The term “workplace culture” has become a common catchphrase and is used to praise or demonise organisations (Google is ‘good’, unless you’re an employee who has sent a staff-wide memo about certain workplace policies… and Uber is bad — you get the picture). But what does it really mean? More importantly, how can you harness culture to improve your organisation?

Think of culture as an organisation’s unique personality, a set of shared values or assumptions. It includes employee perspectives, the organisation’s mission, values, vision, expectations, and work atmosphere. The reality is, healthy organisational cultures promote better working habits and happier employees. And happy employees are more productive and create a better brand in the market

Having happy and healthy employees decreases staff turnover, reduces absenteeism, and increases productivity (i.e. less time spent playing Sudoku or Instagramming during work hours). Don’t just take our word for it though — a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that happy employees are 31% more productive and three times more creative than their unhappy colleagues.

Caring about employee welfare

There are three key things business leaders and people managers should focus on to enhance organisational culture and reap the benefits of all those happy, creative, and productive employees (*cue Oompa Loompa imagery here*).

  • Employees’ physical health
  • Employees’ emotional well-being; and
  • Employees’ work-life balance.

Implementing programs that demonstrate an organisation’s genuine commitment to these three elements will help employees feel cared for and ultimately promote a better workplace culture.

Bootcamps, mindfulness seminars, and flexible working arrangements are all good ways to promote a positive workplace culture. And the benefits of an Olivia Newton-John style “Let’s get physical” aerobics program should not be underestimated!

Keeping employees engaged

The other key component to keeping your staff smiling is measuring engagement. For example, the Netflix management team report that they have scheduled one-on-one meetings with all of their staff on a regular basis. This allows management to have a good understanding of what is going on at all levels of their business, and makes employees feel listened to and that they are genuinely contributing to the success of the business.

Keeping track of what’s happening with your employees is also an important part of engagement (and no, we aren’t advocating employee micro-chipping). Tracking employee turnover and absenteeism is an easy way to identify whether you have a problem. Too many employees going AWOL equals low productivity and probably indicates a culture problem. Engagement surveys and similar analytical tools are a good way to drill down into the detail of what can be improved in your workplace culture — and there are always ways to improve!

The power of culture

If you’ve already addressed these priorities, these five key things should stand out within your organisation. If you can claim each of these “culture hallmarks”, you know that you’re a Willy Wonka factory and not a Slugworth’s.

1. Keeping the mission at heart

An organisation’s culture has to establish a clear set of priorities which align to the organisation’s overall goals. As a great example, Facebook’s mission is to “bring the world closer together”. This is a simple message that people can connect with at all levels.

Employees who keep their core mission at heart will be more likely to stick with it, helping the organisation stay on track with its identity and purpose. Organisations with a strong purpose can encourage more individuals to embrace and embody that vision.

2. Encouraging passion

Creating the ideal working environment requires people who feel truly invested in their role. If you create a culture that your employees really love, they’ll start viewing their workplace as an extension of their home, and will feel both excited and passionate about the work that they’re doing.

To be clear, we are not encouraging workplace romances — we want to evoke passion for the organisation, not passion for each other!

3. Making your brand stand out

Maintaining a great internal organisational culture can develop a distinguishing reputation for your brand that customers will see and appreciate. For example, if you pride yourself on being informal and conversational, your customer service reps, for example, will be more conversational and friendly with customers, who in turn will see your brand as more casual and approachable. Essentially, it becomes a virtuous cycle of mutual reinforcement.

Unique brands tend to have an edge over brands that blend in with the competition, so the stronger your culture is, the stronger your brand can perform.

4. Attracting new talent

Sure, you can spend money to post more job ads, hire professional recruiters, or head-hunt at professional networking events, but sometimes the in-bound approach is better. If you have a well-established organisational culture (and a great reputation to match), talented people will naturally seek you out. Who doesn’t want to be wanted?!

This is particularly effective because talented candidates know their worth and are picky about choosing an employer. If your culture doesn’t impress they’ll move on, leaving you with candidates who either see themselves as a good cultural fit, or those who don’t care about culture at all (warning!).

5. Retaining employees

A revolving door of good employees is demotivating and depressing for everyone in the business, which means it has a “conducive” impact. The more people leave, the more people will want to leave.

The good news is, it can go the other way too. The stronger your culture is, the less likely your employees will want to leave. And the more your employees stick around, the better your culture can flourish. The key is finding a “core team” of people who are representative of and are accountable for culture, and keeping them happy and motivated as your organisation grows.

This article was first published in peoplecorp on 28th August 2017. The peoplecorp online version of this article is available here.