Every office has its own culture. Like all cultures, office culture grows out of the shared beliefs and customs of the individuals and groups that make up the organization.
Company founders, executives, and managers try to shape office culture. Leaders like these, of course, have a big influence on company culture, but ultimately everyone in the organization has a say in its culture.
Office culture is also shaped by the communities that surround it. Specialists in sales, marketing, management, and other business functions bring their professional values to the office.
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And everyone brings the individual experiences and cultural expectations they have formed in other jobs, in their civic communities, in their friendships, and in their families.
Day-to-Day Office Culture
The confluence of these factors creates the unique office culture that you work in every day.
Your office culture might be formal and bureaucratic or laid-back and laissez-faire. You might be expected to share all information freely, or your culture might accept being protective of some of the juicier tidbits you discover. You may hold a meeting for any issue of significance that arises, or you may rely on email and the office grapevine. Your colleagues might meet for lunch almost every day, or you might be expected to eat at your desk and work your way through the lunch hour. You might be expected to dress up every day, or it might be fine to show up in jeans. There might be a strong sense of camaraderie across your organization, or you might have to figure out how to navigate various clans and cliques.
If you've held more than one job in your life, you've seen how these aspects of office culture can vary from company to company.
Cultural Challenges in the Office
Like any culture, office culture can struggle with diversity. When you assemble men and women of different ages from different ethnic and religious backgrounds in a business setting, issues can come up. Often the results are positive and the variety of perspectives creates innovative solutions. But cultural differences can also result in misunderstanding and conflict. How your office deals with diversity is an important facet of its culture.
Offices also include people with different amounts of authority and varying levels of communication and relationship skills and styles. This range of social power and interpersonal skills often manifests as a vibrant, dynamic office culture. At worst, these differences can lead to hostility and even bullying.
The vicissitudes of the overall economy or fluctuations in organizational resources can bring out the best and worst of your office culture. Good times can amplify magnanimity and kindness. When resources are tight, some people keep their shoulder to the wheel and get creative while others become defensive and protective of the few resources they still have.
Reflecting on Office Culture
Apart from the occasional water cooler conversation, few of us reflect on office culture. Organizational-behavior experts in management are paid to think about it. Business journalists and company historians may write about how office culture has changed over time. Whether it is a serious story about remote working trends or silly reporting on the subject from The Onion, it's worth taking a few minutes now and then to think about the culture you're immersed in every day.