How to Impact Company Culture When You’re Not in Management

Are you happy with your company’s culture? 

It’s a question a lot of employees ask themselves. So many, in fact, that 65% of employees say they would consider leaving a job if the company developed a bad reputation and 58% have left a job or considered doing so because of an unhealthy workplace culture. 

It’s a big deal, but most see it as a management issue. A lot of organizations step up in this regard, recognizing the 33% higher revenue enjoyed by companies with a strong culture. But with 51% of US employees saying they are not engaged and have no strong opinions about their job—positive or negative—work trends toward a lack of fulfillment that can impact other areas of your life. 

Fortunately, there are options. You may not be able to change the performance review cycle or the benefits offered by your company, but you can still have a significant impact as an employee outside of management. Let’s look at a few ways to jump-start culture change and make an impact on your own. 

Start with Your Contributions

Culture is the combination of people’s attitudes. When employees are fully engaged, own their responsibilities, and are proactive in developing new ideas and implementing solutions, culture improves. The question then becomes, why aren’t they? 

It should be evident if it’s a systemic problem. Are you the only one who feels this way or do most of your colleagues “live for the weekend,” watching the clock every day and counting down the hours of monotony? Start by evaluating what you can personally change and what kind of impact that will have. Even just having a more positive approach to otherwise mundane tasks can trickle down to others in the organization and help impact culture positively.

Manage Up on Culture

It’s easy to blame a boss who doesn’t invest in culture for ignoring the fundamental value of their people, but sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. Educate them by discussing the importance of culture in weekly conversations. 

Share culture decks from companies that have famously shared them publicly. Netflix is among the most prominent—you can download and read their original deck here. Other companies with well-regarded public culture decks include HubSpot, Spotify, Zappos, Etsy, and LinkedIn. 

Initiate Social Responsibility

More than ever, employees say they want to work for a company with a conscience. In a 2016 survey, 75% of millennials indicated they would take a pay cut to work for a company that focuses on socially responsible causes. And even more consider social and environmental impact before taking a job. A third won’t take a job at all if they don’t think their potential employer strongly practices corporate responsibility. 

There’s a part of this that starts at the top, but you’d be surprised by how much can be done at the grassroots. Some simple ideas that make everyone feel better about their efforts include:

  • Recycling Initiatives: If your office isn’t recycling yet, help implement a plan that makes it easy for everyone to separate and recycle their waste. These initiatives have a much higher chance of succeeding when started with employees. 
  • Organizing Volunteer Activities: Set aside a time for everyone on the team to help a local charitable organization. The holidays are a perfect time to organize such an effort. 

Pulling together a simple initiative that gets people on your floor engaged can have a small but important impact on morale, and with the backing of management can grow into an organizational effort that impacts everyone equally. 

Improving Office Communication

Communication is hugely important to maintaining a positive company culture. We’ve all had that job where every conversation had a biting undercurrent, every email was about CYA, and most meals were spent talking about one or more people behind their backs. 

Office politics can undermine even the most sincere culture-building efforts if it’s ignored. And the worst part is that it’s not an acute problem. There isn’t one single thing you can change that will improve communication. It accumulates over time. The more negativity is allowed to spread, the more people will participate. 

For your part, there are several things you can do. Be open and transparent in your own communications, don’t participate in backbiting, and be clear with someone when you have a problem. Don’t let disagreements fester and create problems that can undermine an entire team’s productivity. Help organize team-building events that can break down some of these barriers as well. If everyone works together for eight hours under high stress, it’s no wonder they start bickering. 

Building a Strong Culture Starts with Everyone

There is no one thing that can improve company culture. All the free meals, sick days, and office parties in the world won’t make up for general malaise, a lack of purpose, or the feeling that everyone is talking about you behind your back. 

By stepping up and showing leadership in situations like this, you can become a defacto change agent—improving culture both by your actions and your attitude, making it a better place to work for both you and your team.

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