How to Establish a Sustainable Work Culture

Everything HR

How to Establish a Sustainable Work Culture

11 Jul, 2019

This article is part of a series where we’re covering why sustainability in the workplace is so important and how you can be the leader for sustainability in your company. To learn more about what sustainability in the workplace means, you can read our first two series posts on how to define your workplace, how to get organized with technology, and how to gather feedback, here:



In the fifth installment of this series, we’re culminating everything learned from the previous articles and rolling it all into how to create a sustainable work culture in your business. Read on for information on creating and sustaining an ethical workplace culture and the role of culture in sustainable development.

How Does Culture Affect Sustainability?

Companies that wish to establish a culture of sustainability can refer to the topics we spoke about in previous articles. Defining your workplace, implementing systems of alignment and organization, getting feedback, and expressing appreciation are all factors that contribute to work culture. When work culture is unhealthy or negative, it can heavily impact business sustainability through impaired communication, lack of trust between employees, and little to no visibility between departments.


A study conducted by Columbia University found that companies with a “high” company culture had a turnover rate of 13.9% and companies with “low” work cultures had turnover rates of 48.4%. That’s a huge difference!

What is work culture?

In general, work culture is the set beliefs, ideological philosophies, thought processes, and attitudes held by the people that make up a business or an organization. Work culture may arise organically on its own, or it can be framed and influenced by company practices and policies. 


There is an important balance to be had in trying to influence the work culture of your business to be positive and promote trust while also allowing employees and managers the freedom to bring in their own elements into work culture, too. In short, work culture refers to the collective personality of an organization.


Characteristics of a Healthy Work Culture

According to Warwick, happy employees were 12% more productive than employees who cited unhappiness in their roles, and much of workplace happiness can be credited to work culture. Here are important characteristics of healthy work culture you should know and ways to sustain a healthy work culture:

Open communication

Companies that foster open communication, from feedback to showing appreciation, will likely have happier employees in the workplace. When there are no opportunities to give feedback on how to improve, receive constructive criticism, or if positive affirmations are not encouraged, it can lead to a breakdown in communication and overall bad work culture as a result.


Get your teams aligned by creating systems of open communication. This could be by using communication software, a robust chat service like Slack, or even by letting employees give feedback at the end of a meeting. Other ways to promote communication include conducting regular performance reviews and having goal-setting meetings. These are all effective ways to sustain a positive work culture that promotes open communication. 

Transparency & visibility

There are two important components to having transparency and visibility across your organization: First, there needs to be transparency between leaders and lower-level employees. Secondly, there should be high visibility from one department into the next. 


Employees respect leaders that are transparent. A good way to facilitate transparency from the top down is to conduct regular meetings, (we recommend quarterly or biannually) where leaders talk about company gains, losses, and where the business stands in relation to objectives. These meetings are a good opportunity for: 


  • Talking about the current and future goals of the company
  • Allowing employees and managers the opportunity to understand the big picture in terms of where the company is headed and 
  • How employee jobs contribute to the company’s ultimate goals. 
  • Giving employees and managers the opportunity to ask questions about goals and get feedback.


The very last thing you want in your business is teams that are siloed off from one another, This causes ineffective communication and misalignment, which in turn hurts the business. In an effort to prevent your teams from operating independent from one another, you can do the following:


  • Use a robust project management software that aligns teams in relation to projects and goals. This increases visibility so teams can understand how their work factors into other departments.
  • Encourage regular meetings between departments so they can assess areas of improvement, promoting a more positive work culture as a result.


Consideration for work/life balance

In a modern business setting, employees hope for and even expect a healthy work/life balance. This means they have time outside of work to focus on social activities, family life, in addition to being able to take breaks from work when needed and recharge. 


Companies with positive work culture realize that while work is important, it isn’t the sole component of their employee’s lives. Many companies choose to approach work/life balances differently in ways. Here are a few examples:


  • Amenities at the office such as a gym, snacks, and on-site cafeteria with healthy food
  • Opportunities to work from home and/or remotely
  • Flexible working hours
  • On-site childcare services
  • Casual company outings
  • Supported house work services for cleaning etc.


Employees that have more time to rest and recharge outside of work are more likely to be creative and productive during working hours, so having a healthy work/life balance is an important way to sustain positive work culture.

A strong set of morals and values

It can be hard for many employees to stay long-term with an organization that does not adhere to a strong set of values and morals. Workplace values set the tone of the company’s overall work culture, so it may be useful in the early stages of your company to define what kinds of values are most important. Here are some examples of workplace values that other companies use:


  • Possessing a positive attitude
  • Integrity and honesty
  • Growth and curiosity
  • Professionalism
  • Loyalty
  • Passion for the industry


These are just a few examples, but you may choose other values depending on what you decide is most important to the organization. 

Team building

Team building refers to activities that take a group of individual employees and enhance their social connections with one another. Team building often arises on its own from ample time spent together working, and rust, it can mean anything from daily interactions between coworkers to activities planned specifically to help employees and managers bond with one another. 


When the overall cohesiveness of the team is prioritized and strong bonds are created, it contributes to a more positive work culture and sustainable business.

Signs of Unhealthy Work Culture

As much as you make efforts to have a positive work culture, there are sneaky ways that negativity can set in and disrupt the sustainability of the company. Here are some signs that, when unchecked, can lead to an unhealthy work culture:


High turnover

Turnover is a normal part of a growing and changing business, However, you want to make sure the source of turnover rates is not due to bad work culture. There can be many reasons for high turnover, which is why it's a good idea to keep tabs on the reasons behind the company turnover. A strategy you can try is speaking with the HR representative of your business and having them conduct exit interviews to assess if the turnover is normal or if there might be a bigger problem with company culture. 

Employees & managers that are spread too thin

This happens a lot in many companies—particularly those that are small and growing. It’s when too many employees have a large load, and thus, multiple people in the company begin experiencing burnout⁠—hurting productivity and lowering sustainability. 


If you receive feedback that one or more employees are consistently overwhelmed, you might need to look at reassessing the responsibilities of certain roles and see if the workload can be shifted to other areas, or, if the solution is to hire new people. 

A consistent failure in meeting deadlines and goals

There can be many reasons for failure to meet company goals, but what’s important is discovering why this is happening. Is it because of a toxic manager? Are the goals simply unrealistic and need to be reevaluated? Are employees too overwhelmed and less productive as a result?


All of these are indicators of a bad work culture, and if goals are not being met, it would be a good opportunity to take a deep dive into what the causes could be.

Siloed teams

Teams that operate completely on their own are bad for the workplace for a number of reasons. Siloed teams cause miscommunication, a lack of transparency across the organization, and a depletion of trust—all of which are bad for business. 


Team building exercises are a great way to break down siloed work habits, and the right software can also help increase visibility in the company overall.


We hope this final part of our series on sustainability in the workplace has given you the advice, tips, and tools you need to go forth in making your business more sustainable and the role of culture in sustainable development. 


The right software may be the key you need to helping align your company and improving overall appreciation within the organization, thereby achieving sustainability in the workplace. Read more about our performance management and alignment software here and contact us today for a demo to see how Heartpace software can improve your workplace sustainability.

Henrik Dannert

Henrik Dannert


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