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How to create a positive workplace culture

Small Business • December 20, 2022 at 9:00 AM • Written by: Chase Charaba

If you're a small business owner, chances are you have a small number of employees doing the work of many. If you're not careful, this can be a slippery slope toward a burnt-out workforce or, worse, the foundation for a toxic work environment.

Even if you have a larger team, factors like remote work, constant contact, and the pressure to scale quickly can blur the line between home and work, creating a growing amount of employee exhaustion across the United States. A Society for Human Resource Management1 (SHRM) survey reports that 48% of employed Americans feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the workday.

So how do you improve your organizational culture when your team is likely to get overloaded? In this blog, we'll walk you through tips that will help you foster a positive workplace culture and boost the employee experience.

Find out how to offer customizable benefits to help create a positive culture with our free guide


What is workplace culture?

An organization's work culture encompasses all of its work environment's activities, beliefs, social norms, customs, and behaviors. Employers, employees, company policies, interactions, the physical work environment, and more can influence culture. As such, workplace cultures are constantly shifting and evolving.

University of Michigan business professors Robert E. Quinn and Kim Cameron identified2 four types of company culture based on research. They found that 90% of organizations fit into one or more of these four categories.

There are four types of workplace cultures:

  • Clan culture
    • Prioritizes mentorship and teamwork
  • Adhocracy culture
    • Prioritizes innovation and taking risks
  • Hierarchy culture
    • Prioritizes structure and stability
  • Market culture
    • Prioritizes competition and profitability

A positive culture can exist in any of these environments, though positive cultures are generally found within organizations that focus on a mix of clan and hierarchy cultures.

What does a positive organizational culture look like?

A positive workplace culture occurs when organizations focus on their employees' wants, needs, and wellbeing.

A healthy workplace culture is one where employees feel welcomed and appreciated, where employees support each other, where work is inspired, and where everyone can practice trust and respect.

On the other hand, toxic culture occurs when employees feel disrespected, unappreciated, insecure, or unwelcome. Common signs of toxic workplace culture include employee burnout, lack of recognition, and poor relationships.

Why is a positive workplace culture important?

There are many benefits to creating a positive workplace culture.

Positive work cultures help boost employee productivity and employee engagement. When employees feel good about coming to work, they're more likely to work together to achieve the organization's goals. Positive cultures also promote trust, which can result in employees taking on new challenges.

Strong workplace cultures also create a sense of belonging and collaboration in the workplace. When your employees are more comfortable socializing and working together, they'll be more likely to collaborate on projects and help each other when needed. This improves productivity and employee morale.

A positive corporate culture can also improve employee happiness. This contributes to higher job satisfaction and improved employee retention.

How do you create a positive workplace culture?

Now that we've covered why a positive culture is essential for your organization's growth and employee relationships, let's dive into how you can foster a positive culture. The sections below include tips for establishing a functional work culture.

1. Hire people excited for growth

The first step toward building a positive work culture is filling your organization with the right kind of people from the beginning.

LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report3 found that employees at companies that offer internal growth opportunities stay almost two times longer than those who don't.

When hiring, you should consider whether or not job applicants are motivated by the kind of growth and opportunities you can offer (rather than big salaries and vacation time) and if they're passionate about the same mission and goals your organization is about.

It's important to find a candidate who fits your ideal culture and has a growth mindset rather than someone with the most experience.

Hire candidates for their attitude and willingness to learn and grow. You'll soon find yourself with a workforce that's set to grow and evolve with your organization rather than one that's unmotivated and unwilling to put in the hours needed to bring your organization's vision to life.

If you can't find the right kind of employee for your physical office, don't forget about hiring remote workers.

Because a strong work culture also focuses on employee growth, you can support your employees with professional development. This helps your employees become more highly skilled, improving your organization's performance.

2. Set clear goals and expectations

Second, ensuring your employees have clear work goals that align with their long-term career aspirations and help the organization grow as a whole is essential.

According to a Gallup survey4, only 20% of employees are “actively engaged” at their jobs. The remaining 55% describe themselves as “not engaged,” and 15% are “actively disengaged.” By setting clear goals with your employees, they'll have something to reach for, making them feel more personally invested in their work and excited to achieve a new milestone.

When an employee and an organization work toward a similar goal, the chances of the employee feeling connected to the organization and its mission increase, leading to a happy, productive workforce.

As an employer, it's your job to review your employees' goals with them regularly, so they don't fall by the wayside and actively support them so they can be successful.

3. Communicate openly and often

This next one might sound like a bit of a cliché, but effective communication is key to making sure your employees feel safe and cared for at work. Your employees need to know they can always come to you for anything they need to discuss.

According to the SHRM and Globoforce Employee Recognition Report, 89% of HR leaders5 agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are essential for successful outcomes at work.

If you're not sure where to start, here are a few ideas of questions you can ask your employees:

  • What is going well within the organization?
  • What are some areas we could improve on for organizational culture?
  • Is your workload too much for you to handle right now?
  • Are there any obstacles in your way that keep you from doing your best work?
  • How can I better support you in your role?

Once you initiate these clear lines of communication with your direct reports, you'll create a pattern that your leaders can follow to improve employee morale and satisfaction.

4. Recognize your employees’ contributions

Next, if your employees are working hard and doing a great job, tell them! Frequent and genuine employee recognition goes a long way in keeping your workforce upbeat and productive.

In a 2021 Great Place to Work6 employee survey, 37% of respondents said that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work more often. The study also showed that affirmation, feedback, and rewards are the most effective methods for motivating employees to do their best work.

Whether it's a quick thank-you email, managers bragging about their team, or even an organization-wide employee appreciation lunch, dedicating time to showing your employees that you appreciate them is what will keep them working hard for your organization.

While it's important to give recognition, it's even more important to give it in a way the receiver feels recognized best. For example, some employees would prefer a private note thanking them for their hard work over a big public announcement. Managers should learn how their team prefers to be recognized and cater to those preferences.

5. Offer a quality health benefit

While you may be unable to offer your employees a salary bump or extra paid time off for all of their hard work, one of the best things you can do is offer a competitive health benefit to show your employees you care about their health and wellbeing.

According to our 2022 Employee Benefits Survey Report, 82% of employees say the benefits package an employer offers is an important factor in whether or not applicants accept a job with an organization. Furthermore, 87% of employees said they value health insurance.

With the rising cost of traditional group health insurance, many small-to-medium-size businesses find it challenging to offer affordable health benefits. But offering a health benefit that your employees love doesn't have to be expensive. A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an excellent option for small employers on a budget.

With an HRA, you can give your employees tax-free money for them to purchase individual insurance and qualifying medical expenses that meet their personal needs. You set the allowance amount, and any unused funds at the end of the year go back to you.

Three of the most popular types of HRAs are:

6. Implement a customized employee stipend

If you're looking for a more flexible benefits option, an employee stipend may be just what you need. A stipend is a fixed sum of money offered to your employees to use as a fringe benefit. This is generally offered as a monthly allowance.

You can create a stipend for anything you want, such as remote work expenses, education, health, wellness, professional development, commuter benefits, and more.

Stipends are typically added to your employees' wages as taxable income to create an attractive benefits package. It's important to note that while most stipends do count as taxable income, some fringe benefits or expenses may be tax-free.

Stipends are a thoughtful and flexible way to support your employees, and with the rise of remote teams, they're becoming a popular option for companies to offer perks from afar. With an employee stipend, you can offer your employees an allowance for the perks they want.

If you're interested in offering employee stipends, PeopleKeep can help! You can offer an employee stipend for whatever expenses your employees would value most with our WorkPerks stipend administration software.


Whether you own a small startup or a large organization, continually fostering a healthy culture is an essential part of retaining your best employees, attracting new talent, and proving company values. The more time and resources leadership invests in their employees' engagement, the more energy and enthusiasm they'll be able to invest in your organization's mission.

If you're ready to offer personalized benefits that contribute to a better workplace culture, PeopleKeep can help! Our personalized benefits administration platform makes it easy to set up and manage HRAs and employee stipends in minutes each month.

Schedule a call with a personalized benefits advisor today to see how personalized benefits can improve your workplace culture

This blog article was originally published on May 14, 2021. It was last updated on December 20, 2022.

1. SHRM survey

2. https://www.atlassian.com/blog/teamwork/types-of-corporate-culture

3. https://learning.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/amp/learning-solutions/images/wlr21/pdf/LinkedIn-Learning_Workplace-Learning-Report-2021-EN-1.pdf

4. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx

5. https://www.globoforce.com/press-releases/globoforce-shrm-human/

6. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/creating-a-culture-of-recognition

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Chase Charaba

Chase Charaba is the content marketing manager at PeopleKeep. He started with the company as a content marketing specialist in early 2022. Chase has written more than 350 blog posts for various companies and personal projects throughout his career. He’s worked for digital marketing agencies, in-house marketing teams, and as the editor for national award-winning high school and college newspapers. He’s also a YouTuber, landscape photographer, and small business owner.