What Is Company Culture?

A company’s culture is its personality.  This is not surprising considering that people can be an organization’s most important asset, or its most overbearing liability.

Casual or tense, encouraging or discouraging, competitive or content, and empowering or oppressive are just a few examples of how a firm’s culture can be described.

Well-known examples of casual organizations are Facebook and Google.  In both cases, the term “casual” refers to not only the way that employees and management interact with one another.  It also refers to each company’s dress code, workplace layout, and office decor.  Facebook’s casual atmosphere offers places where employees can “kick up [their] feet and relax, break a sweat on the outdoor skate park, [or] play some tunes on the office turn tables.”  Google’s casual atmosphere boasts video games, massage chairs, foosball , table tennis, an onsite gym, haircuts, and complimentary snacks and car washes.

By contrast, a tense or strict culture can refer to strict dress codes or stern enforcement of prescribed policies and procedures.  Think banking or upscale restaurants, for example.

A tense or strict culture can also refer to a psychologically oppressive atmosphere.  Current and former employees at corporate giants Amazon and Walmart have accused the companies of creating toxic workplace environments.  A group called The Former and Current Employees (FACE) of Amazon is an online group that reveals what they believe is a toxic culture at Amazon.  The group’s website has hundreds of complaints about high turnover, fear tactics, discrimination, and communication concerns, among others.  Walmart’s employees are in a similarly toxic environment.  In 2015, the company ranked 593 out of approximately 600 companies that were measured by the Reputation Institute.  And in June 2017, the retail company was accused of punishing employees who took sick days.

Why It Matters

A toxic workplace often results in low employee morale, low job satisfaction, higher-than-average absenteeism, decreased productivity, stressed employees, and high turnover.  Since it doesn’t take long for information to make it to those outside of an organization, a toxic workplace can also lower a company’s desirability for potential employees and hurt recruitment efforts.

You may have guessed that a positive workplace has the opposite effect of a toxic one.  Employees in these organizations tend to have higher morale and job satisfaction, low absenteeism, high levels of productivity, less employee stress, and low turnover.  Positions in these firms are also cherished, therefore, these firms tend to attract and acquire the more talented candidates.

Discover Your Company’s Culture

If you don’t already know your company’s culture, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your employees encouraged to be creative and bring ideas to your attention?
  • Does your firm consider how it performs in relation to competitors?
  • Are your employees competitive, or are they content to maintain the status quo?
  • Do you provide the necessary tools for your employees to freely do their jobs? Or are they heavily reliant upon your input as they complete tasks?
  • Are your employees satisfied?

If the answers to these questions lead you to believe that your workplace culture could use some improvement, you should take action to address each concern.  Addressing just one or two issues at a time will allow both you and your team to focus more intently on each step along the path toward improving your company’s culture.