What is the Workplace Culture Hierarchy?

By Roman 3 Academy

Most workplaces want to create an environment that allows employees to be motivated in their work and engaged in their job. This environment is created by how they communicate, what expectations they set, the way everyone interacts, what everyone thinks of the company and their job. The result is what we call Workplace Culture.

One of the many challenges that come with creating a workplace culture that fosters employee engagement and employee motivation is the lack of understanding about how a strong workplace culture is built. The most common mistake we see when attempting to improve workplace culture is to take a single action, unattached to any larger effort or strategy, and implement it without considering if the environment will allow the action to be successful.

For example, A manager might decide to implement flex-time in a workplace in order to combat high levels of disengagement or low morale. This new freedom in an environment where people are not committed to their job and have a low desire to increase their performance will result in people abusing their newfound freedom.

This kind of situation is far too common, and its inevitable failure is why businesses do not implement more actions and efforts to improve engagement. They see these efforts as opportunities to be taken advantage of by their staff. This situation is why you can’t just insert employee engagement strategies into a workplace that has not made the effort to build the foundation for a successful Workplace Culture.

Giving People What They Need In Their Workplace Culture

Before we jump into what is required to build the foundation for a successful workplace culture, let’s first talk briefly about what people need. Human needs and motivations have been studied extensively for decades. The definitive theory on human needs is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Most people have heard of this theory, but here is a quick summary.

Human beings have needs that are structured on a hierarchy, fundamentally it means that the needs that exist on the lower stages are required for people to have success at the higher stages.

For example, a person is unable to prioritize status or recognition (Esteem) if they are struggling with personal security or heath (Safety needs).

The main concept that this theory is reinforcing is that success at the higher stages cannot be sustained if they are not built on a strong foundation of successes at the lower stages. It is possible to gain status and respect at the higher stage, but if you are in fear for your personal safety or at risk of losing your income, that status and respect become far less important.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is an excellent model to use when looking for a new way to approach workplace culture. We need to identify the different stages that correspond to Maslow’s framework and build a concept that will allow managers and leaders to better understand how to create an effective and sustainable strategy.  The goal is to build a workplace culture that will create high levels of employee engagement and sustain employee motivation.

This is where Roman 3 comes in. Our team has crafted a new theory that successfully applies Maslow’s Hierarchy to today’s workplace. Introducing…

The Workplace Culture Hierarchy

Our hierarchy outlines the stages of Workplace Culture and provides practical descriptions of what needs to be created at each stage so that you can move up to the next.

Stage 1: Compliance. This is when an organization is able to meet the basic HR requirements for compliance; such as ensuring labor and occupational health and safety standards, safeguarding against bullying or harassment, and providing the supports and benefits outlined in the labor laws to all employees. The second part of this stage refers to industry standards; such as industry-appropriate salary ranges, typical expectations of job security, and proper working conditions for their industry. 

The biggest oversight in how HR is viewed is that often meeting compliance standards is seen as the end of the journey. The assumption is if a workplace focuses on ensuring compliance, then workplace culture, engagement, and motivation will come with it, which is the farthest thing from the truth. Compliance is where we incorporate The 7X3 Rule which is where workplaces can begin addressing the factors that cause job dissatisfaction, but not all of these factors can be addressed in this stage.

Stage 2: Psychological Safety. This is the most overlooked stage in establishing a healthy workplace culture. Psychological Safety is about creating a climate where employees feel safe to express themselves, have the trust and mutual respect of those they work with (subordinates, peers, and supervisors), and care about each other as people. The concept of Psychological Safety was created by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson. Her work primarily focused on the impact of Psychological Safety in regard to the freedom to speak up, ask questions, and make suggestions without fear of retribution or concern that their comments might damage their relationships or reputation. Fundamentally, Psychological Safety is about the ability to be vulnerable. When we feel the need to posture, avoid asking questions, and are unwilling to speak up it is because we are afraid to show vulnerability in the workplace.

This stage is where we can address many of the factors that cause job dissatisfaction. When Psychological Safety is present, we can have meaningful discourse with our co-workers, address office politics, and tell our supervisors what we need to be successful. This is the stage that most workplaces skip when they are trying to improve motivation and morale in the workplace. It is at this stage, the factors that create Autonomy at Work become critically important. Autonomy is about creating rules that empower freedom. Rules that empower build trust and transparency in the workplace

When Psychological Safety is present, we can have meaningful discourse with our co-workers, address office politics, and tell our supervisors what we need to be successful. 

Stage 3: Inclusion. Inclusion is a core component to all Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives; and arguably the most important component. However, Inclusion in workplace culture is not solely about creating an environment where traditionally marginalized populations feel welcomed and feel that they belong. Inclusion is about valuing and accepting all people, encouraging them to be successful.

A culture that makes people feel like they belong is the most significant factor for every goal related to workplace culture and organizational success. A sense of belonging amplifies and creates sustainability in diversity efforts. It is the catalyst for employee motivation and professional growth and development. It is the key factor in talent attraction and retention.

Inclusion is often seen as the result of other efforts, the end of the journey. If an organization hires diverse staff and provides accommodations to those who require it, the natural assumption is that you have created inclusion. If you write compliance policies banning harassment, you have inclusion. If your mission statement identifies the commitment to welcoming and valuing all people, you have inclusion.

The truth is, inclusion needs to be the beginning of the journey, the primary effort. Create an environment where all people feel accepted and that they belong, then you will start to see real inclusion and benefit from your diversity efforts.

Stage 4: Engagement. This is the stage we all want to jump to when starting to create a healthy workplace culture. This is where organizations traditionally look to assess the perceptions and sense of contentment of their staff through workplace surveys and software. The problem is that engagement efforts that neglect the lower stages of the Workplace Culture Hierarchy are being built without a foundation and therefore are unsustainable and doomed to fail.

Engagement is highly individualized. Standard engagement efforts, such as; Casual Friday, mass “Thank You emails”, and the annual BBQ are not reaching everyone equally. If a workplace takes the time to make each employee feel valued and that they belong, they will be better able to reach each employee and engage them in a way that will create motivation and enthusiasm in their work. There are so many statistics and studies that highlight the undeniable benefit of an engaged workforce. Rightfully, this makes managers and executives want to jump in and create highly engaged workplaces. However, what that data doesn’t carefully explain is that you cannot jump in with assessments and grand gestures and think it will create engaged workers. You need to put in the effort to build engagement on a strong foundation of compliance, psychological safety, and inclusion if you want to create and sustain engagement.

Stage 5: Strive. This is the aspirational stage. This is where individuals are motivated to develop their skills and abilities to be the best version of themselves. This is where organizations can shift to be a more productive or purpose-driven workplace. One of the most common mistakes that is made when trying to incorporate efforts to improve an organization’s culture is striving to improve without ensuring a strong foundation.

Each Stage Builds On The Success Of The One Beneath

  • In order for a workplace to strive toward optimization, it needs to foster a sense of engagement.
  • In order for a workplace to create engagement, it needs to create an environment of belonging and inclusion.
  • In order for a workplace to nurture a culture of inclusion, it needs to provide a psychologically safe and respectful climate.
  • In order for a workplace to create a psychologically safe space, it needs to meet acceptable compliance and industry standards.

This is equally relevant to the individual as it is to the workplace. In order for an employee to strive to become the best version of themselves, they need to be engaged, they to have a sense of belonging, they need to feel psychology safe, and they need to be provided an acceptable standard.

It is possible to have some success without addressing issues at all stages, but that success is likely going to be short-lived and nearly impossible to reproduce. The benefit of the Workplace Culture Hierarchy is that it provides clear steps to creating a healthy and productive workplace culture.

Begin Your Journey

Now that you know the stages, the key is to figure out where to start. Our team at Roman 3 can help you identify where your team or workplace is on the hierarchy and provide you the tools and resources you need to work your way through each of the steps. Explore the rest of our Knowledge Suite or the various course provided on Roman 3 Academy to learn more about the topics discussed. 

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