What Does Workplace Culture Really Mean?

What really makes a great workplace culture? It's not just casual fridays

We're sure you've seen plenty of articles online about the best workplace cultures. They'll usually be a list of cool firms to work for, where people have fake grass underfoot, beers in the kitchen fridge, and a slide between floors. This isn't one of those articles.

Instead, we've pulled together our expertise in employee engagement, motivation and recognition to talk about what we think really makes a great workplace culture. We help our clients develop and improve the culture of their workplace every day – here's how we do it. And also, how we don't do it.

What workplace culture is

The things that really make a positive workplace culture – one that makes sure staff are happy, productive and keen to stay with you, that attracts new talent, and encourages people to perform at their best every single day, needs more than just window dressing. It needs the fundamental way an organisation works to have employee engagement and wellbeing at the centre. Here are four of the ingredients it needs to get right…

Mission, vision and values

This is the very core of an organisation's culture. What it stands for, what it's trying to achieve, and the impact it wants to make on the world, is more important for defining what a workplace is actually like than any aesthetic feature.

People need to feel like these values are important to them and their role, and like they're actively contributing towards them. And organisations need to actively live up to them too – they can't just be big, empty words. A company's mission, vision and values needs to guide everything it does, every single day.

When a company gets this right, you've got a whole team of people working towards the same thing, that are inspired to be their best to achieve it, and that believe in the organisation they work for.

Leadership and management

Culture needs to be led by the people at the top. This means that, more than anyone else, company leaders and managers must set a good example, and live up to the organisation's values more than anyone else.

When there's one rule for the top dogs and another for everyone else, it can be a really demotivating double standard.

Managers need to support their employees, and they need to be accessible. Management is more than just about supervising people and allocating work – it's about coaching and mentoring, recognising good performances in the right way, and putting a human face on the organisation that someone works for.

Practices and policies

The way people are expected to work has a huge influence on an organisation's culture – and making working practices more positive isn't as simple as relaxing the rules on dress code or flexible working, though that's often a good start.

Too much bureaucracy can also make a working culture a little less fun for everyone – when processes are complicated or convoluted, it can be hard to stay motivated. It's important to find a balance when it comes to the rules and regulations – the middle ground that ensures efficiency and quality without sacrificing flexibility and control for the individual.


Good communication is absolutely essential for a positive working environment. It needs to be honest and transparent, and to be more than just a one-way street. People shouldn't be left in the dark about what's going on where they work, and they should have the opportunity to talk to the people above them in the organisation when they need to.

It's important for the day-to-day, too – people need to know what's expected of them, both in their specific role, and as a part of the wider culture they play a part in. It really is good to talk!

CREATE A HAPPY AND HEALTHY COMPANY CULTURE TODAY Click here to access your free Step by Step Guide to discover what it takes  truly make a positive workplace culture

What workplace culture isn't

We’ve talked about what a workplace culture is, but here are a few things that are widely considered to be what makes it great. These are all fantastic things to provide in an organisation, yes – they definitely shouldn't be neglected, by any means. But they're not what really culture.

The environment

Colourful artwork, exposed brickwork, the arcade machine and pool table, the fancy coffee maker, the rooftop garden, the quirky meeting pods. All the colourful stuff that tries to make work more like home – without really realising that what people need at work is totally different to what they need at home.

Creating a bright and lively workplace can really contribute to a great culture – but it doesn't do the whole job itself. It's possible for people to love the building they work in while still being dissatisfied with their job.

The social scene

Team nights out, parties, post-work beers… the stuff that looks great on Instagram and tells the world that people are having a great time.

A great social scene should be a symptom of a positive workplace culture, not the cause. People will want to spend time together because they have genuine bonds. Building the great social scene without laying the foundations could mean many a night down the pub spent grumbling about the boss.

The holiday time

Plenty of companies – mostly trend-setting tech firms, such as Netflix, LinkedIn and Hubspot – are now giving unlimited holiday time as an employee perk. That's obviously not within reach for every business, but there's also options of a festive shutdown, or even just a few more days than the standard holiday allowance for companies looking to give employees some extra time off.

We think policies like this are great – the world's changing, and the traditional nine to five, five days a week won't be around for ever. But infinite holiday time alone isn't enough – especially if employees really feel like they need to get away from the office for their own good on the regular.

All of these things play a part in the culture of a workplace. But they're not the whole story. An organisation could have all of these things, but it could still have a culture that fails to engage and support employee – one that fails to help them be their best.

But that's not all…

These are the beginnings of a strong workplace culture – the fundamentals that any organisation really needs to get right. But there's still plenty more to think about.

Not only are there more factors that will have an impact on how your organisation works, it's also important to consider what impact you want your culture to have on your workplace, as well as how you're going to encourage people to get involved and actually buy into the culture you're creating.

The thing is, many businesses don't really have an understanding of what their culture is really like until an employee decides to leave. This is when their exit interview can bring to light issues bubbling under the surface you may not even have thought about!

Don't wait until it's too late. To discover how you can start improving your workplace culture. Click below to download our free E-book: The Essential Guide to Developing a Positive Workplace Culture. Inside you'll find a more detailed look at what makes a company a great place to work, with comments from our engagement experts and research on what today's employees are really looking for.

Download your free step by step guide to a happy and health company culture


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