Importance of Work Culture

Does your work culture promote a respectful dialogue in situations of strife or is it common for you to see colleagues letting their tempers have the better of them in disagreements?

How do you handle your interaction with a young colleague who’s joined your small team straight from his management school so is accustomed to angrypresenting his argument by raising his voice as in a peer discussion in college or by switching himself off as in accountability questioning at home?

And, how do you make a mature team member see reason for she considers any contrary viewpoint as an unacceptable defeat and lets her displeasure known rather loudly?

I won’t be surprised if your answer is that you end up matching their screams with yours in order to be heard. And, I’d say you do this because you’re merely following your work culture.

Raising your voice to drown others would be an instinctive behavioural choice made during sibling, parental or marital disagreements at home so it’d make inroads into workplace interaction if the place doesn’t have its own recognised culture.  Resultantly, workplace culture would be defined by individual behavioural traits and not a set of thought out ethos applying to all. This is particularly true of small teams of young or mature professionals coming together to make business happen, but isn’t restricted to them. We’ve all come across customer care officers in banks or airports or government offices who are happily engaged in a personal chatter at the cost of our time and we know that’s because customer service isn’t emphasized enough as part of their work culture.

So, how should we define our work culture?

I quite agree with the 7 point-guideline HR Guru Susan M. Heathfield has shared in her article, and I’ve the following additional thoughts from my own experience from different workplaces:

  1. Culture is reflected by the workplace décor – that’s right. Artwork on display, reception desk, guest waiting area, boxed workstations offering privacy vs open seating, flexibility accorded for personalizing workspace etc. convey a certain message to visitors and employees themselves about the way the organisation wants to be known.
  2. Culture is communicated through employee dress code – the label of smart casuals used in policy manuals would be interpreted differently by individuals from diverse cultures so recommended ensembles are best spelt out in specific terms. I’d quite liked the idea of a corporate’s policy manual specifying the sort of footwear that would be unacceptable at work. Being specific is good.
  3. Culture is understood by one and all through an organisation’s elaborated vision, mission and values – these statements aren’t just for websites on stationery; they communicate a certain message on what the organisation and leadership stand for. They also guide the workforce so should be formulated with care.
  4. Culture is learnt through role models – making all individuals appreciative of work culture is necessary as they propagate the message further.
  5. Culture is moulded through positive and negative reinforcement – by showing tolerance for an employee’s casual attire or for a supervisor’s judgemental remarks in an open meeting or a shouting match in any forum would damage any efforts made to establish a formal work culture promoting respect for individual viewpoint.
  6. Culture has to tie in with business objectives – this advice would have a bearing on wide-ranging aspects such as the verbal or written language used by employees, document presentation and sharing with internal or external customers, internal record management, work models offered,  performance measurement criteria, employee attire as also how colleagues address or interact with each other. Configuration of these elements must be considered in the interest of overall productivity and business directions.
  7. Culture definition must be inclusive – in the end, we believe in human dignity, and the work culture has to promote respect for every individual irrespective of race or title while keeping a workplace apolitical.

Do share your own take on planning workplace culture. Has it varied for you remarkably from one place to another? Or, shaped your own approach towards work or relationships?

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