values and the environment which lead to the meaning and philosophy of life, which would influence the attitudes and behaviour at work. Culture has been the result of life experiences, habits, and the selection process (accept or reject) the norms which exist in a social interaction or put employees in the middle of a particular work environment.
Culture is defined as ‘the complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, morals, capabilities and habits acquired by the people as a member of the society’. Culture ensures the norms of behaviour and also gives mechanism which helps the people in their personal and social survival. The culture is the man made part of environment. It reflects the way of life of people, their traditions, heritage, design for living, etc. It is the totality of beliefs, norms and values, which is related to the patterned regularity in people’s behaviour, while workplace culture is a combination of environment employees operate in, their way of interaction with one another, the policies, and procedures taken up in the environment.
Workplace culture means work related activities and meanings attached to such activities in the framework of norms and values regarding work. These activities, norms, and values are generally contextualized in the organization. The organization has its boundaries, goals and human resources as well as constraints and its employees have skills, knowledge, needs, and values pertaining to work and they both complement each other. The workplace culture is nothing but an expression of organizational culture, which generally focuses on customer centricity, teamwork and continuous process improvement. It is also expressed in terms of values, ideologies of the organization. It further makes the foundation of integrity, thoughts and actions of the people working there.
Workplace culture is essential for maximizing the value of human capital, and culture management is a critical management competence. An important challenge for management is to determine the most effective culture for the organization. Hence, the workplace culture has impact on both the role motivation and contextual performance of the employees in the organization. Contextual performance refers to behaviours which support the environment in which the technical core operates. Common examples of contextual performance behaviours include helping co-employees, volunteering for tasks, and defending the organization.
An organization is said to have a strong workplace culture when the employees follow the organization’s rules and regulations and adhere to the existing guidelines. However there are certain organizations where employees are reluctant to follow the instructions and are made to work only by strict procedures. Such organizations have a weak workplace culture. Characteristics of a healthy workplace culture include the following.
- A healthy workplace culture leads to satisfied employees and an increased productivity.
- Employees are to be cordial with each other. An employee is to respect his fellow employee. Backbiting is considered strictly unprofessional and is to be eliminated in a healthy workplace culture. One gains nothing out of conflicts and nasty politics at work.
- Each employee is to be treated as equal. Partiality leads to demotivated employees and eventually an unhealthy workplace culture. Employees are to be judged only by their work and nothing else. Personal relationships are to take a backseat at the workplace. Friendship and relationship has no place in a healthy workplace culture.
- Appreciation of the good performing employees is important. At the same time the ones who have not performed well are not to be criticized but counseled and provided with professional help to improve their performance.
- Discussions at the workplace are to be encouraged and facilitated. Employees are to be encouraged to discuss issues among themselves to reach to better conclusions. Transparency is essential at all levels for better relationships among employees and a healthy workplace culture. Manipulating of information and data tampering leads to poor performance. The information is to flow in its desired form.
- Organization is to have employee friendly policies and practical guidelines. Rules and regulations are to be made to benefit the employees. Employees are to maintain the good behaviour and discipline is important at the workplace.
- The employees are to be mentored. The line managers are to be the source of inspiration for the employees. The line managers are expected to provide a sense of direction to the employees and guide them whenever needed. The employees are to have an access to the senior management.
- Team building activities are required at the workplace to bind the employees together. Team building activities are to be supported by several methods such as training programs, and workshops etc.
- Employees are to have opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and skills. They are to be prepared for the tough times. They are to be ready under any odd circumstances or change in the organizational culture.
Organizational management is to develop the concept of the workplace culture which consists of the human environment within which an organization’s employees perform their jobs. A positive culture improves the performance of an organization in different ways such as placing constraints on the individual’s freedom of choice and providing a source of reward and punishment.
Management is required to develop the right kind of culture, a culture of quality. The workplace culture requires certain values which the management is to inculcate in the organizations. Also implied in this, is the assumption that there are better or worse cultures and stronger or weaker cultures, and that the ‘right’ kind of culture has influence how effective the organization is. More specifically, the concept of workplace culture is the key to improving organizational effectiveness.
The learning workplace culture is associated with employees’ job satisfaction and motivation to transfer learning. Workplace culture influences the degree of job satisfaction. It plays a significant role in the employees’ retention.
There is no single ideal workplace culture. The employees, people, and goals of every organization are different, and hence, the culture of every organization is different. Since the ways in which diversity, inclusion, and equity are addressed within a workplace are directly tied to its goals and culture, it is vital for the management and the employees to both understand their goals and become more aware of the current objective and subjective cultural patterns driving perception and behaviour in the organization. The architecture of the workplace culture is similar to the structure of an iceberg, which is often called ‘architecture’s cultural iceberg diagram’. There are characteristics which are easily seen above the surface (objective culture) and then there are patterns which are most often developed and reinforced below the surface (subjective culture).
The objective and subjective dominant culture in the ‘architecture’s cultural iceberg diagram’ is not the same in most of the organizations, and there are many other cultural patterns not listed which are specific to particular organizations. Consider these, one can categorize and define a practice and what each signals to the employees in terms of who works there, how they work, what they believe in, and what work they do. In most of the large organizations the work is of multi-disciplinary nature.
The ‘architecture’s cultural iceberg diagram’ can be used as a starting point for recognizing and naming patterns and associated meanings within the current workplace practices in the organization. It can help to consider a point of view from outside the organization. Workplace culture affects every way the employees think and act in relation to the work, which is why it is important to know what it is and how to manage it. Culture merits the same attention being given to core aspects of the organization, such as operations and marketing of product. The architecture of the workplace culture consists of the building and maintaining something which requires the integration and coordination of many things. A workplace is no different, and attending to culture is like designing and operating a building with regard for its inhabitants.
Like the tip of the iceberg, patterns of objective dominant culture are relatively visible. When asked to picture a stereotypical architect (employee), many people will think of a person with helmet working with the workplace tools wearing cloths stained with oil and dust. When asked to picture a stereotypical architecture workplace, people with some familiarity with architecture will envision equipments workstations and a pinup space where words related to the process which is taking place are used and long hours of work are the norm. Like the submerged portion of the iceberg, patterns of subjective dominant architecture culture are numerous, more difficult to see, and vary considerably according to the employee and the workplace. When asked what the architect’s attitudes are toward the work, some people normally answer ‘process driven’ and others ‘procedure driven’ or ‘environment driven’ etc. When asked about the architect’s attitudes toward control, some might unconsciously sense that the architect values individual influence more than teamwork or vice versa.
The examples of objective and subjective dominant culture in the following ‘architecture’s cultural iceberg diagram’ are not be the same for most of the organizations, and there are many other cultural patterns not listed which are specific to particular workplaces. Consider the ways an employee can categorize and define a practice and what each signals to him in terms of who works there, how they work, what they believe in, what work they do.
Workplace culture affects every way the employee think and act in relation to his work, which is why it is important to know what it is and how to manage it. The main constituents which have effect on the workplace culture (Fig 1) are (i) the product being produced, (ii) the behaviours which are being recognized as valuable, (iii) workplace dress, (iv) the language being used at the workplace, (v) the equipment and the tools being used at the workplace, (vi) working space available for carrying out the work, (vii) the storage space available, (viii) the age of the employees, the young are inexhaustible and do not know very much; the middle aged gain responsibility after years of hard work and paying dues while the older employees are repositories of knowledge to be respected, (ix) authorship since the employees are the creative force and the teamwork is used for production, (x) body language which reflects confidence and authority of the employee at the work in the workplace, (xi) class which distinguishes the employees from other employees (e.g. contract employees), (xii) commitment which is to be available with the employees, (xiii) core values which helps in the positive change occurring in the employees through the built environment though the work of the profession is important, (xiv) education since higher education is necessary and valued and status is often attached to the degree type, (xv) ethnicity meaning whether the employees are from majority group or from under-represented groups, (xvi) employees’ roles since some types of employees are ambitious and assertive while others are supportive and nurturing, (xvii) opportunity for achievement which is more important than salary since salaries are normally low for the employees to do good work and compensate people well, (xviii) marital status since bachelors can normally work for late hours while the married ones struggle, (xix) personality since the employees’ personality determines their role, (xx) types of work as part-time work has lower status than full-time work, (xxi) work assignments which are to be such that the employees have growth opportunities (xxii) relationship to power and authority means whether the employees have power to intervene or simply follow the rules, (xxiii) roles means the kind of the roles played by the employee at the work place (e.g. main role or supportive), (xxiv) speaking means that the employee with the most power in the workplace does the most talking while the intellectual expression signals status, (xxv) ways of working since different generations use different tools and heads go down for long periods to meet deadlines, and (xxvi) work ethics since many a times iteration; personal sacrifice is necessary at certain points for the achievements of the targets.
Fig 1 Constituents having effect on the workplace culture
Importance of the workplace culture
Workplace culture is fundamental to an organization, yet it is complex and is to be understood and effectively managed for the organization and its employees to thrive. In the process of managing workplace culture, issues and opportunities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion can be linked with specific aspects of the organization (structure, values, physical artifacts, communication, behaviour, etc.) and can lead to actions which are aligned and consistent with both values and goals. The issues and opportunities of the workplace culture as described below can be related to the individual employee, the organization, or the profession (Fig 2).
Engagement – Culture is ‘just the way to do things around workplace’. The engagement is ‘how employees feel about the way things work around the workplace’. Engagement is the key to healthy culture, and lack of engagement signals problems in the culture. Moreover, highly engaged organizations are more successful.
Trust – Working effectively with others requires trust, and different people need different actions and activities in order to build and maintain that trust. Increasing trust increases psychological safety, shifting behaviour from survival mode in which analytical reasoning shuts down to ‘broaden-and-build’ mode in which strategic thinking is stimulated. High levels of trust are necessary for teams to meet ambitious goals.
Recruiting – When workplace culture is clearly aligned with organizational goals and values, it can attract ‘the right fit’ and lead to high engagement, yet it is important to understand how to determine fit without perpetuating bias and exclusion. Other concepts to consider include ‘culture add’ and ‘values fit’, which can increase diverse-applicant numbers and employee referrals for new candidates who support the inclusive strategic direction and equitable culture of the organization.
Productivity · Positive workplace environments (caring, respectful, forgiving, inspiring, meaningful) support the employee productivity. Negative environments (lack of transparency, trust, agency, teamwork, physical and psychological safety, reasonable work hours, health insurance, job security) lead to stress, significantly increasing health-related costs (heart disease, high blood pressure, depression) and disengagement (absenteeism, errors, accidents).
Retention – Alignment of an employee’s values with organizational values is a top predictor of the employee’s satisfaction with the workplace culture. A negative workplace culture leads to an almost 50 % increase in voluntary employees’ turnover and turnover costs (recruiting, training, lowered productivity, lost expertise, lowered morale, etc.) are high. A co-created inclusive culture means more loyal employees, aiding in retention.
Organizational structure – An organization’s structure and its culture are interdependent. They develop in tandem, and changing of one affects the other. Organizational management can make positive and intentional changes to culture by considering their structure (hierarchical or horizontal) and vice versa. Maintaining of the consistency between the two ensures that the employees are able to adapt to change.
Explicit and implicit messaging – What management intends may not be what employees perceive. Formal written and spoken materials and informal day-to-day language and behaviours at the workplace can either support or subvert a positive internal culture and can also affect how it is viewed externally. Dominant culture patterns which feel exclusionary to some employees can unintentionally come through in some messaging, yet such instances can be opportunities to build awareness and curiosity around underlying patterns which can be better aligned with intentions.
Strategic planning – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. The economic stability and growth of the organization relies on good organizational strategies. However, a strategy can only succeed if there is a culture in place that supports it. Culture is particularly important during times of change, such as management transition and succession.
Risk – Workplace cultures which lack basic ethics and legal compliance are at risk. Formal guidelines can help mitigate bad behaviour, but they are frequently not enough to prevent or stop it. Policies and practices work best when they reflect a strong and healthy culture. Otherwise, if they are not consistent with other messaging, they may be viewed as irrelevant, or even as obstacles, in achieving organizational goals.
Marketing · A distinct culture with aligned branding gives the organization competitive advantage in attracting and retaining employees and helps increase operational efficiency and quality. If organizational brand purpose and goals are understood by the employees, then they are able to reinforce them in their work.
Customers – Customers bring their own culturally informed biases, beliefs, and expectations to bear on the working relationships and outcomes of the organization. Employees with greater intercultural awareness have greater capacity to bridge potential cultural differences between the customers and the organization and evaluate choices which can impact the organizational values and practices.
Architecture culture – Increasing the ability of a larger number of organizations and other groups in architecture to clearly see and manage their own cultures help raise the bar for the collective architecture culture, increasing equity across the profession.
Perception – Identity and brand are quick to be damaged and slow to recover. Hence, for the success of each workplace and the profession as a whole, it is crucial to actively manage culture and how it is perceived internally and externally. An organization which is known for a culture of equitable inclusion is better positioned to attract and retain talent with diverse experiences and identities and to fulfill the needs of a range of the customers and partners and the industry.
Fig 2 Issues related to workplace culture
Factors for creating a positive workplace culture
There are nine critical factors as described below which are necessary for the organization to create and sustain a positive workplace culture. These are (i) to create a shared vision, (ii) to ensure that the management is committed to the process and model the agreed upon behaviours, (iii) to define the guiding behaviours which support the organizational values (iv) to conduct a gap analysis through a cultural audit, (v) to connect the need for change to business case and results, (vi) to remember that true behavioural change occurs at the emotional level, not at the intellectual level, (vii) to create a culture of coaching and rich in feedback, (viii) to remember that change requires a critical mass to negate old behaviours, and (ix) to align support systems to reinforce the desired culture (e.g. performance management, hiring/firing, training, and recognition etc.).
Creating of a shared vision with all of the employees is a critical first step. A shared vision helps reduce resistance to change and enables all the employees to contribute to success. Rather than working at cross purposes with each other, each employee contributes to the total success.
Commitment and modeling of the management when it comes to formalizing and communicating the vision are also critical. The role of the management in establishing and maintaining the culture at the workplace is vital. There has to be a recognition and belief in the mission and vision by the management otherwise the workplace culture is not positive or successful. Though the management establishes the mission, which is the introduction to visioning, it also need to establish the valued outcomes (specific performance outcomes) and the valued conditions, as well as desired future state.
For a culture to survive and thrive, it is generally accepted that managers in the organization need to show certain behaviours. Change-oriented leadership behaviours include tuning in to the environment, challenging the prevailing wisdom, communicating a compelling aspiration, building coalitions, transferring ownership to a working team, learning to persevere, making everyone important to the organization.
However, management cannot create a positive culture alone. It is to provide the necessary conditions for sustaining momentum. This includes providing resources (financial and human resources, support systems, including a network of people), identifying competencies (new knowledge, skills and behaviour required for future cultural success) and establishing reinforcing behaviours by linking rewards to desired behaviours.
Two additional steps to consider in creating a positive workplace culture are (i) to establish an environment which supports and nurtures two-way and up-and-down communication, and (ii) to create a diverse workplace which values both commonalities and differences. Without good communication modeled by the management and reinforced and rewarded by the organization, little of the initiative can succeed.
Overall, the ideal workplace culture is to be both strong and healthy. Building a strong culture depends on two things namely (i) having a clear culture which everyone can articulate, and (ii) continually aligning employees and processes with that culture. Building a healthy workplace culture depends on the engagement of its employees, which deepens when diverse needs and thoughts are recognized, included, and influence decision-making. Factors in a workplace interact in such complex ways that it can be hard to track the effects of any one change. It is necessary to think of creating a clear, aligned, and engaged culture as incrementally designing those factors into a parametric system. Relationships between elements become intentional, so that when something in the workplace is changed, other related factors shift appropriately. Otherwise, without a strong workplace culture, changes in the organization are difficult and tedious to implement. Additionally, without a healthy workplace culture, changes are more likely to have an inequitable impact across the group and can inadvertently be of advantage to those with dominant identities at the expense of others.