What Is Work Culture? How to Build a Positive Environment.

How to create a winning company culture that will attract candidates, retain top talent and launch your business on the path to success.
Product Marketing Manager
October 18, 2021
Updated: September 23, 2022
Product Marketing Manager
October 18, 2021
Updated: September 23, 2022

Your company culture is the shared set of values, beliefs and attitudes that guide your organization. It’s reflected in the way you treat your customers and employees. It impacts the types of candidates you attract for open positions. A strong work culture boosts productivity, decreases turnover and improves employee engagement

Work culture will naturally form within every organization and sometimes to the detriment of the business. Allowing negative behaviors and toxic attitudes to fester will cultivate an unfavorable work experience — and an expensive one too. Toxic workplace cultures cost U.S. employers $223 billion in turnover over a five year period, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

However, by being intentional with your core values and culture initiatives, you can create a positive work culture that will inspire your team and help your organization thrive.

How to Create a Positive Work Culture

  • Set clear departmental goals
  • Promote the organization’s goals
  • Allow for humor
  • Prioritize respect

Creating a positive work culture is possible even through the challenges of the pandemic. It turns out that 74 percent of American workers say their organization’s values helped guide them through the pandemic, even though 62 percent of human resource professionals noted it was difficult to maintain their work culture during the pandemic, according to a 2021 SHRM report.

Dawn Kawamoto contributed to this story.


Building A Culture Of Belonging

Watch our on demand webinar to hear from expert panelists about ways to build a culture of belonging at your organization, and the changes that you can make to be a fully inclusive employer.

What Is Work Culture?

Work culture grows and shifts with the circumstances. 

“It’s a living and breathing thing that’s evolving all the time,” J.C. Herrera, chief human resources officer at Sunnyvale, California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike told Built In.

It guides employees on what behaviors, expectations, and matters of importance are part of the company’s current ecosystem.

“People need to understand the culture so they know how to get their work done,” Herrera said, adding there are also micro work cultures within an organization from a management culture to an engineering culture to an employee culture.

Work culture is different from a company’s core values, which largely remain the same over time. For example, CrowdStrike is updating it’s core values because of massive growth —  the company has dramatically grown from under 400 people to now over 4,500.

But its original values of a fanatical focus on the customer, a high value on innovation and strong belief that anything can be accomplished together still remain as it updates its values, Herrera said.

“We went full circle on this thing and although our original values are roughly the same, it got a lot more organized in terms of how we talk about it,” he noted.


Your Customers Care About Your Work Culture

Work culture not only guides employees in the workplace, but it also guides customers on whether they want to do business with you.

Customers, for example, are not only checking out a company’s employee reviews on social media sites but also making direct inquiries in their discussions with sales teams.

“When we’re doing requests for proposals, potential customers will ask questions in the RFP. They’ll ask us to describe our culture. So it's been a part of some of the customers’ sales process,” Herrera said.


How to Create a Positive Work Culture

To get started building the company’s work culture of your dreams, first lay out your core values. These should be the foundation of everything that happens at your company and guide your organization’s evolution. Dedicate as much time as necessary to ensure everyone is aligned, and include leadership, long-term employees and HR representatives so all significant parties can weigh in. In the end, you should have a concise list of values that accurately reflect your current company culture and long-term goals.

Then, think about the type of work culture you want to create. Consider everything from the physical layout of the office to how frequently employees interact with their colleagues, managers and members of the C-Suite. From there, the real work begins. Here’s how to create a positive work environment that aligns with your values and prevent negativity from festering.


Best Practices for an Engaging Work Culture

Set Clear Departmental Goals 

Outline the objectives of each team so employees have tangible results to work toward. Not only will this help guide individual performance, but it will encourage collaboration between team members. Make sure there is room for feedback to adjust quotas and KPIs when needed. 

For example, if a team is continually reaching their objectives without breaking a sweat, you might want to modify their target goals to push production further. 

Promote the Organization’s Goals

In addition to setting departmental goals, make sure every employee is clear on the organization’s long-term objectives. This will help individuals cultivate a sense of professional purpose. Having a source of motivation beyond quarterly quotas will demonstrate the value each role has toward achieving the company’s mission.

Promote Diversity and Inclusivity 

Create a positive, inclusive work culture by welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and celebrating their differences. Encourage employees to share their pronouns with the rest of the team to promote inclusive language and consider establishing a committee to contribute to diversity initiatives. Work with the HR department to make diversity a part of your recruitment strategy and ensure diversity and inclusion continue to be foundational elements as your organization grows.

Allow for Humor 

Work has its stressful moments and being able to make a difficult situation more lighthearted is an invaluable skill. Of course, the ultimate goal should be to resolve the problem, but a fresh perspective and positive outlook is more productive than the alternative. As Dale Carnegie, an American writer and lecturer, said, “People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.” If you can afford to find the bright side and let your team know that you have their back, they’ll return the favor by working even harder.

Prioritize Respect 

Every individual should feel valued and heard, regardless of their status within the company. Interns offer a much greater advantage than being delegates for busy work, and new employees bring a fresh perspective. You never know where the next big idea will come from, so let every employee have a seat at the table and feel empowered to share their thoughts. 

Establish a Strict Zero Tolerance

Just as important as creating a welcoming environment is ensuring employees know their rights and individualities are protected within the workplace. A crucial facet of a positive work culture is providing employees with the opportunity to speak openly about issues they are facing — in and outside of the office — and have access to the support and resources they need. Make sure HR representatives have flexibility within their schedules to be available for personal conversations when needed, and consider implementing an anonymous sexual harassment hotline as a secure and private way for employees to report incidents in the workplace.

Create an Employee Recognition Program 

Recognize and reward employees for achieving outstanding results. Doing so will encourage employees to continue performing at impressive levels, and make them feel valued within the company. It will also motivate their peers to up their game, fostering a work culture of friendly competition that leads to high performance.

Accept and Utilize Your Employee’s Feedback 

In fact, try to change your perspective on feedback. Rather than considering it to be indicative of something you’re doing wrong, think of it as the opposite — your employees care so much about the organization and its success that they are trying to help make it better. They’re choosing to bring their pain points to your attention and it gives you the opportunity to fix them instead of the employee stewing over them and eventually leaving the company out of frustration. 

Be Flexible 

Life happens and things will get in the way. Employees shouldn’t fear repercussions for taking time to manage other emergencies or responsibilities outside of work. For example, if an employee is struggling to balance work  with their family life, try to figure out a compromise that allows them to be productive at work without sacrificing their personal life. You’ll earn the respect of your employees rather than the reputation of being unaccommodating and unapproachable. Not only that, but flexible schedules can help you attract elite candidates; 88 percent of people would consider a lower-paying job over a higher-paying job if it offered flexible hours.

Be Transparent 

Engaged employees invest their full selves into the success of the company, and they deserve your leadership team’s trust. Promote transparency and open communication between department heads, management and team members. Doing so will create a positive work culture where employees feel heard and valued. Consider implementing a recurring internal newsletter to share critical information with the team, and hold a monthly town hall meeting to make company-wide announcements that require more context.

Plan Social Outings 

Humans are social beings that crave interaction — despite the pandemic. Create an opportunity to get to know each other at work and outside of work to foster meaningful relationships between employees. You can keep it simple by having a hybrid Friday happy hour in the office while simultaneously offering remote workers an online presence at the party. Think about the types of events your team would most enjoy when coming up with new work culture ideas.


Work Culture Don’ts

Avoid Encouraging Employees to Work Through Lunch

While lunch breaks are not legally required, allowing employees to shut off their computer for 30 minutes to an hour each day helps create a positive work culture. Your team is not composed of robots, so expecting employees to continuously churn out quality work over the course of eight hours without breaks is unrealistic — and unhealthy. More than that, it suggests that employees are only valued for their work output, not as individuals. Regular breaks have actually been shown to improve productivity and 81 percent of employees who break for lunch on a daily basis report having a desire to actively contribute to their organization.

Don’t Reschedule One-On-Ones 

If you’ve set aside time to meet with an employee individually, do your best to honor that meeting, especially if something else comes up. Doing so will show you value and respect the individual’s time, and care about what they have to say.

Prevent Disengaged Employees From Hanging Around

Having an engaged workforce will help propel your company forward on its path to success, while disengaged employees will slow down progress. If you notice individuals who are counterproductive to your team’s success, pull them aside to discuss their behavior. If nothing improves after making an effort to positively address the situation, it is time to part ways and help them find another position more suited for their needs and goals. Sometimes disengaged employees are stuck in a rut professionally and just need a little support to get back on their feet.

Avoid Limiting Learning Opportunities to Job Descriptions 

Skill building is an important part of a positive work experience. Allow employees to pursue their passions, both in and outside of the office, and encourage information sharing between colleagues. This exchange of knowledge will lead to improved employee relationships, collaboration and camaraderie. 

Don’t Hire for Work Culture Fit 

A key part of creating a diverse community within the office is hiring for culture adds, not culture fits. The cultural add recruiting model means identifying candidates who share and embody your core values and who offer a unique perspective. You want to continue to grow and develop your work culture and company, so look for candidates who will productively add to your team, not necessarily fit into a mold.  

Never Tolerate Poor Managers  

Managers directly impact employee engagement and performance. In fact, 94 percent of employees with great managers report being more passionate about their work, according to a Predictive Index report. On the other end of the spectrum, 77 percent of employees with bad managers hope to leave their current jobs, the report stated. Managers interact with their direct reports most frequently, so it’s vital to make sure those individuals who are leading a team are doing so with conviction and in accordance with your core values. 

Don’t Expect HR to Do All of the Work

As hard as HR teams may try, work culture isn’t created by a handful of people. It’s a team effort and HR teams can’t be tasked with doing it alone. Positive cultures are created when everyone works together.  

Avoid Forcing It

Positive and fulfilling work cultures don’t just appear overnight. Keep to your values, listen to your employees, have some fun, and it will take shape organically. Work cultures that keep people happy and businesses thriving take time — it’s worth it.

Creating a positive work culture where everyone feels valued, welcomed and respected is vital to an organization’s success. Be sure to take your employee’s feedback into account and lean on them to help cultivate a great work experience.


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