How your employees feel when they come to work affects their performance, which is why creating an authentic culture in your office is so important. Cultural authenticity has ceased to be a buzzword, instead forming the basis of true organizational transformation for some of the best brands in the world.

Company culture is more than just a buzzword used during interviews and company descriptions. 82% of those surveyed in the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends in 2016 stated they believed culture is a potential competitive advantage for employers.

What makes workplace culture? It’s not free coffee, happy hours, or employee outings. Perks such as these can enhance employee experience, but an authentic culture begins with the connections employees make with colleagues and leaders.

To facilitate an authentic culture, an organization must focus on accepting employees for who they are and encouraging them to connect on a real level with their colleagues. It’s about creating trust between employees and their company. When employees feel safe and heard at work, an authentic workplace culture begins to bloom.

How to Create an Authentic Culture in Your Workplace

Why an Authentic Culture Matters in the Workplace

The desire for connection is at the heart of every human experience. When employees feel they can’t be themselves at work, it is almost impossible to create connections with those around them.

Many studies show how meaningful connections in the workplace can amount to positive results. An article published in The Journal of Happiness Studies showed a positive correlation between authenticity at work and job satisfaction.

In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, the correlation between authentic workplaces and employee satisfaction appears again. However, this study also dug into the other side of this issue. Of the employees who reported being inauthentic at work, 64% agreed that being themselves at work would worsen the workplace environment.

When prompted to explain why, these employees cited unwelcoming workplaces, organizations where diversity is discouraged, or conformity is encouraged.

Of those who reported being authentic in their workplace, 80% said they believed it improved the work environment. When asked why they felt that way, employees reported that being authentic helped them spend less time worrying about masking who they are, less mental energy censoring themselves, and overall provided a greater sense of productivity from being authentic.

One thing is clear: organizations that discourage authenticity, sometimes even without realizing it, create unnecessary struggles for themselves.

Practicing Authenticity

If you want an authentic culture at your company, you must first understand how to practice authenticity. Authenticity trickles down.  Employees have a sense of whether they think their leaders are being authentic with them.

Employees who believe their leadership is honest and transparent with them are more likely to reciprocate this. Also, they may trust their company more. Employees who sense leaders are “glossing over” items or being dishonest with them may lose trust in their employer quickly.

Leaders have the power to make impactful changes toward a more authentic culture. As a leader, authenticity can feel scary, but it has positive impacts.

There are many ways to become an authentic leader. A leader can start to become more authentic by looking inward. Some crucial qualities of an authentic leader are:

  • Self-awareness. A leader who can admit their flaws and limitations is far more authentic than a leader who always points a finger.
  • Transparency. Every leader knows some subjects need to be talked about more carefully than others; however, leaders who intentionally hide certain aspects of the business from employees are sure to be sniffed out.
  • Vulnerability. Sometimes, leaders may fear showing vulnerability because they feel they should look strong and in control. However, the inverse is true. A leader who knows when to let their guard down, and share their doubts tactfully, is more trusted by employees.
  • Guiding values. Leaders make big decisions about the company and employees regularly. A leader with a sound and focused moral compass will garner the respect of more employees than one who does not.

Becoming a more authentic leader takes serious inner work and self-reflection. Although it can be challenging, it’s crucial for a leader to do this work. A leader’s morals and values trickle down to the rest of the company, so to create an authentic workplace, a leader must learn to be their authentic selves first.

Taking Steps Toward an Authentic Workplace Culture

Authenticity in the workplace can be an abstract concept to tackle. First and foremost, the leadership team needs to commit to a culture of authenticity. When leaders can be vulnerable and show their authentic selves, employees will feel comfortable doing the same.

Beyond that, however, there are structured ways to improve authenticity in the workplace. Keep reading to find ideas to inspire more authenticity in your workplace.

Empower Your Employees to Cultivate Culture

Culture is dependent on employee engagement. Due to this, it only makes sense to allow them to mold it as time goes on. When employees have a say in what’s important to them in the workplace, it makes them feel valued and heard.

An easy way to do this is by creating an employee values council or something similar. Typically, this council comprises one or two employees from each major department. To keep things fair (and fun), have team members make submissions for who they think should be their department’s council spokesperson.

An employee-led committee should meet regularly to discuss culture-specific items. This gives the employees a chance to connect with each other on a deeper level and put their heads together, and brainstorm improvements that can be made.

Encourage Open Communication

It’s important to focus on encouraging open communication between employees for many reasons. Open communication has many positive benefits, including reducing miscommunications in the day-to-day. More importantly, open communication enables employees to share their opinion and authentic selves.

When employees hold back what they have to say based on fear or distrust, it never helps the company. Even if employees generally hold unpopular opinions, they should still be welcome to share them. Every perspective is important in the workplace.

Freely Celebrate Achievements and Offer Productive Feedback

Another part of having an authentic workplace culture is being able to speak freely about projects and work-related tasks. Part of authenticity is being able to talk openly and give praise. Employees who are praised for their successes are far more motivated than those who are not. However, there will always be times when things go wrong.

Instead of coming from a place of anger or disappointment, in authentic workplace culture, leaders will give feedback from a place of curiosity. When something goes wrong, leaders will ask the right questions to uncover how this can be improved in the future. Feedback should be less focused on what went wrong and more focused on what lessons were learned. Speaking of learning, many of the most authentic organizations are also incidentally ones which prioritize a learning culture. Regardless of the type of learning which occurs: self-paced, experiential learning, blended learning or other types, these organizations the ethos of continuous learning and improvement.

Incorporate Workplace Values

Almost every company has a mission statement. These mission statements are what the companies live by and how they shape their organization. An authentic workplace will bring these values into conversations with its employees. If an organization stands behind its mission, it should have no issue getting employees to do so, too.

Celebrate Diversity

Employers risk losing an authentic culture if they do not recognize the range of demographics that make up their workforce. After all, if a company does not recognize or celebrate a certain employee’s culture, that employee may think they don’t value them.

That’s why building a culture that values diversity is so important. Whether it’s a difference in religion, cultural background, ethnicity, or gender – companies who recognize and celebrate the differences among their employees make people feel valued.

Employers can do this by calling attention to certain holidays or traditions from another culture. Employers can also show appreciation by celebrating the many months geared toward racial appreciation – for example, companies can commemorate Black History Month in February or Hispanic Heritage Month in September.

Working Toward Authenticity in the Workplace

The trickiest thing about authenticity is it can’t be faked. Authenticity is inherently honest and raw. The definition of authentic is described as “of undisputed origin or genuine.”

This means no one can coerce employees into being authentic. They must feel comfortable enough to do so on their own.

So, when building an authentic culture, what you first want to build is an honest culture. A space where it is safe for employees to be real and genuine to themselves will naturally bloom into an authentic workplace.

Bottom Line

Building an authentic workplace culture can take a lot of effort. After all, it takes a lot of emotional strength to be vulnerable for both leaders and employees. But do you happen to know if the alternative is any better?

Studies show that authentic workplaces produce happier and more productive employees. Plus, leaders will feel more comfortable in their roles when they can stay true to themselves. Work is where most people spend most of their lives. Shouldn’t it be a pleasant experience?

By adopting an authentic culture, organizations can enjoy the benefits honest connections will provide their employees. Recruiting will become easier; ideally, employees will stay much longer, resulting in less turnover. Authenticity goes a long way in showing an employee they are truly valued.