The Culture Claptrap – why is culture not more important?

Ask any CEO, anyone with the title “Head of”, a Brand Manager or anyone in human resources and they’ll all tell you – no matter what industry or organisations type they’re from – that culture is key.

And why wouldn’t they? They’re hardly going to say: “we don’t really care what working environments are like; we’re far too busy for that investing in product and margins – people should put up, shut up and bloody well get on with it”, are they? Yet organisations don’t need to verbalise that as actions speak louder than words: what we do – or don’t do – often has a greater impact that words.

The dreary impact of a lack of focus on environment.

I’m still hearing of organisations who are banning the personalisation of work areas; banning plants from offices and encouraging “hot desk” and open plan environments without consultation of their employees. That’s akin to dictatorship: you will work this way. I’m not anti-establishment or anti-management but we are products of our environment and all of the evidence supports how important it is for us, as a social species, to be in environments that help us to thrive. The punishment of solitary confinement is so brutally effective because it represents the entire antithesis of what the human species need: socialisation, comfort and healthy levels of alpha brain waves and positive brain chemicals – the production of which are prompted by nature and nature scenes, plants, people and connection with an environment with purpose.

Despite this, it seems that the trend is for people to talk about culture and employee engagement but to do very little that is meaningful in either of those areas. It’s almost as if being seen to be talking about it is enough – “we’re having the conversation” is implied engagement perhaps. Is that because of ignorance, naivety, stupidity or my number one pet hate; people having opinions about something they know nothing about? We do tend to gravitate towards things that help to boost our confidence and feeling of self-importance, in order to seek a vicarious sense of confidence and comfort. Maybe that’s what is happening with culture: with a lack of distinct information on how to efficaciously improve culture and engage employees, people are simply talking about it. The challenge is that talking about something rarely makes it so.

The first thing is always to check with those who it will affect. What do you need? What would they like? People must be happy and comfortable in order for you to get maximum productivity, efficiency and positivity form them; to reduce employee attrition and sickness and to boost morale. It’s an essentially simple formula but intricately involves them.

Jez runs workshops and courses for businesses on his farm for organisations to experience the impact of environment.

Second is to remember that we are a product of our environment. What can you do to improve yours? It doesn’t have to be physical things or even costly – very often it could well be free: maximise the light, remove posters from windows to improve both natural light and the view; reposition work stations to allow window views; allow personalisation of spaces; encourage social group activities like walking cubs, table tennis championships or really push your directors over the edge and suggest a “bring a dog to work day”.

Culture is not simply about the physicality, its about the strength, force, lifeblood and soul of an organisation. Can everyone in your team confidently recite your organisation’s values, customer charter or aims? If not, they don’t work, do they? If you don’t think they’re pointless then work on a collaborative project to ensure people know what they are, understand them, further understand why they are important or exist and then how they can bring them to life.

These three simple things will help energise your culture and make a significant, palatable difference – an improvement to really put an end to all this culture claptrap I see and hear almost daily.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster, beekeeper and award-winning author. He has spent all of his life learning about – and fascinated by – human behaviour, with a particular interest in how small changes in behaviour can produce extraordinary results. For more information and free resources visit:

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