Company culture – it’s talked about a lot, but what exactly is it? The standard for company culture is in constant flux, depending on industry, leadership, current events, and many other factors.
Although cultures vary from company to company, the overarching standard for company culture is crucially important to our day-to-day lives and larger society-wide issues inclusive of power dynamics, social justice, and equality.
Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Insights Report 2021 serves as a good foundation to understanding the current ebbs and flows of a company culture centered around ethics, respect, and inclusion. Throughout this piece, we’ll be referring to a few of the report’s most recent findings to emphasize the importance of understanding not only what company culture is, but how it impacts people both on the individual level and as a society.
What Exactly is Company Culture?
In its simplest form, company culture is the way an organization works. It could even be described as a company’s personality. Usually, this culture includes both the formal policies, procedures, and methods along with the informal and unspoken norms or expectations.
While there is not a catch-all definition of company culture, nor a model of exactly how a company culture should look, below are a few themes that positive company cultures try to embrace:
- Mindful interactions and decision-making between leadership and employees, employees and employees, and employees and external clients. These interactions are done with an awareness and understanding of power dynamics, equality and inclusion, positive management styles, and respectful communication.
- Standardized communication styles and norms, including appropriate disclosure of personal information or displays of emotion. This is typically most important in the rapport between colleagues, in both formal or informal social interactions and activities.
- Consistent work expectations and processes, in how work gets done in a company. Are there company-wide expectations to work until 6 pm? Does a company prefer Slack to email? Do employees work independently or on a team? Are employees expected to be accessible on weekends? Establishing and communicating all of this and more is an essential part of ensuring that employees feel psychologically safe and comfortable in establishing their routines and boundaries.
Why is Company Culture Important?
Company culture matters for a few reasons. It is important on a personal level: the average person spends one-third of their life at work, and they want to be happy. Now more than ever, employees want to work at companies with a strong, healthy, and positive company culture. Company culture and work-life balance are among the most valued drivers of job satisfaction.
Employees also want to belong, be understood, have clear expectations of their role and growth, and be treated with respect. All of these desires, among countless others, are determined by company culture.
Beyond just making work more enjoyable, a strong company culture directly impacts the productivity of employees, which in turn promotes the success of a company. Employees look for company culture when applying to jobs, often gauged during the interview process as the “fit” or “compatibility” between employee and workplace. Countless studies have proven that companies with a strong culture have higher employee engagement. This engagement, in turn, results in higher productivity.
Simply put, strong company culture creates happy employees. Those happy employees are more productive and, therefore, more profitable and successful for the company.
Where Are We Now?
Unfortunately, the standard for company cultures needs improving. The events of the past year have shone a brighter light on how far company cultures have yet to go. According to Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Insights Report 2021, “11% more employees cite ‘Weak Corporate Culture’ as the greatest source of workplace conflict". This is in part due to the isolation prompted by the new work-from-home environment most people are in.
Employees share that this new sense of isolation “weakens organizational norms and increases the risk of affinity bias, the tendency to connect and spend time with people who are ‘like me”. This disconnectedness can lead to more judgment and less understanding, both of which create friction and conflict in the workplace.
Further, there are still significant power dynamics in play at many workplaces. Emtrain’s report has also found that there was an 11% drop of employees who would say “no” to unreasonable requests from management and that 44% of employees are not confident that management would take a reported complaint seriously – a full 7% higher from 2019.
These statistics indicate that there is a distrust between management and employees in many workplaces, in addition to an overall sense of weak corporate culture – both of which are driving employee dissatisfaction and underperformance. It shows that more work needs to be done to offset the consequences of the past year and improve communication and mutual respect.
Now for the good news!
Significant strides have been made in 2020-2021 that help promote good company culture. In 2020-2021, 18% more individuals committed to being an upstander, which is defined as “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied”. This is a powerful descriptor and goes much further than making a “vague commitment like ‘being more respectful of others”, as highlighted in the report.
In addition to this personal commitment, “7% more employees say they have a good understanding of their organizations’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals”. This indicates that diversity and inclusion investments are starting to make a tangible impact within company cultures. It also means that these values are known and understood by employees, rather than being just top-level rhetoric.
Additionally, there was “an 18.5% increase in the number of people who said they would take proactive measures when they witnessed toxic situations”. A large part of this increase stems from the 2020 resurgence of social justice movements across the country, with both the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise in hate speech and crimes against those of Asian descent, both of which are at the forefront of people’s minds.
Finally, the report shows that empathy and communication skills have increased – a full 15.9% more employees agreed with the statement “people in my workplace show empathy”. Communication has also improved, with many employees indicating that “communication through technology is improving, with fewer misunderstandings overall.” This is something to thank COVID-19 and remote work for, as the increase of communication via technology has reached an all-time high.
The findings here from the Workplace Culture Insights Report 2021 show us that company culture is a bit of a mixed bag. Despite some amazing strides, there is more work to be done.
What Does a Good Company Culture Look Like?
If company culture is important, how can we get there? Good company culture is subjective and will vary across industries. However, there are a few unifying features of good company culture to strive for:
- Clarity of company culture – a company with a strong culture will define and articulate what its values, mission, and goals are. All employees should know what their company is all about, and buy into that vision.
- Unity around company culture – company culture needs to be clear and understood by those who work there, and it also needs to be enforced. Management needs to be aware of what is happening at all levels so that they can direct and coach employees to work in line with the previously-defined culture and goals of the organization.
- Growth in company culture – as the Emtrain statistics outlined earlier have shown us, employees and companies are already changing their attitudes and behaviors in response to current events like the Black Lives Matter social justice movement. This is growth, and it’s important for companies to be willing to change and grow.
While these elements are most essential, we also know that a good company includes these things at the core of its culture: respect between colleagues, strong leadership, clarity in purpose and vision, and a commitment to development and growth.
Who is Responsible for Company Culture?
We now understand what company culture is, why it’s important, and where we currently are in our workforce. But who is responsible? Who makes it happen?
We all do. We all contribute to company culture.
Of course, leadership and those in positions of power set the tone and priorities in a workplace. But it is the responsibility of all employees to uphold or break that. A leader can put a company on a path – whether right or wrong – but it is the employees who will choose to stick to it and maintain the status quo, or push to find another direction if need be.
We’ve already seen that many employees are committing to being upstanders to their colleagues in the workplace. This is what drives company culture change: the willingness to stand up for one another and set the tone for the place you work in.
The Emtrain report shows that there was a “7% decline in employees’ belief that their co-workers can accurately pick up on the mood in the room. This is a key measure of Social Aptitude—a core competency to creating respectful workplace cultures.”
Social aptitude is, essentially, having social skills. We know intuitively how important that is in the workplace. If there is a decline in social aptitude, it is harder for colleagues to work together to build a strong company culture.
The fact that trust in social aptitude is falling could be indicative of a year with less interaction between colleagues, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work. As we look next at how to build a strong company culture, social aptitude will be of paramount importance and leaders will need to focus on building and fostering relationships.
How to Build a Strong Company Culture
If it were as easy as steps 1, 2, 3, then all companies would have an amazing company culture. But, building a strong culture is much more of an art than a science. However, there are some real, tangible steps to take when looking to build a strong company culture:
- Arm yourself with information. The Workplace Culture Insights Report 2021 has highlighted some important trends in current workplace culture. We know that employees are becoming more empathetic and showing up for each other as upstanders. Yet, we also know that power dynamics are still at play, with many employees feeling that their managers make unreasonable demands. Listening to employee feedback about these types of issues will help you further enhance company culture by rooting out issues. As Sarah Castle, People & Talent Development Lead at Cypress.io, stated in a recent AllVoices webinar, “the culture of your company is based on the worst behavior that is tolerated.” Identify your company’s worst and best behaviors, and think about what strategies you can implement to augment the positive and change the negative.
- Get clear on what you want. The best company cultures happen when there is a concerted effort in building a positive culture. While some aspects happen organically, it takes effort and direction to build something strong. Get clear on what your company is all about and what it will take to infuse that into each aspect of your business, from employee recruitment and retention to customer service, to finance.
- Recognize it is a team effort. Many aspects are set by those with influence and power, and leading by example is absolutely necessary. However, company culture cannot exist in a vacuum, at only one level of the company. The best leaders will involve their employees, listen to their concerns and ideas, and really include them in the process.
A Way Forward
Company culture matters to both the individual and to our society. The Workplace Culture Insights Report 2021 gave us some tools to use to dig deep, look inward, and figure out just what is needed to make a positive company culture. When it comes down to it, good company culture is one where leaders lead, colleagues respect one another, and growth is prioritized.
The way forward is to prioritize company culture – it’s just too important to forget.
How Can AllVoices Help?
As we prepare to transition into a post-COVID-19 world, it’s clear that cultures of the past need improving. But, taking advantage of this opportunity for a new or refreshed company culture, in considering the new norms to come, will ensure that your company and its employees are set up for success. With the AllVoices platform, your team can proactively improve workplace culture and give employees an anonymous way to report or voice their concerns. The incredibly user-friendly design encourages employees to provide feedback and allows for easy and comprehensive case management. AllVoices allows you to check the box of collecting employee insight or concerns and take it a step further- genuinely benefit from the honest feedback and voices of your employees.