Workplace Culture – How to get it right.

Posted by Malcolm Campbell, Luke Mitchell on 27 October 2015
Workplace Culture – How to get it right.

Whenever and wherever people congregate, the personalities of the individuals within a group will affect the culture, mood and performance of the group.  Whether it be in a social setting or the workplace, some people are passive, some are dominant and others fall somewhere in between.  

In a social environment, the individual more often than not can choose whether they are prepared to remain as part of a group or to separate themselves from it.  However, in a work environment, there is generally no choice.   Workplaces are often made up of a culturally, socially and economically diverse range of people. People who would not normally interact with each other in a social setting due to varying personal values and morals, religious practices and beliefs, age, race, ethnicity, gender sexual preference and social economic positioning are forced to work, sometimes very closely, with each other.

A general adherence to what is considered “acceptable workplace behaviour” is required to ensure that the group can come together, work harmoniously and spend productive time together for the benefit of the business and it’s employees. What is considered “acceptable workplace behaviour” will vary from workplace to workplace and is underpinned by the matrix of our workplace laws.

As a bare minimum, every workplace must provide an environment which is safe (physically and psychologically) for their personnel. Employers must ensure that employees’ workplace rights are not offended or that they are not treated less favorably due to their workplace rights.  However, for a workplace to operate at it’s most productive capacity (and heaven forbid it be an enjoyable place to work) far more than these bare minimums need to be achieved.

There are many theories on how to achieve an harmonious and productive workplace and to achieve the utopia of the ideal ‘culture’ in the workplace. The best approach for a business will be entirely dependant on the specific circumstances of that business. Nevertheless, nothing happens without a specific plan, actioning the plan, reviewing the outcomes of the plan and readjusting as required. Businesses who fail to take control of managing the behavior and “culture” in their workplaces can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the “acceptable workplace behaviour” matrix.

In the extreme, this can lead to things such as allegations of discrimination or workplace bullying. These suck up significant resources of the business and themselves have a negative effect on the workplace.  More concerning however are the less obvious situations that bubble under the surface and erode trust and confidence in the workplace, cripple productivity and profitability but are left unresolved for extensive periods. 

In the course of providing a wide range of workplace law advice and assistance, we see many instances where the workplace is the antithesis of the ideal environment, often after having been called upon to advise and represent a client where a dispute has arisen. However, we also see many success stories where businesses have created and maintained fantastic workplaces. The core to the success of these businesses is that they have laid a solid platform by getting the fundamentals right via:

  1. Clear and consistent recruitment processes
  2. Comprehensive induction and on-boarding programs;
  3. Carefully considered and well crafted employment contracts and workplace policies; and
  4. Compassionate, professional and commitment management team who identify that a harmonious and happy workforce are always more productive and profitable than a disengaged and demotivated one.

The Australian Public Service Commission (Working together: promoting mental health and wellbeing at work, 2014) lists the benefits of a respectful workplace as follows:

Improved employee morale and job satisfaction, improved teamwork, lower absenteeism and turnover, and increased productivity;

  • Employees are better equipped to manage conflict collaboratively and cope with workplace challenge and change;
  • Employees are much less likely to perceive their workload as excessive or to submit workers’ compensation claims; and
  • Teams and organisations that are seen as positive places to work will attract and retain highly skilled staff.

It goes on to say:

  • Lack of respect and what is sometimes called ‘incivility’—low level negative behaviours (such as rudeness, discourteousness, not acknowledging other staff)—can create a dysfunctional team environment, relationship breakdown, decline in productivity, and the risk of psychological injury.

We help all types of businesses create and maintain happy, productive and profitable workplaces no matter where they may be in their employment lifecycle. If you think your workplace could benefit from a review of your workplace structure and practices contact our team today.