Frontline Intelligence - Legal: Auditing your workplace culture

by 26 Jul 2012

A positive workplace culture is an essential ingredient for any successful organisation. Getting the culture “right” in a workplace is important for many reasons. From an ethical perspective, the culture of a positive workplace can ensure the health and well-being of the organisation’s employees and reduce an employer’s risk profile in terms of its exposure to bullying, discrimination and harassment-type claims. From a commercial perspective the fostering of a high performance culture can have a direct impact on an employer’s bottom line.

In May this year the Federal Government announced that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment will be conducting a review into workplace bullying. The review is aimed at looking “at the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying”. Interestingly, the terms of reference require the Committee to consider the role of workplace cultures in preventing and responding to bullying.

While the culture of a workplace is important from a bullying perspective, it also plays an equally important role in driving performance. Creating a high performance culture can be a difficult proposition for organisations. There is a fine line between cultures that motivate employees to succeed, and cultures that emphasise outcomes over individuals. If there is too much of a focus on outcomes at all costs, this can not only lead to poor results but increases in absenteeism and staff turnover (not to mention potential liability for stress claims). To perform to their best ability employees need to feel that they are supported and valued. Organisations need to be mindful of this and ensure that structures are in place that can encourage and enable strong performance.

What can you do?

A workplace culture does not develop overnight. Instead, many factors contribute to the development of an organisation’s environment. However, without regular audits and a commitment from the leadership team to create a supportive environment, then the culture of a workplace can take on a life of its own.

The starting point in achieving acceptable workplace behaviour is ensuring that all levels of an organisation are aware of their legal obligations and they monitor and enforce compliance. Top level engagement (ie at the Board and Chief Executive Officer level) is critical to achieving the desired workplace culture and eliminating unacceptable behaviour. While engagement can be achieved in a variety of ways, workplace behaviour and compliance must be a strategic priority for an organisation, and adequate resources must be devoted to achieve compliance (such as in budgets).

Managers and supervisors at all levels of an organisation will also have an extremely important role in achieving a desirable workplace culture. Management must set an example by behaving in the manner expected of employees. Leaders also have a key responsibility to monitor workplace behaviour actively and take action if they witness any alarming conduct.

Responsiveness of an organisation will also be a key factor in achieving a respectful workplace culture. It may not always be possible to prevent certain types of behaviour. However, it is important to ensure that comprehensive and effective procedures are in place to deal with behavioural issues that may arise in the workplace (examples include grievance procedures and informal and formal resolution options).

Steps you can take to imrove your workplace culture

Creating a positive workplace culture is an ongoing process that requires commitment from all levels of an organisation. However, the audit process can begin with a few key steps:


  • conduct staff surveys, including 360 degree reviews;
  • analysis of exit interviews with outgoing employees;
  • analysis and review of employee leave patterns (especially sick leave);
  • consideration of grievance numbers and types; and
  • informal observations by managers and supervisors.


Regular training in behaviour and culture should also be a prominent part of Human Resource’s deliverables.


About the authors

Joydeep Hor is Managing Principal, People + Culture Strategies, and Georgia Rutecki is Associate, People + Culture Strategies. For further information phone: 02 8094 3100 or email: or