Workplace Culture vs. Workplace Climate: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

lauren_hodgesBy: Dr. Lauren HodgesDirector of Corporate PerformanceSPECTRUM, Inc

Workplace culture is a hot topic amongst company leaders these days. In fact, the word “culture” was the Merriam-Webster “word of the year” in 2014. With healthcare reform in full swing and a comprehensive, outcome-based wellness program fast becoming a must-have for any company looking to stand out amongst competitors, a healthy, positive workplace culture has become both a challenge for company executives and an expectation for employees. But is your company focused on creating a healthy, happy workplace culture or workplace climate? There is a distinct difference – and that difference can make or break a company’s success.
What is Workplace Climate?

Workplace climate can describe the benefits, behaviors, and outward expressions of a workplace culture. A thriving workplace climate are those perceptions, policies, procedures, or perks which inform a thriving workplace culture. Examples or measures of workplace climate are things like:

  • Employee engagement (as measured by surveys)
  • Onsite fitness classes
  • Onsite education such as Lunch n’ Learns, workshops
  • Health/wellness challenges
  • Onsite biometric screenings or onsite healthcare
  • Flexible hours/work-from-home options
  • Healthy food around the office
  • Onsite massage/guided meditation, etc.
  • Onsite fitness centers
  • Standing desks
  • Financial health workshops

What is Workplace Culture?

If climate is an outward expression of a workplace culture or a manifestation of workplace culture, workplace culture, then, is the unspoken undercurrent of beliefs, perceptions, and inexplicable “feelings” about a place of work…in other words, “the way things are around here”. Although a healthy, positive climate can have its short-term benefits, what truly matters is a company’s culture and how it is informed by its culture.

For example: let’s say a company leader offers a stress management course to employees yet consistently presses employees to stay late or sends late-night emails which employees are inevitably going to respond to in order to “keep up” with their fellow employees in the race to climb the corporate ladder. This type of practice will not improve a company culture over the long term despite the presence of company perks designed to improve climate. Perhaps this is why, according to a recent to Gallup’s Employee Engagement Study, employee engagement has barely improved over the past 15 years. Despite a new focus on employee health and wellness, many companies are missing the mark of examining the deeper organizational culture within their office walls and how it can create deep, lasting change within a company to examine both culture and climate at the same time.

How is workplace culture measured? Well, culture is more of a “how things run around here” type of thing. So, what are the unwritten rules of your company? What values are there surrounding family time, work hours, and the perception of productivity (for example if you saw Bob the IT guy doing some yoga stretches to work out a kink in his back in his office during work hours, or Lisa the HR lady walking stairs in the middle of the day, would they be encouraged or looked at as “slacking”? Is Glenn the manager given a cold shoulder for leaving early once a week to attend his daughter’s soccer practice? Can Glenn still climb the ladder or is this a “lack of initiative” on his part?

Or, for a more accurate and self-reflective measurement as a company, what would your employees say about your company to their friends and family? Do they hang out with their fellow employees after hours? Do they recommend the company to others? Do they feel a sense of value and purpose in their work and believe that their role in the company is a value-add to the company as a whole? Are they comfortable leaving early to attend a child’s football game? Are they comfortable giving their suggestions on a project that they aren’t involved in, or walking into the CEO’s office with suggestions for improvements in safety, procedures, policies, or projects?

Culture is created from the top down; climate is implemented the same way. Leaders who critically examine their company values, ensure they themselves are living by those values, and regularly survey employees with these cultural questions along with providing the incredibly valuable “perks” of a healthy, thriving workplace climate, are those who see improvements in productivity, bottom line, turnover, and healthcare expenses because let’s face it: “the way things run around here” is the competitive edge you cannot quantify and you cannot thrive without.

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