A strong workplace culture will help your organisation achieve its goals.

For modern businesses, having a positive workplace culture is no longer an option – it's essential to attract the best candidates and get the most out of your employees. Whether you are missing an effective workplace health and safety solution, are suffering from a lack of employee engagement or have issues with absenteeism, improving the working environment may be the answer. 

Optimising culture is becoming a much greater focus for organisations around the world. In Deloitte's 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 82 per cent of respondents agreed that an attractive and effective working environment provides a genuine competitive advantage, however just 28 per cent felt they had a good understanding of their culture. 

A healthy workplace culture can have many benefits.A healthy workplace culture can have many benefits.

What is workplace culture?

Before working on your own organisation's culture, it's important to understand it. Deloitte's report notes that culture is best considered as the way things work – including the values, beliefs and systems that influence how your employees behave and interact with one another.

Culture is formed and driven by the leadership team by implementing procedures and policies that promote a safe, supportive and enjoyable working environment. This may include employee induction processes to drive engagement, workplace health and safety strategies to ensure your employee wellbeing is cared for, or benefits such as reward programmes to nurture loyalty and productivity.

Engagement and culture are closely intertwined – the former is heavily influenced by the latter. Giving employees a working environment that is both challenging and rewarding, allowing them to feel invested – in the work they do and the performance of the business as a result of their efforts – is the hallmark of an attractive culture.

Before working on your own organisation's culture, it's important to understand it.

Benefits of effective workplace culture

Absenteeism – one of the key indicators of poor workplace culture – costs organisations over $570 per employee per absent day, according to the Australian Industry Group's Absenteeism & Presenteeism Survey Report 2015. That adds up to an annual cost of over $44 billion to the Australian economy. Over 70 per cent of those surveyed feel the significant cost their business incurs due to absenteeism, and the resulting competitive disadvantage.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) notes that businesses focusing on improving workplace health and safety strategies are likely to have a measurable impact on employee absenteeism, not just due to reduced physical injury and illness, but psychological harm as well. In terms of the public service, the Australian National Audit Office estimates that $136 million could be saved every year if unscheduled absence was reduced in 75 per cent of government agencies.

Organisational culture is cited by Comcare as one of the main contributors to psychological injury in the workplace, with communication issues, lack of support for personal development and an unclear definition of objectives resulting in greater health risks for employees. Addressing challenges of culture can therefore be considered a work health and safety issue as much as one of productivity or engagement. 

Building a better workplace culture

Promoting understanding is the most pressing task for Australian organisations – Deloitte's report found that less than one in five surveyed businesses believe they have the right culture. So how can your company develop the culture necessary to thrive in the modern era?

  • Flexibility and freedom: While it's a necessary element in all professions, rigid routine can be detrimental to employee satisfaction and engagement. Without opportunities to learn and develop, your staff may become frustrated and start to consider moving on. Forbes says that providing outlets for creative thinking and projects outside of regular duties can yield positive results, noting that this policy at Google in the US led to the creation of some of the search giant's most successful products, such as Gmail.
  • Supportive leadership: The implementation of culture-building processes, including WHS initiatives and loyalty programmes, is driven from the leadership team. Yet, simply letting your employees know their work is appreciated can have a significant impact on culture. Supporting your workers begins at the employee induction phase; providing clear development paths and achievable targets can drive engagement and collaboration around the office.
  • Providing a safe environment: Gaining the confidence and loyalty of your employees means having a working environment that protects their wellbeing. Ensuring a robust, comprehensive WHS induction is carried out for new staff is a critical step, with regular risk assessments and safety checks of all facilities and equipment performed. 

Culture needs to be a priority for business leaders, lest they be left behind by more effective organisations in the market. Deloitte's report concludes that it's not just the current working environment that needs to be understood, but the desired culture as well. By closely examining processes and identifying those that are aligned with culture objectives – and those that aren't – businesses can begin devising the values and behaviours that will allow them to meet their goals.

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