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What is Workplace Culture?

Every company wants to think of itself as a great place to work, with happily engaged employees who always give their all to make sure clients and customers are 100% satisfied.

For the last decade, the term culture has been misused as a way for companies to define their vision of the values and social norms that govern the work environment. A lot of work, and heaps of great concepts, go into defining the culture in earnest, but less work goes into making sure the stated culture is actually in practice. This is because operationalizing the culture is much harder than defining it.

We often think about culture as the features (expectations, policies, and practices) a workplace has or encourages that define the working environment, such as a lenient policy allowing staff to work from home when needed, a well-stocked office kitchen with free coffee and snacks for everyone, or a budget for individual professional development so people can build new skills.

We're less likely to think about the flip side - what expectations are not made explicit or what practices are discouraged - as contributors to culture, which is understandable because it's easier to think about adding positive features than it is to think about removing negative features. But I'd argue that to improve workplace culture so that everyone experiences a positive change, it's more effective to get rid of harmful practices first.

In other words, you have to stop doing "bad" before you can start doing "good"!

In the next two posts, I'm going to dig deeper into how to understand your workplace culture and steps to take if you are serious about making meaningful, lasting improvements.

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