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Work Culture: What It Is, Why It Matters, & How to Build It

March 14, 2023

Your business's work culture is one of its most valuable assets. Get your culture right, and you'll be positioned to tackle challenges, overcome hurdles, and seize opportunities. Get it wrong, and even the most innovative products and services won't save your company.

Building culture at work isn't an overnight project nor a one-and-done activity at your executive off-site. It's a continuous effort that takes time, money, energy, and employee buy-in. Your workplace culture impacts everything from your hiring decisions to your sales ethics to even your decision to IPO or stay private. 

Below, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about culture in the workplace, including what it is, why it matters, and steps you can take (today) to improve it. 


What Is Work Culture?

Work culture is a collection of values, beliefs, behaviors, and expectations. It guides employees in their day-to-day interactions, and it also directs the company's decisions and business strategy.

Some businesses make the mistake of thinking workplace culture is defined by ping-pong tables, office snacks, and flexible time off. While culture will define your company's perks, your perks don't necessarily define your company's culture. Businesses with toxic cultures can still offer enticing benefits-sometimes even more so.

Merriam-Webster's work culture definition: “The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

For example, a workplace culture focused on profitability doesn't mind asking employees to work some weekends to finish the job. However, a workplace culture centered around work-life balance never lets the job interfere with or damage employees' lives outside the office.


Why Is the Culture at Work Important?

Your workplace culture supports employees and promotes the overall well-being of staff and the business. Having a positive work culture doesn't mean putting feelings before profits. Instead, it means being transparent with your values and building a team of individuals with harmonious beliefs and attitudes.

Here are a few reasons why workplace culture should be a top priority for your business:

  • 67% of leaders and employees said, "culture is more important than strategy or operations."
  • Disengaged employees are 2.8x more likely than engaged employees to leave a job for a better culture. 
  • 66% of employees believe positive cultures impact their work for the better every day.
  • 53% of employees say they experience culture through recognition and celebrations, and 69% would work harder if they received more recognition.

Work culture directly influences your employees' performance, engagement, and happiness—and those all impact your bottom line.


Can You Change Your Workplace Culture?

Yes, it's possible to change your workplace culture. However, getting your culture right from the get-go is much simpler than redesigning it down the road. 

According to Quantum Workplace research in 2022, 35% of employees believe their culture has changed dramatically over the last two years—and 23% say it's changed for the worse. Culture (like trust) is one of those things that takes years to build and days to lose. It's an investment that needs non-stop attention and nourishment.

If you don't like your workplace's culture (or the direction it's heading), you still have time to pivot. It's going to take commitment from everyone—from your board members to your frontline employees—but it's possible.


What Words Do You Want to Describe the Culture at Your Work?

Before you can build the ideal culture at your workplace, you need to define what it looks like. Top-notch culture doesn't look the same everywhere—one person's treasured culture could be another's nightmare.

For example, you might want a laid-back environment of trust and autonomy. However, potential employees might be looking for an ambitious company with a culture of drive and aspirations.

So, before you do anything else, define what culture you want at your workplace.

First, try to think of words you'd want to describe the culture at your work. Here's a list of adjectives to consider:


  • Fun
  • Diverse
  • Innovative
  • Honest
  • Happy
  • Hungry
  • Humble
  • Driven
  • Customer-first
  • Healthy
  • Trusting
  • Accountable
  • Appreciative
  • Friendly
  • Engaging
  • Flexible
  • Supportive
  • Collaborative
  • Recognition
  • Rewarding


Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all work culture. While some workplace cultures can be more positive than others, it's up to you (and your employees) to build the culture you want at your business.

Once you have the words to describe your culture, it's time to start building toward them. Next, we'll cover actionable steps you can take to influence the culture of your business.  

How to Build Culture at Work: 11 Tips

Workplace culture is dynamic and ever-changing. Everything from the words you say to the way you discipline employees will impact your culture for better or worse.

Want to take more ownership of your work culture? Use the tried-and-true tips below. They'll show you practical ways you can positively influence culture in the workplace.


1. Write It Down

Don't let your culture become an abstract idea. Make it concrete and legitimate by writing it down. Put your culture and values on your website, employee resources, and office walls.

When you make changes to your culture, publicize the changes and explain the reasoning. For example, you might have a culture of closeness and collaboration—if you switch to a remote work policy, explain how this will impact your culture and what you'll do to keep it alive.


2. Make Your Culture Memorable

Your culture won't stick with employees if they can't remember it. That means your culture can't be a must-read book for staff, nor should it even be a one-pager. They should be able to recognize and feel your culture with just a few simple words that encapsulate everything.


3. Involve Your Employees

Let your employees play a big part in building your culture. Ask for their opinions and see what they'd like. Management might not always know what employees need, but your frontline staff will—invite them to the decision-making table.

Gather qualitative and quantitative information about your culture. Ask employees about what they want to change and what they want to stay. You might survey your entire company to get general thoughts and direction. Follow up your survey with small interest group discussions.


RELATED: What is an Employee Engagement Survey? And Why Should You Care?


4. Build Actionable Habits

Your culture should inspire action. Build this culture with regular habits that your employees can incorporate into their everyday work. 

For example, if you want to build a culture of feedback and transparency, you could make the following habits:

  • Weekly one-on-one meetings
  • Question and answer time for executives at every all-hands meeting
  • Published culture survey results
  • Open-plan office environment
  • Peer-to-peer feedback platform


5. Instill Values and Behaviors

Your employees will need a bit of help and handholding while you develop your work culture. Consider the following tactics to instill values and behaviors:

  • Add culture questions to the interview process
  • Ask culture-related questions during review cycles
  • Display your culture with creative murals or art pieces
  • Recognize culture wins and losses
  • Reward positive culture behaviors


6. Incorporate Culture into Decision-Making

Culture isn't something you check at the door or put on your website's hiring page—it's something you live every day at work. Your business's culture should play a big part in your decision-making processes, whether that's figuring out your growth strategy or budgeting for the next promotion cycle. 


7. Develop a Culture of Recognition

Your employees want to be recognized for their hard work:

Recognize your employees for their career milestones, work anniversaries, and top-notch performance. When someone goes above and beyond their job description, show that you recognize and care.

Consider launching a peer-to-peer recognition program to empower your employees to recognize each other.  


RELATED: 10 Employee Recognition Ideas


8. Be Conscious of Perks and Amenities

While perks and amenities can't fix a broken culture, they can play a big part in defining and expanding your culture. For example, if you want work-life balance to be a primary tenant of your culture, you'd likely want to implement remote work policies and flexible work schedules.

Think of what perks and benefits you could offer your staff to align with your culture. It could be anything from employee wellness programs to employee stock purchasing plans. 


RELATED: A Step-By-Step Guide to Developing Employee Wellness Programs


9. Encourage Transparency and Open Communication

You want your employees to be able to share their wants, needs, fears, and aspirations openly. It'll do you no favors for these conversations to happen in secret behind closed doors and on Slack channels. 

Encourage your employees to share feedback openly. Empower them to do so with a recognition program for employees and customers to provide regular feedback. 


10. Listen to Feedback

Listen to what your employees have to say—good or bad. Find what they need, and provide solutions where possible. Discover roadblocks impacting their productivity or engagement, and do everything you can to remove them. 


11. Measure Your Efforts

Use feedback platforms and regular surveys to understand the culture of your business. Compare your efforts to previous surveys to ensure your culture is heading in the right direction.

Terryberry's 360 Recognition platform gives you an easy-to-use dashboard to monitor performance and engagement data for individuals, teams, departments, and your organization as a whole. 


Create a Work Culture of Recognition With Terryberry

Want to create a culture of recognition, transparency, and open feedback? We can help. Terryberry provides the solutions you need to better recognize employees and build the work culture you want:

  • Service Awards and Performance Awards: Recognize and reward employees based on years of service awards, anniversaries, or performance. 
  • Social Recognition: Empower your employees and managers to recognize their peers and celebrate successes with an easy-to-use social recognition application. 
  • Feedback and Communication: Unlock improved feedback and communications with employee and customer feedback solutions.

Ready to learn more? Schedule a demo with our team to get a hands-on walkthrough of how Terryberry can transform the culture of your workplace.