Developing a better work culture

Posted by | July 15, 2019 | Employers, Retention

Organisational culture is much more than the values written in the employee handbook or on the poster outside the HR office.

This is highlighted by one of my favourite quotes by Torben Rick that Culture is the organisation’s immune system’ 

Whilst non-profits don’t always have the same budget for staff activities as large corporations, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do to enhance your organisation’s culture.

I read recently that staff are more motivated by a 15 minute conversation with their manager each week than by a pay rise. (I suppose it depends upon the content of that conversation, but you get the drift: engaging with your staff regularly and constructively has a positive impact).

Start at the beginning 

Embed expectations around behaviours and the organisation’s values and culture before people start, and throughout the employee lifecycle.

This includes good on-boarding, induction and orientation processes that will help people feel valued from the outset. It introduces behavioural expectations and ‘sets the scene’. It also hopefully means staff will be aligned with the cultural climate of the workplace and proceed accordingly.

Employee Participation

Keep your people involved with creating, developing and maintaining the culture they want to work within, facilitate this through a variety of communication channels. For instance, in one workplace I am familiar with there was a ‘values’ team, whereby representatives from each area developed the organisation’s values and met regularly to review. Newsletters and online communications about the company and individuals within it can also be useful in demonstrating and reiterating workplace customs.

Be proactive

Culture in an organisation isn’t static. Maintaining a positive culture requires ongoing attention.

Part of this is about being proactive in dealing with behaviours that may serve to undermine the culture that has been created. This is applicable at all levels of the organisation and senior staff and managers should ‘walk the talk’ and model the values that are being espoused.

The perception of being treated fairly at work can also help to ensure staff don’t become unnecessarily aggrieved.  This may help prevent less than desirable behaviours that can emerge and can contribute towards subverting a culture, when individuals feel they are getting treated less well than others.

Celebrate the small stuff

If you are a Manager or supervisor, you can encourage your team to celebrate what some might consider the ‘small stuff’. This can be both work and non-work related (e.g. completing a project, receiving positive feedback from a client, or birthdays and personal staff achievements etc). Bringing a plate spreads the cost, but can still foster a feeling of inclusiveness.

Most departments will have a budget, however small, for staff development or entertainment. Think about the best ways to invest this.

Depending upon the nature of the work environment, sometimes encouraging your team to leave early before a public holiday or offering to help with tasks so the whole team can go home early on a Friday can be beneficial.

Focus on Strengths

One tool that I’ve been introduced to is the Clifton’s strength finder.  In the grand scheme this is not an expensive product. Employees answer some questions online and this returns a report with your top five strengths. They are also sent an e-book. This is a good motivator for staff and a way to start a conversation about future projects  – from a positive starting point.


Encourage your Managers to regularly acknowledge the work their teams do.

Another suggestion to engage staff and give them a sense of appreciation is by inviting speakers to talk on topics of interest – these may be in some way related to the role but also have some personal benefits for employees as well (such as someone coming to deliver a workshop on self-care, or financial planning).

You could also encourage staff themselves (if they are willing!) to present on a topic of interest/expertise outside of work and provide food for staff who attend. In one organisation, a staff member who worked in building compliance was also a lifeboat volunteer. He gave a talk about boat safety and shared some exciting stories about his own experiences. He also answered questions on things such as the best equipment he had used (such as lifejackets). This was useful in a workplace close to the sea where lots of people enjoyed spending time boating.

You never know what interests and expertise might exist within your organisation.  In the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with jewellers, artists, and musicians who have been more than happy to share their passion.

Other examples could include health talks, family days or time to volunteer in the community.

Duvet Days

From an organisational perspective offering perks such as one ‘Duvet Day’ per year, which staff can take and is not part of annual or sick leave (and they don’t have to offer an explanation). It’s just an extra day when they really need it! Next level, have you heard about unlimited holiday leave?

Be Creative

Sometimes it’s the random stuff that can make all the difference. My personal favourite (as an extreme animal lover) was one workplace in a city full of stray animals, where my boss and team were all accepting of the local stray cat sitting on my knee from time to time whilst I worked. For some workplaces having animal-friendly workspaces, or even a bring your pet to work day, could be an option.

Whatever steps you take, the work that goes into creating and maintaining a positive culture will never be wasted and if it aligns and supports organisational strategy you’re onto a winner.

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