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Navigating workplace culture in a new era

Sinclair Robbie
Robbie Sinclair



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09 April 2019

Few issues have risen to prominence as rapidly as workplace culture. While a healthy corporate culture may always have been aspirational, we are now in a new era. Priorities have shifted. Stakeholders - from regulators to shareholders, employees to job candidates – are doing their due diligence because received wisdom says that the success and shortcomings of an organisation starts with its culture.

What is workplace culture? It’s what makes a workplace tick. In theory, it’s about the values and priorities of an organisation as articulated in mission statements, annual reports, policies and procedures. In real life, it’s about the speak-up culture and how those who report wrongdoing are treated. It’s about the gender pay gap, pay parity and transparency. It’s about the full spectrum of diversity and difference, including recognising generational preferences and encouraging neuro-diversity. It’s about employee engagement, voice and opportunity. It’s about what is said on social media and behind closed doors, and in staff surveys, exit interviews and on employee review sites. It’s about how things are done when stuff goes wrong. It’s about respect and fairness.

In short, it is about having a mindset that goes beyond simply complying with the rules.

Something as nebulous as culture may appear difficult to define, measure and manage but it is possible. For example, the Financial Conduct Authority assesses culture by looking at the drivers of behaviour: an organisation’s purpose and leadership, its approach to rewarding and managing people and its governance arrangements.

So where does an employer start? The first step is to do a health assessment of one or more of the elements that contribute to culture. Many employers are already doing these types of reviews; starting with speak-up arrangements, equal pay audits or operational arrangements to assess behaviour. Once the internal review has been conducted, the arrangements can then be benchmarked against best practice either generally or specifically within a sector. Lessons from the review can then inform health assessments over other arrangements. Culture will always be a work in progress; the important step is to start somewhere.

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