For so long, businesses have largely been defined by the products or services they offer. But in the age of social media, people can get a real glimpse behind each organization’s curtain and see the workplace culture for themselves. This can be a double-edged sword—positive coverage of a company can quickly turn less favorable in our transparent world. 

Consumer perception is important, but even more significant is employee experience. With increasing visibility in many aspects of business, building a better workplace culture is more important than ever. 

What is workplace culture?

Simply put, workplace culture is the environment in which everyone, from leadership on, carries out their work. That environment is created by company values—those principles that build and drive business—and disseminated through workplace policies and procedures (the behaviors of a company). It is also known as corporate culture, organizational culture, and company culture. 

Whatever its name, the culture of any given workplace is an embodiment of the leaders’ philosophy. When created with care and deliberation, workplace culture can have a hugely positive impact on employees and customers. 

So, how exactly  is workplace culture so important? 

Work impacts physical wellbeing. A 2017 assessment of 228 studies found that overly long work hours can increase mortality by nearly 20%, and a demanding job can raise the odds of an illness as diagnosed by a doctor by 35%. When business is bad for health, that’s not good for culture. 

If business leaders know the potential strains of work, they can address ways to help or prevent this through healthy workplace policies. A negative atmosphere at work can lead to worsened mental and physical conditions, which in turn can lead to lost profits. There are real consequences of inadequately addressing health at work. 

Work culture can affect financial success. This one seems obvious, but looking at the numbers shows just how much workplace culture can influence finances. A 2020 study found that nearly 42 million workers voluntarily left their jobs, and that this number has risen 2 million annually for the past four years. And all this turnover is costing companies—$630 billion for 2019 alone. With a negative workplace culture, businesses risk employees leaving and all the attendant costs—financial and otherwise. High employee retention is one sign of a positive workplace culture.   

Conflict causes good employees to leave. A 2020 study reveals that discord at work has caused 29% of employees report to leave their workplace. With conditions that lead to tension and poor conflict-management procedures, companies risk losing a significant number of workers. A healthy workplace culture promotes solutions to conflict rather than exacerbate or ignore them. 

Productivity, creativity and profits all increase under positive workplace conditions. Employees are happier when they feel supported and engaged at work. And in turn, happier employees are more productive ones. When employees have a purpose for showing up, and enjoy what they do, they will work more effectively. In a good work environment, people can focus on their jobs rather than conflict or other tensions. 

Best practices for creating a positive workplace culture

The question, then, is: How exactly can companies achieve and maintain a supportive and positive workplace culture? Business leaders along with HR can take meaningful steps to create healthy workplaces, all the while maintaining their unique brand.  

Start with surveying. A great place to start building a positive culture is by understanding the existing one. First, start with the company’s mission statement and assess where the workplace aligns. Too often, the foundational values can get lost in the day-to-day operations of work. 

Then, check in with staff. A survey that employees could fill out anonymously might reveal areas to improve. Even more significantly, set up one-on-one conversations with employees. This shows a real willingness to listen as well as provide a place for employees to share how they view their work. Whether done remote or in person, use open-ended questions to facilitate productive conversations. Reiterate through all of this a commitment to make the workplace the best one possible. 

Create a culture of health—mental and physical. By investing in the mental and physical wellbeing of employees, business leaders prove their investment in them and the company itself. Workplace wellness programs, in particular, have been associated with a number of positive outcomes like less absenteeism and increased productivity. Aspects of these programs could include fitness incentives, classes on health, and a healthy work environment created through availability of healthy snacks. 

Addressing mental health, in particular, can have huge benefits at work. Companies can show their commitment to employee wellbeing with comprehensive mental health benefits and other programs that address mental health. Acknowledging the presence and effects of mental health can help to create a supportive work culture. This can be shown through newsletters, providing spaces for meditation and check-ins, and investing in training and other programs that support employee mental health.  

Look at the physical space. If you are starting to work at an office again, there is a lot that can be done in the office environment itself to improve the workplace atmosphere. Consider how your workspace currently supports employees—is there a communal space for socializing? Areas for collaboration? Perhaps more private areas for reflection are needed. Essentially, consider what more can be done to make the space inviting for employees, perhaps by asking for their own input.  

Think creatively, think uniquely. Although there are many concrete steps to create a positive work environment, a cookie-cutter approach won’t work in making a workplace culture that truly reflects each individual companies’ values. Consider what you want to highlight—is showing gratitude important? Perhaps institute a system of thank you notes or other forms of praise. To encourage creativity and play, take employees on field trips, or bring an unexpected speaker in to recharge batteries. Also, simply offering regular time to be creative at work can do much to encourage innovation. 

It might benefit you to think regionally, too, in creating a positive culture. Are there other local businesses or organizations to partner up with for employee education or charitable programming? What could a truly unique workplace culture look like?

Embrace the future. Of course, just as every other aspect of work has taken on a new dimension in 2020, so too has workplace culture. Think of ways to carry your company values to a remote world. What could community-building look like without physical spaces? How can employees be supported as they encounter new physical and mental health challenges brought on by COVID-19? 

Spring Health understands that creating a positive workplace culture requires creating a supportive environment for employees’ mental well-being. Our comprehensive initial assessment matches employees with the best individualized plan to address their mental health needs. To learn more about how Spring Health can help, contact us to request a demo. 

Nora Hickey
Nora is a Spring Health staff writer.

November 20, 2020