Organizational culture enhances the psychological safety and health of the workplace and the workforce when it is characterized by trust, honesty, respect, civility, and fairness or when it values, for example, psychological and social support, recognition, and reward.

We know what culture is, but how does it relate to the workplace? Organizational culture is a mix of norms, values, beliefs, meanings, and expectations that group members hold in common and that they use as behavioural and problem-solving cues. In short, organizational culture determines the expectations of workers and how they will behave. Organizational culture enhances the psychological safety and health of the workplace and the workforce when it is characterized by trust, honesty, respect, civility, and fairness or when it values, for example, psychological and social support, recognition, and reward.

Why is Organizational Culture Important?

Trusting organizational culture is imperative for any positive and productive social processes within any workplace. Trust is a predictor of cooperative behaviour, organizational citizenship behaviours, organizational commitment, and employee loyalty, all of which in turn help retain and attract employees. When an organization has a health-focused, positive, supportive, and nurturing organizational culture, employee well-being, job satisfaction and organizational commitment are all enhanced. A work culture with social support also enhances employee well-being and can provide a positive environment for employees who may be experiencing psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.

What happens when an organization lacks a strong organizational culture? 

Since the culture of the organization ‘sets the tone’ for the entire organization it can undermine all other attempts of supporting the workforce. If the culture is negative, it reduces the success of the programs, policies and services created to support workers. An unhealthy culture creates more stress in the workplace, negatively affecting well-being. If an organization has a culture of ‘profit at all costs’ and constant chaotic urgency, burnout will increase.

An organization with good organizational culture would be able to state that:

  • all people in the workplace are held accountable for their actions;
  • people at work show sincere respect for others’ ideas, values, and beliefs; 
  • difficult situations at work are addressed effectively; 
  • workers feel that they are part of a community at work; and 
  • workers and management trust one another. 

How to Improve Organizational Culture

When making changes to an organization, it’s important to first determine where the problems lie, if any, and find creative solutions to those problems. When it comes to improving the organizational culture of a workplace there are three core principles to follow. These are to: 

  • Create a respectful work environment where values of honesty, tolerance and fairness are modelled, encouraged and reinforced; 
  • Promote an open environment for positive communication, which helps create a culture of connection and cohesion; and
  • Involve staff in the development of workplace mission statements, values and codes of ethics. 

In many instances, this may feel overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some ideas for positive ways to engage with creating a more positive workplace culture:

  • Provide training to all staff in the art of effective communication;
  • Engage in team-building exercises;
  • Managers can start a mentorship program between experienced workers and new employees;
  • Provide opportunities for social time between workers. Taking breaks to connect with others to foster positive communication and relationships; and
  • Keep channels of communication open between all team members. Ensure everyone knows how each member is contributing to the company.

Put These Principles Into Action

Take the time to think about your current workplace culture. If you’re unsure of the current culture, ask. Engage with employees throughout the processes. This not only shows you’re committed to creating a psychologically healthy and safe work environment, but helps to ensure you work toward meeting the needs of your workers. Take the time to note what your strengths are, as well as areas for improvement when it comes to organizational culture. 

Also, consider whether or not issues related to organizational culture present a greater risk to particular groups of workers within the organization. This may include those who work shift work, workers who do particular jobs, or those who are new to the organization. You may need to tackle improvements to organizational culture differently for these particular groups. 

Final Thoughts on Organizational Culture – Ongoing Improvement 

Remember that it’s important to continually improve when it comes to organizational culture. So, it’s important to continue to engage in ongoing training for employees as well as people leaders, get feedback from workers on their perceptions of trust, honesty and fairness in the workplace, and continue to engage with the process of resolving any issues that arise. 

Ready to make positive changes to your workplace organizational culture? MyWorkplaceHealth has developed a number of resources to help organizations create more psychologically healthy work environments. 

MyWorkplaceHealth also offers workplace consulting to help evaluate your workplace and help you with implementing the Standard. 

Organizational Culture is psychosocial factor 1 from the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace). For more information, see also Guarding Minds at Work (Samra et al.).