14 March 2018 / 9:44 am

What does workplace culture really mean?

Sally Wynn-Williams, a director of HR company Brannigans, looks at the different facets that contribute to a good culture at work.

The phrase “workplace culture” is often bandied about, but what does it really mean?

An organisation’s culture is its character and personality; it’s the sum total of all of its parts – values, traditions, behaviours, attitudes. Most importantly its what happens when a leader steps out of the office. How does the team continue to interact with each other and your customers the leader’s back is turned?

Workplace Culture is important because it either strengthens or undermines your business objectives and what you are trying to achieve. Your culture matters because it:

  • Drives engagement and motivates employees to give discretionary effort
  • Attracts the best talent into your brand. You want to hire the best people in the market, it helps to be able to clearly communicate your culture and how you choose to interact with each other.
    • Bonus fact: Keep in mind, when you can clearly communicate your culture, you can also help candidates select NOT to work for you when your culture doesn’t resonate with them!
  • Affects your financial performance – organisations with strong cultures outperform their competitors
  • Impacts employee satisfaction and happiness which in turn increases innovation and productivity
  • Retains the best talent in highly competitive markets
  • Creates a great place to work for all of your employees


Successful companies keep their culture front of mind and work on it frequently and consistently. To understand more about your current workplace culture, you can observe how your team is interacting in the office, at meetings, and in discussions. Workplace culture can be discussed during regular one on one meetings and yearly engagement surveys. The bottom line is, do not underestimate the significance of defining and maintaining your workplace culture as an important objective in your business strategy.

Here’s a good example of how one company breathes workplace culture.

Following a four year journey to better its workplace culture, a manufacturing company has improved employee engagement to the point where there is good participation in initiatives, productivity and demonstrable “happy staff.”  Visitors regularly comment on the positive feel within the workplace. Culture is a key part of the brand and the company attracts high quality talent into managerial positions.  All job descriptions align with and support the company culture and competencies are also geared to support the behaviours that support the culture.  Having a robust thriving culture gives staff the framework and foundation to talk about “above the line” (acceptable) behaviour and “below the line” (unacceptable) behaviour.

In my view, organisations can quite reasonably expect all employees, at all levels, to demonstrate and build on the culture.  At Brannigans, for example, we discuss acceptable ‘Brannigans behaviours’ as part of our new employee training that helps us keep our culture relevant. We also review our culture documents annually at a team strategy meeting and with internal focus groups.  We look at building a sustaining and enduring culture as a journey that requires every employee to be mindful to protect and build the culture at all times.  Culture is fragile and can be easily damaged so it’s important to think about “what you do all the time, every day” that will keep your culture positive.  It really is the little things that matter.