What Exactly is Workplace Culture? The Unspoken Rules.

Eleanor Barlow

‘Workplace Culture’, otherwise known as ‘Organisational Culture,’ is an allusive term- namely because it signifies an invisible element of your organisation. Rather than a set of physical or measurable systems, the culture of an organisation represents a multitude of behaviours, ideas, feelings and beliefs. As these ideas, feelings and beliefs are, arguably, harder to monitor and measure than physical elements, it is equally as hard to analyse whether or not the workplace culture is working as it should.

faces on yellow balls


To many of us a good workplace culture is the impression of everything ‘fitting into place’, or when everything and everyone feels like they belong. You can’t place your finger on it but it ‘just feels right’. In interviews, the employer will often decide whether or not the potential employee would be a good ‘cultural fit’ within the group based on a multitude of factors. 

Now, this is where it gets… problematic.

Describing the workplace culture is rarely done. Often the ethos and “bubbly and upbeat atmosphere” will be mentioned in its place. The reason for this is that when an interviewer is establishing whether or not a possible candidate would suit the workplace culture or not, they are actually looking for someone who will reflect the current workplace. ‘Not least because we are known and familiar to ourselves…They feel familiar too, and safe. And those feelings of familiarity and security make us like ourselves more because we aren’t anxious. We belong.’ (Heffernan, Wilful Blindness, 2011, pp. 15-16). This is very much an unspoken practice, but whether we like it or not it is a prominent part of the interview process.

The problem with this, however, is that we can often reject difference because we are too comfortable in our own little cloud. More often than not, this selection process is done instinctively rather than purposefully. As Heffernan realised upon hiring a fresh new team, she had ‘hoped to hire people who would challenge [her] and each other, and who would invest the entire project with intellectual richness and vigour. [She, however,] selected liberal-arts graduates who were all female, spoke several languages and had birthdays within the same week in June. In other words, they were all like [her]’ (Wilful Blindness, 2011, pp. 15-16).

Twins in pink and blue

While these unspoken rules may be viewed as discriminatory, not only does the working environment shape a person, but the person equally shapes the working environment and, once hired, that individual will have a direct impact on those they work with. The company has to take this into consideration and hiring someone like themselves, over the unknown, will always feel like the safer option.

So, once you have been labelled as the right ‘cultural fit’ for an organisation, what are the elements that will affect your workplace culture? Well, when we think of the word culture, we often associate it with race and/or religion. Of course, if you are from China, you are going to bring a completely different set of knowledge and customs to the workplace, compared to the wealth of knowledge and customs a Scotsman would bring to the table. But employee race has very little to do with workplace culture as a whole.


multicultural toys


With every person comes their core beliefs, life experiences and the culture of their birth country. Not to mention the way they dress, their sexual orientation, the music they listen to, the art they like, the politics they support, their attitudes, how they act and interact with others, what their personality is like, their mannerisms, values, habits, and so on. Everything that has gone into making a person the person they are will impact on those around them, and it is the combination of all these varying factors that will, consequently, impact on your staff/ colleagues working relationships, working process, level of enjoyment at work, productivity, and level of morale.


Happy girl with tattoos


Not only can employees affect others around them, but those in higher management have a crucial role in influencing the culture of the workplace. Those with a greater level of autonomy are often able to shape how they want other colleagues to behave and therefore have, to a point, the ability to mould the culture of the workplace. If the boss, for instance, swears a lot each day, others may start to swear more than they usually would in emulation (as explored in our feature on belonging), which would change the whole dynamic of the workplace. This is why the phrase ‘role model’ gets thrown into every meeting, interview and CV. Employers want to hire those who will set a positive example for others and, consequently, enforce a positive working culture.


Man Stretching


Culture can also be learnt within an organisation. By interacting with those around us, we form connections and understandings with one another. We can adopt other mannerisms, other sayings and other habits. The personality of an individual is perhaps one of the most contagious elements within a workplace. If your boss is miserable, it is harder to be upbeat and joyous around them. If the organisation hires predominantly introverted people, the atmosphere of the office may appear more insular. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on what sort of atmosphere works best for you and your team.


hands and feet on grass


So, why is it important to get your working culture right from day one? Well once a certain atmosphere is created in an organisation it is hard to change it. If you want to change the culture, then you have to be able to change the behaviours of the employees, and altering a person’s behaviour is no easy task. If the right manners, understandings and practices are implemented from day one, however, you will create and develop an organisation that will blossom.

According to a survey conducted by TruPath, 64% of employees do not feel that they have a strong work culture within their organisation. This is where we can help. Here at Pansensic, we specialise in listening to, analysing, and understanding staff experience data. Not only can we identify aspects such as the level of morale, autonomy and staff engagement, but we pinpoint opportunities for employee development within your organisation. We can indicate what your workplace culture is actually like, highlight where  issues lie and, therefore, determine how to improve your business, boost productivity, and turn a greater profit.

We work with organisations from all over the world in a wide range of sectors. What they have in common is the understanding that the experiences of their customers, staff and stakeholders can provide game-changing insights. We don’t just summarise data but provide a real depth of insight that is more granular, more accurate and more actionable.

Contact the team today to see what Pansensic can do for you.


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