Culture Killers Series: What Makes a Workplace?

What is Culture?

Culture is everything.

It’s the color of the walls. It’s the PTO policy. It’s the morale about last month’s report. It’s the quality of watercooler interactions. And the quality of the boss’s tone at a big meeting.

Culture is anything that impacts your experience of a particular place.

The workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. We’re steeped in that culture all day long. Think about your work culture for a moment…

Physical environment: What’s the aesthetic? Is it clean and fresh? Is there a cohesiveness to internal signage and communications? (Don’t think fancy—think about the raw materials you have to work with daily.)   

Organizational structure: What about policies, procedures, and workflow? Are they clear? What mindset and behaviors do they encourage?

Sense (or absence) of success: Are you achieving your mission together? Do you feel personally effective?

Quality of interactions: How is conflict typically handled? Do people feel appreciated? Is communication open? What’s the sum total emotion you feel about all those small workplace interactions?

That’s your workplace culture—what it’s made of.

At this point, a lot of people feel powerless. You’re not in charge of office decor. You didn’t make the policies or run the meeting. Leaders have this power, and good leaders will pour their energy into enhancing culture across the board. But just because you aren’t in charge, doesn’t mean you aren’t impacting the culture.

If the color of the paint on the walls is shaping the daily experience of the workplace, then you can bet that you are, too—whether or not you’re trying.

Here’s my argument for trying.

Here’s why I believe in making the conscious effort to impact your workplace culture, wherever and whoever you are. You matter to your culture, and here’s why your workplace culture might matter to you:

Your job satisfaction depends on it.

How you feel about yourself at work is a crucial factor in your job satisfaction. The quality of your experience—not just as a worker, but as a human being—depends on the quality of your workplace culture.

Good culture fuels success.

We all want to be part of a success story, and the success of a business depends on the sum of our individual efforts. A good work culture—where you feel appreciated, where communication is open and honest—motivates you to do and be your best, which is always good for business.

You are a whole person.

A compassionate work culture doesn’t see each employee as having a split life between work and home. Good work cultures care about whole people. They recognize that work life impacts home life (arguably more than vice-versa). When you have positive experiences at work, those will positively impact your home life. When you make a positive impact on your coworkers, you impact their lives, too.

Here’s what that kind of healthy work culture feels like:

It’s where you feel you belong. Where the work is meaningful, so that you look forward to waking up. It’s where you and your coworkers value one another. Where a sense of connection is alive—not because there aren’t any problems—but because every single thing (from the fresh coat of paint to your boss’s words of recognition) tells this core cultural truth: That every person matters.



If you’re in a tough workplace culture, where you feel isolated or discouraged, find one person to connect with daily. Instead of fueling unhappiness by ‘venting’ or gossiping, do this: Empathize with difficulty, then brainstorm and dream about how to work together to do something positive within your sphere of influence.

Or: Consider a change. Find someone outside of work who can offer that outside perspective, who knows your value and can help you think about other opportunities.

Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at