Workplace Culture Guide


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workplace culture guide
Workplace culture overview

Workplace culture overview

Last year, we created an extensive report into the value of company culture and its impact on the wider SME economy. This is the first in a series of espresso versions of the original – short and sweet but brimming with information.

So, if you are having a coffee break, pause the inbox and immerse yourself in what culture really means for businesses.

What is company culture?

Workplace culture is the environment that an organisation creates for its employees. It is the mix of an organisation's leadership, values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviours and attitudes that contribute to the emotional and relational environment of the workplace.

The culture of a business permeates everything it does and stands for. It’s the way people treat each other, how they espouse company values and standards, it’s the feel of the work environment – it underpins how things get done. And it matters a hell of a lot. Last year alone poor company culture cost the UK economy more than £23.6 billion.

Professor Edgar Schiens Culture Model-min (1)-1Essentially, your company culture frames your potential, defines your possibilities and overall vision. It’s how things get done in your business.

A truly positive company culture has deep roots that transcend supeficial values. In fact, some people speak of peeling an onion to explain how to really understand organisational culture. The above image shows Professor Edgar Schein’s Culture Model, identifying three distinct layers of culture.

Business culture and strategy

why culture espresso report image-minHaving defined company culture, it’s important to identify how this relates to business strategy and, in turn, facilitates productivity and growth.

Companies that focus on developing a culture where employees feel engaged, empowered and appreciated, and where people feel their work is meaningful, create a workforce with a high sense of purpose. This reinforces the self-esteem and cofidence of individuals and teams, motivating them to achieve more.

It is now widely recognised that human drivers – creativity, growth, meaning, purpose – are far more effective than extrinsic drivers, such as salary and bonus in terms of engaging and motivating employees.

Turning to our own research, we identified the outcomes that SME leaders anticipate from developing a positive workplace culture – including 60% who envisaged better levels of customer service and satisfaction; 55% who anticipated improved employee performance and productivity and 49% who expected to see more ideas coming from their employees.

The message is very clear. Company culture is as important as business strategy when it comes to productivity, growth and long-term success.

Company culture and leadership

Why Culture - Harvard Business Revew quote-minFor an organisation to successfully create and maintain a positive company culture, leaders must be clear on what they want from people, how this relates to company objectives and values and then communicate this consistently.

The story of culture is fundamentally intertwined with leadership. This is as true for small businesses as it is for larger organisations.

As a business grows and the number of employees increases, leaders must focus on ensuring their values and philosophy are communicated to new people as well as existing personnel. This is central to every employee’s understanding of (and inclusion in) a company’s culture. To achieve this, leaders initially need to establish objectives for building and maintaining a positive company culture.

Toxic workplace culture

Organisational politics and a toxic workplace culture could be harming your business more than you think.

In our recent culture economy report, we found that poor company culture is costing UK businesses a massive £20.2 billion per year.

So, if you’ve been operating with your focus purely on the bottom line, then chances are you’re also growing a toxic culture.

Don't worry, that means you are now in the right place. We're shining a light on the typical toxic pitfalls that can occur in the workplace.

Check it out and start implementing change. 


Is your workplace culture toxic?

In most cases, a toxic company culture evolves insidiously. Typically, this falls into two categories:

  • results-focused leadership (i.e. culture wasn't deemed as an important investment strategy from the offset), or

  • company culture immaturity (i.e. culture is being looked at but implementing a healthy one is still very much 'in progress').

So, what are the signs that your company culture is turning toxic?


Communication is non-existent

Poor communication in any business leads to a general feeling of nervousness and fear among employees. A lack of clear communication also accelerates gossip. Taboos against speaking up have a further negative influence.


Disrespectful or weak leadership

Incivility and bullying from the boss are sure signs that your company has a negative culture. Creating a fearful environment, it's true that disrespect breeds disrespect. Bullying and a culture of blame doesn’t encourage accountability, respect or collaboration.

Even weak leadership can be the cause of a toxic company culture. With no sense of direction, enthusiasm across the board wanes. This leads to apathy and poor performance.



When employees get treated differently in terms of pay, opportunities and promotions, or are on the receiving end of discrimination, sexual harassment and unprofessional behaviour, you can be sure your company culture is toxic.



A lack of trust by leadership leads to inflexible working practices. If employers lack empathy and offer no flexibility, employees stop caring as well.


Micro-management and zero praise

People are disempowered when they aren’t trusted to do their job. Micromanagement kills the concept of opportunity because staff are too afraid to take risks, even though those risks could be advantageous or present mistakes that instigate a change for the better.

People at work need a certain level of autonomy. Employees need genuine praise. A disregard of feedback and ideas is another clear sign of a bad company culture.

A broken culture isn't good for anyone. A good company culture is good for business, employees and the community. And it's a powerful vehicle for social change.

If you need HR support, our partners are listed by region in this UK directory.

What next?

Our recommended takeaways to start thinking about your own culture:

  • Start with the facts
    Using the most authentic approach for your business, whether surveys or face-to-face chats, gather as much information as you can on your companies culture.
  • Think about purpose
    How can you make all aspects of your business operations part of a meaningful mission? Think about the hooks that are true to your organisation that really engages employees
  • Make yourself available
    Make yourself available to employees and strive to lead by example. Engaging with concerns and issues will build confidence and trust


Why culture espresso report 2-minWhy culture espresso report 3-min


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