Leaders are used to holding themselves to high standards. Just look at the number of individuals who rise at five a.m., answer emails from their vacation sunbeds and sing the praises of hustling their way to success. Often that means they take those ideals into the workplace, something that can prove less than successful, under the mistaken belief that driving employees harder is the only path to success.
This means they cross the fine line between a high-pressure, high-productivity culture and toxic one. No one wants to be perceived as the “monster” boss. A high-productivity culture doesn’t have to mean a negative, antagonistic culture. I believe it’s possible to create a workplace culture that is both positive and maintains productivity at a high level.
Exploring Diverse Corporate Cultures
Corporate cultures can be exceptionally varied. History, organizational structure, and the personalities of management can all combine in different ways to create a culture that is unique to you, and which might not fit into standard culture definitions. It’s even possible, although not always helpful, to have individual teams operating with separate subcultures too or within an overarching company culture.
Some common types of company culture include:
A high-intensity corporate culture is characterized by a fast-paced, results-driven environment. Employees in such cultures often face tight deadlines and high expectations. This can lead to increased stress levels and burnout as employees strive to meet demanding targets.
Characterized by a relaxed and informal work atmosphere, such environments emphasize flexibility, open communication, and a casual approach to work. This can improve employee well-being and creativity, but it may also pose challenges in terms of productivity and goal achievement if not managed effectively.
This type of culture emphasizes teamwork, open communication, and collective decision-making. Employees are encouraged to share ideas, work together on projects, and contribute to a positive and inclusive workplace. Collaboration supports innovation and a sense of community, but it requires effective leadership to navigate potential conflicts and keep momentum going.
A traditional corporate culture sticks to established norms and hierarchies. It often values stability, formal structures, and a clear chain of command. While this can provide a sense of order and familiarity, it may make it hard to adapt and innovate.
All these cultures can be highly productive on their own merits, and they can also be refined and improved upon to make them more productive. Turning a laid-back culture into a highly productive culture doesn’t mean making it a high-intensity culture or taking out those elements that work.
It’s important to note that just because your company has a long-standing cultural archetype doesn’t mean you can’t enact meaningful change.
Stereotypes of High-Productivity Cultures
One of the most common misconceptions about high-productivity cultures is that they must be high-intensity cultures. High-intensity cultures lose businesses money, far more often than they make money. While productivity might increase at the beginning it’s almost impossible to maintain as employees begin to disengage, struggle to work together and burn out.
Healthcare expenses are 50% higher at high pressure companies. A recent World Health Organization study found that lost productivity caused by depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 trillion a year. But that’s not all, according to Gallup, businesses with low employee engagement are 18% less productive and 23% less profitable than those with high engagement.
Here are some other common misconceptions about high-productivity cultures that might indicate what you have is a negative, high-pressure culture instead:
- Workers must always be available even outside working hours.
- Employees must put the job above other commitments such as family and hobbies.
- Employees’ wellbeing, physical and mental health are affected, leading to increased time off and healthcare expenses.
- Individualism is celebrated at the expense of the team.
- Workplace conflicts are common, which may result in formal and informal disciplinaries.
These misconceptions are often used to argue that it’s impossible to have a workplace culture that is highly productive AND positive and supportive. I believe that it is possible to create and maintain positive and collaborative environments within high-productivity settings.
Benefits of Positive Corporate Culture on Productivity
By putting wellbeing, communication and relationships front and center, positive workplace cultures encourage a more productive mindset. Positive cultures are high-productive cultures because they:
- Improve employee morale and satisfaction.
- Increase employee retention and loyalty.
- Enhance creativity and innovation.
- Have a positive impact on employer branding and talent acquisition.
- Support greater employee engagement.
- Create stronger collaborative relationships.
Ultimately positive cultures are so useful for productivity because the create more paths to success. The more ways you have available to reach your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them.
Leadership’s Role in Shaping Culture
Leaders shape the tone of corporate culture. Your actions, decisions, and values set the course for the entire organization. To create positive yet highly productive environments, you should:
1. Do Some Internal Networking
As leaders we often focus on building our external network. But don’t neglect to develop social relationships within your organization. This means connecting with others around topics outside of work, deadlines, and expectations! Having positive social connections at work can improve productivity, reduce stress, and provide strong support networks when things get tough. When your team knows that they can come to you with questions, concerns, and constructive feedback, they will feel better able to manage high-pressure situations.
2. Be Empathetic and Helpful
Empathy is an often-overlooked soft skill for leaders. Empathetic leadership can be practiced in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning to listen actively. Other ways to demonstrate empathy for your employees include advocating for their career progression and development, looking out for their wellbeing, encouraging feedback and simply being kind, compassionate and transparent.
3. Model Good Behaviors
That brings us on to our next point. It’s no secret that when we experience negative behavior, we are more likely to behave poorly to others. Just think of that old cartoon where a boss shouts at an employee, who goes home and shouts at their partner, who shouts at their child and so on. As a leader you are the ultimate example of what behavior is and is not acceptable in your culture. If you model positive behaviors, such as kindness, enthusiasm, compassion and balance, your employees will be more likely to engage in those behaviors themselves.
4. Include Employees in the Change Process
Cultural change can be challenging especially for current and long-term employees who may find it disorienting and difficult to learn new behaviors. Employees who actively participate in the decision-making process are more likely to feel a sense of control and connection to the changes, reducing resistance. To achieve this, leaders can organize regular forums, surveys, and workshops to gather input, actively listen to concerns, and incorporate employee suggestions into the change strategy. Doing so not only reduces resistance, but can provide a great way to introduce new, more positive ways of working.
5. Create Adaptable Policies
A hallmark of highly productive cultures is their ability to be flexible and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. By creating policies that are designed to help employees manage their workloads according to both their own needs and the needs of the organization you create a culture that values autonomy, adaptability, and continuous improvement.
Let’s challenge the conventional wisdom surrounding corporate culture. Positive, highly productive workplace cultures aren’t a myth, they are a real possibility. Cultures that value adaptability, inclusivity, and employee well-being are much more productive and innovative than those that focus on intensity and pressure. If you want to grow your business, then positivity is the way to go.