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Having a strong work culture can make or break a job. But what does it mean? Can a company develop a work culture if it doesn’t have one?

As defined by Forbes, work culture means “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.” While a work culture is not a tangible thing (you can’t show up to an office and see it right in front of you), it is visible in how a company operates, how its team members treat each other, and what beliefs the leaders share. 

Work culture also goes beyond just how team members show up day-to-day (though that does play an important part, so it’s important to support behavioral health– more on that later!). It is an active, living thing, where each individual that is a part of the environment contributes to it and takes from it. For that reason, it’s important to encourage a healthy work culture and empower team members to uphold it.  

Importance of work culture 

A positive work culture has many benefits to both the employee and the company. It also has huge implications for the future of a company, as it impacts retention, hiring, and productivity. 

Recruiting and retention 

Culture has huge implications on hiring. In a survey, prospective employees said they would accept a lower salary if the cultural fit was right. Departments that had cultural alignment also had 30% less turnover. Companies with a strong work culture can see an increase in job applications and employee retention. 

Increased productivity

In the workplace, productivity is typically slowed by stress, disengagement from a bad culture, and a lack of loyalty. A Harvard Business Review article showed that positive work cultures are more productive due to an increased focus on wellbeing. When employees feel cared for and supported, they are able to show up and contribute their best work. 

Strong morale and lower absenteeism 

Absenteeism, or the pattern of absence from work without good reason, can be tied to poor culture. Making sure people are connected through a strong team environment can help them feel more engaged. A strong work culture can help employees  feel good about the work they’re doing and the company mission.

What are examples of work culture?

It’s clear that work culture is important in helping a company be successful. Each organization is unique in how they express their values and beliefs. The most successful companies not only have a strong work culture, but the results to back it up. 

Here are three companies that have a strong work culture:

  1. IBM

IBM’s founding chairman Thomas J. Watson Sr. is one of the first leaders to create a company culture in the early 20th century. Having just merged three companies, Watson thought of an ideology to connect them all. Today, its professional development scores are some of the best in the industry, with 83% of employees feeling like IBM gave them meaningful career advancement opportunities. 

  1. Patagonia 

Whether it’s reading resumes from the bottom-up to evaluate “culture add”, to embracing flexibility that is encapsulated in their phrase “Let My People Go Surfing”, Patagonia is known for its unconventional but positive work culture. It currently only as a 4% turnover rate, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average employee turnover rate was 47.2% in 2021. 

  1. Bolt

Fintech startup Bolt instituted a four-day workweek in January 2022 with great success. Job applications have increased by 30%, and 84% of Bolt employees said their work-life balance improved, with additional time to now spend with their friends, families, and on wellness.

Attributes of a strong work culture 

Creating a successful work culture doesn’t have to be anything as drastic as implementing a four-day workweek or operating with a flexibility-first approach. Just being mindful of how your team interacts and the structures in place can make a big difference. 

Consider the following attributes and see how your company treats each one:

Organizational structure – How are your departments and teams structured? How many levels are there of leadership? Is there a clear way to get guidance and feedback on any interpersonal and professional issues?

Collaboration – How do teams collaborate? What’s the process for seeking help on a task or project? What is expected of each person as they work together on something? Is there a process to recognize any successes or failures in these kinds of projects?

Communication – Is there a preferred method of communication? How do managers speak with their teams? How often do team members connect face-to-face? Is there time for employees to speak about items unrelated to work? Are they encouraged to do so?

Attitudes and behaviors – Is there a code of conduct? If so, what happens if the code of conduct is breached? How are complaints handled in a remote setting? How do leaders encourage good attitudes and behaviors in the workspace? What does that mean to them? Does the company also encourage employees to take care of their behavioral health and give them the means to do so?

How to start building a positive work culture 

You’ve reflected on the attributes of a strong work culture. Now, how do you go about building one?

First, align with your entire leadership team. What do you want to achieve and how can you achieve it? Make sure you’re aligned on your values and what makes your company cohesive, then share them far and wide so everyone is on the same page. Once you know your values, hire according to them and use them to guide all your decisions.

Take the time to get to know your team members too. Part of what makes a company strong are the strength of the relationships and connections that a team has. Go beyond what they just do for work, and get to know who they are as people. Airspeed’s Profiles are a great tool to start building culture by getting to know the person behind the screen. Instead of focusing just on day-to-day work, learn what your employees are passionate about – both at work and in their personal lives.

Remember, work culture is an ever-growing thing. If something isn’t working, it can change. As you’re making adjustments, garner feedback from team members and stakeholders and use it to evolve your company.

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