Maintaining Control of the Small Business Workplace Culture

It’s important to stay on top of who is having the dominant influence on the workplace culture


You hear a lot of information about the value of workplace culture in creating success or contributing to failure in today’s workplace. In any given moment workplace culture may not make or break your small business but over the course of time workplace culture will have an impact on your business bottom line.

Workplace culture can be defined as the physical, social, psychology and structural makeup within the workplace. A workplace culture can be established consciously by leadership or evolve, sometimes organically, from any place and along any vertical – from leadership down, middle management out, or employees across, up or down.

Workplace Culture can encompass a several elements:

  1. business values and/or philosophy
  2. management and leadership styles
  3. structure of the workplace including the physical environment, hours of work and the way work is performed
  4. workplace employee, management and co-worker relationships
  5. how employee are treated and/or act (which may be function of a, b or c)

Dominate Influences in the Workplace

One element of workplace culture that can be a great contributor to success or can pull an organization down is the element of co-worker relationships.

Research shows us that when people like one another they create a positive work environment and this can lead to reduced turn over and better performance. But sometimes friendship between co-workers causes disruption. In a 2010 Randstad study of US workers, a majority of workers, 60%-77% reported that workplace friendships fostered higher job satisfaction, aided in motivating employees to work, increased feelings and actions of support, reduced turnover, created employee engagement and increased productivity.

On the other side of the coin between 34% and 44% workers reported that workplace friendships feed gossip, fostered favoritism, blurred professional boundaries and created conflict of interest. A small number, between 16% and 25% suggested that friendships cause others to feel uncomfortable, harm productivity and reduce constructive feedback and openness at work. Negative consequences were reported more frequently by Baby boomers and employee’s in management positions.

In a small business with only a few employees the impact of co-worker relationships can be significant. Whereas in a large organization there are many individuals contributing to the overall workplace culture, in a small business of even 50 or fewer employees and certainly 10 or fewer employees a few key people can really set a tone. When these people form strong bonds or relationships with one or two other employees this can shift the balance of power in creating a culture from the business owner or leader to the employees setting the tone on the ground.

Many employees spend more time with their co-workers than with their personal friends. It is not uncommon for co-workers, and in particular the millennial generation to form personal relationships with coworkers. Many new employees upon joining a new organization will send a social network request to connect immediately or exchange contact information and exchange texts. These methods of connections can easily create a sense of intimacy and the potential for a deeper connection that results in strong bond and sometimes a genuine friendship. In life friendships are vitally important but that does not mean they are always in your best interest when they occur in the workplace.

Take note of these factors when trying to determine if a workplace friendship is having a strong influence on your workplace culture:

  1. Pay attention to how often pairs or small groups of co-workers support one another’s ideas or work together to block the ideas of others.
  2. Listen to how often co-workers spend working time talking about ‘personal’ time including past, current and future plans. Co-workers who are friends can dampen productivity for an entire team or workplace when they spend too much time dominating social conversations or discussing and sharing personal plans
  3. Note how often specific employees request or are assigned, request or volunteer to work they same shift, the same work location or on the same project. When working in pairs of two they may be productive so you may want to give that a shot but in teams of 3 -5 they may have to much controlling interest
  4. Some co-worker friendships may result in the development of great ideas and they may spur one another on to better ideas, but other times they may take one another down a narrow path that comes from too similar thinking or blindly supporting one another’s ideas

Next page: Creating Your Preferred Workplace Culture

Tara Orchard
Tara Orchard
Tara Orchard is a coach, trainer, consultant and writer who applies her insights into people and Masters training in psychology to facilitate performance improvements, relationships and communication for people and businesses. She has worked with organizations to deliver clarity on culture and brand, develop their people and manage relationships with social network communities. Over the past 18 years she has consulted with 1000's of people who want to make effective transitions in their lives. Tara has a knack for hearing what people are thinking and helping them see what they need to see. She is the founder of her own career and social network coaching business, works with several other organizations as a coach and consultant and is about to complete her first book on the "psychology of effective social networking".

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