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Cultural Norms in the Workplace and Leadership

By SRAI News posted 05-12-2022 12:53 PM


Cultural Norms in the Workplace and Leadership

Workplaces can blossom with professionalism while incorporating modernized norms that offer diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. 

Cultural norms in the workplace can be the determining factor in the success or failure of your organization. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide people's behavior within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers, the society we grow up in, and the environment we must engage with others. As such, there could be both toxic and healthy cultures that will either erode or encourage the environment that's optimal for success. Leaders are most responsible for being mindful of their character, professional conduct, and communication. The tone at the top sets the direction for the rest of the organization and generally contributes to the existing cultural norms in practice.
The leaders within an organization and their priorities guide the organization. Leaders who are not intentional in establishing clearly defined expectations and standards allow their organizations to drift where influences are strongest – which can sometimes be in a direction not aligned with their strategic mission. This drift affects the work experience for all, from recruiting, hiring, and promotion to when work engagement comes to an end. Leaders focused on an environment where diversity, equity, and inclusion are prioritized will ultimately cultivate an organization where employees feel valued, protected, and represented. Leaders are the wind in the sails of the organization. The direction and intensity of that wind will either determine a shipwrecked organization or one that secures its destination.

The pandemic has taught us that work can look fundamentally different. We've learned new technologies, processes, and habits that permit us to be productive while being sensible. Now which of these recent changes will become new workplace norms is yet to be determined. However, we'll strike gold when we reflect from a DEI lens on the old ways of working that need to be discontinued. Many outdated and ingrained norms and habits made work utterly miserable — yet we never managed to break free of them. These norms include unnecessarily long meetings, mandatory after-work events, set work hours, working in-person, work-life separation, old-school benefits, and micromanaging, to name a few. So, it's critical to examine our workplace policies with fresh eyes and cast a vision for how we want to work moving forward. But it's time to let go of the norms that no longer work.

Workplaces can blossom with professionalism while incorporating modernized norms that offer diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. For example, diversity in the workplace can look like meetings shortened to 30-45 minutes to allow attendees to take a break for food or use the bathroom. Equity presents itself in the workplace with flexible work hours, location, and the removal of micromanagement. And inclusion is present in the workplace by respecting the diversity of the office and creating an environment where it is safe, and everyone is encouraged to be themselves. These aspects foster workplace professionalism which means communicating effectively and always finding a way to be productive. The goal for employers is to have responsible, ethical, team-oriented, and possess strong communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills for all employees. Wrap these skills up altogether, and you've got workplace professionalism. And when you combine each component discussed here, you've got Workplace Cultural, Norms, and Professionalism!

Authored by

Rashonda Harris, Director of Award Management and Post Award Services
University of Connecticut

Lamar K. Oglesby, Executive Director, Research Financial Services
Rutgers University