Workplace culture can hit you in the face as you walk in to some worksites. In my first job as a sheet metal apprentice, the foreman was “difficult”. Once when I messed up on a job, I got chewed out so loudly that co-workers in the adjacent plumbing shop – 50 yards away! – heard the commotion. While I was the one most directly impacted by this interaction, the situation added to the culture that already existed in this workplace.
Other workplaces have a more subtle culture. In the 90s, I worked for a bank that was considered one of the best run banks in the country. I did not see it. The communications from corporate headquarters sounded good, but the message did not filter down to the locations I worked. Yet, I noticed when I was at a site out-of-state for a training, there was more excitement and more buy-in to the corporate vision. It was a lively workplace with people enjoying their jobs more than we did back home. Along with this, they had bigger market share and more profitability. There may have been other things going on, too, but what was clearly noticeable was the different culture in these different locations.
In my job here, I had some difficult moments a year-and-a-half ago. Within a ten-day period, two separate interactions/communications did not go well and I became disillusioned with the workplace. In the interaction that was most important to me, I eventually approached the person I was upset with, discussed the problem and worked out a solution. I now have a good working relationship with this co-worker who I previously had little to do with. The second interaction that I was not happy with, while initially painful, was not as important and I ended up letting it go. Yet, today, there are still times, though rare, when I think about this incident. It is an example of how even after “letting go” of a situation, past interactions can still impact one’s view of the workplace.
Culture and sub-cultures develop from the numerous (large and small) interactions that occur daily between individuals and groups. Patterns develop in these interactions that become difficult to change. Culture becomes so massive from these interacting patterns of behavior that it becomes difficult to understand how a workplace culture developed – and if needed – how it can be changed.
Empathia offers a method, through our Culture1st services and Culture Assessment Tool (CAT), to better understand and change workplace culture. We have offered the services for some time, but I am writing about it now because we recently administered the CAT to ourselves. From my perspective, it was interesting to respond to validated questions about our culture and to see the company-wide results. We scored well on our workplace culture, but there were a few surprises, which have garnered future attention.
Companies use the CAT for various reasons, according to the head of our Culture1st Team. Among them are pinpointing problems that may exist, measuring hunches managers may have about their culture, and checking to see if certain initiatives are having an impact on the workplace.
What are your thoughts on workplace culture? Share them below.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.