Workplace Culture Part 1 – Why it matters

Posted by Luke Mitchell on 13 August 2015

By their very nature, workplaces are melting pots of employee diversity, comprising of differing skill sets, ages, genders, cultures, religions and backgrounds. In acknowledging the differences that make up all workplaces, what can (and should) be expected as far as behaviour goes? Should a business focus on compliance by their workers to achieve the goals of the business or should they focus on building an environment of tolerance and support for each worker which then develops its own unique culture relevant to that workplace, which in turn helps the business achieve its goals?

Whilst employment contracts and workplace policies & procedures are a fundamental part of setting the tone and expectations for a workplace, those documents do not necessarily influence or moderate how the workplace participants interact with each other. The way in which workplaces handle the differing personalities and employment environments will dictate the culture of the business.

In the extreme, bullying and/or sexual harassment in the workplace, are two examples of serious breaches of acceptable workplace behaviour and are indications of an undesirable or toxic workplace culture. These issues have garnered much deserved media attention in recent times ranging from reports in the press to changes in legislation. Yet despite the economic and legal consequences of these types of behaviours occurring, they both still exist in our workplaces.

In the case of sexual harassment, while statistics indicate reported incident rates in the workplace are declining, more work still needs to be done. Research from the Australian Human Rights Commission claims the following three things must exist in an organisation for there to be any hope of stamping out such behaviour:

  1. Zero tolerance to any form of sexual harassment;
  2. An environment of freedom to speak up as either an individual or a bystander, without fear of victimisation; and
  3. Expectation of action and investigation carried out in a timely manner.

Workplace Bullying has received such substantial attention as a genuine and serious issue to be properly addressed over recent times, that we now have a formal mechanism for victims to seek redress and protection. Victims of bullying can first seek assistance from their employer but if that avenue does not resolve the matter satisfactorily, they can take action through the Fair Work Commission by applying for a Stop Bullying Order.

Whilst sexual harassment and bullying and harassment are the headline grabbers, other behaviours which may not be seen as so extreme can be more widespread across workplaces and as a whole, are far more destructive to morale, general employee well-being and that of the business itself. These types of behaviours can include workers being rude and aggressive, being self centred, being overly critical or disrespectful towards others or failing to participate in business activities. Such negative behaviours will take their toll on all employees whether as the target of the behaviour of just a bystander to it. The flow on effect to a business will often include increased turn over of staff and loss of productivity.

Whilst there is no one size fits all approach to the issue, workplace culture matters – everyone involved in the workplace influences and contributes to the culture of the organisation. Workplace culture should in our opinion, be seen much like goodwill - it is a measure of the value of intangible elements of a business – you can’t see it but it’s there and it matters.