We might not all use the same words to define what it means to have a “great company culture.” However, we all seem to know when we’re working in one. And most of us have had enough jobs and work experience to know how important a positive workplace culture can be.
Spending your days in a workplace with a toxic company culture leaves you feeling drained and looking for other employment at the nearest opportunity. Working in a great company culture, though, has the opposite effect. It energizes you and keeps you continually coming back for more.
Company culture is just as valuable to employers as it is to employees. After all, an engaged and happy workplace is generally more productive and better at solving problems.
So, how do you know whether your own workplace has a culture that energizes and inspires employees instead of dragging them down?
In our experience, employees at companies with great cultures exhibit the following behaviors.
1. Employees are free to disagree
It might seem like the best company cultures would be mostly free from conflict and disagreement.
But as we wrote in our post about the importance of cognitive diversity, the ability of your employees to approach problems from different perspectives is a huge benefit — and a sign of a healthy company culture.
That’s because in healthy workplaces, everyone feels welcome. And for people to feel welcome, they have to feel that their own voice and opinions are being heard and appreciated. All of those different perspectives will inevitably lead to some disagreements.
There’s a big difference between healthy conflict and toxic conflict. (Learn more in this post: A 3-Part Strategy for Handling Workplace Conflict.)
But if employees feel the freedom to respectfully disagree with colleagues, it means they believe it’s worth speaking up because they will be listened to. It means that they feel safe sharing opinions, and that doing so won’t damage their career or result in insults or other denigrations.
That’s definitely a good sign.
2. Employees report problems without hesitation
Again, it can feel a little counterintuitive that in a healthy workplace culture, employees should frequently point out problems and deliver bad news.
But the fact is that every workplace has problems, occasional bad news, and critical outlooks. In unhealthy workplaces, this bad news and criticism never sees the light of day. This is usually for one of the following reasons:
- Employees don’t feel comfortable airing their complaints because of possible pushback.
- Employees don’t feel like their feedback will make a difference because no one will listen.
- Employees are so disengaged from their jobs that they don’t care much about solving the problems that they notice.
Just as your employees will feel more comfortable sharing personal information at work when they feel included, they’ll only feel comfortable delivering bad news in a healthy company culture.
So, if people are actually making complaints, formal and informal, that could be seen as a step toward healthy company culture.
Of course, if complaints aren’t handled properly at any point, it can do serious damage to your culture, too. As one of ELI’s expert facilitators put so eloquently in this blog post, each complaint is a gift.
Rather than dreading the complaint, or resisting it, we should instead welcome and receive it with a measure of gratitude and anticipation for what the concern represents: an opportunity to clarify, a chance to correct course, a vote of confidence.
3. Employees feel “at home” in their offices
Does it seem like your employees feel “at home” in their offices? Do they personalize their workspaces and display personal items such as photos near their desks? Do they have opinions about how the shared areas of their offices should look and feel?
If so, it’s a good sign for your company culture’s health.
Interestingly, researchers writing for The Harvard Business Review found that employees’ sense of “place identity” — or the sense that the office was “theirs” — was key to a host of other workplace benefits.
Employers who felt personally connected with their physical workplace felt more engaged with their work and a stronger connection with their employer. They even felt like they had better communication with their managers.
When you see signs that employees feel connected with their workspace, it tends to reveal a sense of those employees’ agency over their work and sense of identification with the company’s mission.
Plus, people simply won’t feel comfortable sharing their personal lives at work if the culture there is toxic. When employees feel comfortable sharing more of their own lives with their colleagues, including elements of their culture or background, it’s a sign that diversity is welcomed and that employees feel included.
4. Employees feel like they’re making a difference
Do your employees understand why their work matters? Are they on the same page about why what they’re doing is important to the world?
You’ve probably heard at least a few times by now that the Millennial generation, in particular, seeks out more meaning in their work than past generations. (Related article: How to Adapt Your Training for a Millennial Audience)
But regardless of your employees’ ages, when they feel they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves, they’ll feel more energized about their work.
When we feel that our work is helping others, it’s much easier to throw ourselves into that work.
Plenty of employers have taken this desire for purpose to heart, and have become more involved with nonprofits and volunteer work as a result. That work is great, but not required.
Good leaders will always make sure that employees understand why their work matters to their customers. Your product or service is improving their lives in some way that’s meaningful. Find that meaning and focus on it.
If employees have control over their own work and the sense that their work is helping something in the big picture, engagement is a likely result.
5. Employees stay longer (and promote job openings)
Finally, there’s one strong sign of a great company culture that’s easier to quantify than observing employee behavior. When companies have a great culture, they generally have no problem filling openings on their team.
That’s for two reasons. First of all, when people are happy with the company culture, they stay longer. There are fewer job openings to begin with.
But when there is an opening at a workplace with great company culture, employees spread the word about open positions with enthusiasm. They tell their friends and post on social media. They see it as a valuable opportunity.
In a workplace with a bad culture, on the other hand, employees certainly won’t want to share the job with their friends. After all, what kind of friend would bring their friends into a toxic work environment? In general, when employees don’t feel pride and ownership in the company, they keep job openings to themselves.
Does your company culture need improvement?
Culture isn’t something that can be forced, and culture change can’t necessarily happen overnight.
But if you’ve noticed that your workplace culture doesn’t exhibit many of the positive signs we mentioned in this article, there are steps you can take today to move things in the right direction.
The foundation of any welcoming, inclusive workplace is leaders’ willingness to understand and emphasize the importance of apologizing and listening. These are more than innate character traits or “soft skills.” They are important skills that can be taught and learned.
When your employees work alongside an expert who understands the best ways to teach your employees these skills in a way that lasts for the long-term, the results can be impressive.