If culture counts (and we’ll agree it does!), does a microculture count… less?
When he’s promoted to a leadership position, Antoine takes charge, determined to prioritize company culture. Having read how a positive culture directly influences employee satisfaction and improves customer experience, he wants to create a culture that employees love. With good intentions, then, he eyes the microcultures at work with suspicion. But, it turns out, microcultures can help him create a culture of belonging, especially in an increasingly remote and hybrid workforce.
What are microcultures?
Not to be confused with something a biologist would study in a lab, a microculture in this perspective refers to a specialized group of people. This small, distinct group of people may come together because of shared geography, language, age, religion, or other identifiers.
What are microcultures at work?
Typically, people think of a microculture at work as a team or department. But, microcultures evolve more organically. Especially today as employees can leverage technology to conveniently connect with others outside their traditional work boundaries.
Individuals also create microcultures around shared job functions, common geography, or similar personal or professional challenges. Microcultures form around identity as well, with people of the same sexuality, race, gender, or lived experience establishing strong relationships with one another.
These groupings can worry some leaders. The opposition comes from concerns that:
- Having individuals self-select for microcultures undermines overall company unity.
- When people form strong bonds others may feel excluded, which runs counter to the idea of fostering a culture of belonging and inclusion.
- The presence of microcultures is an indicator that a business’s strategy “isn’t strong enough and is lacking consistency.”
Yet, microcultures aren’t necessarily a bad thing at work. It’s a toxic microculture that could pose problems.
Inspirus notes in its 2023 Trends report: If the group of individuals isn’t properly managed, resentments could fester. Those employees could become disengaged, with members of the group feeding each other’s dissatisfaction.
But toxicity in any work environment, whether from a microculture or not, is going to be detrimental. An MIT Sloan Management Review article cited toxic culture as a driver of the Great Resignation and attributed toxicity in the workforce today to:
- Elevated levels of stress, burnout, and mental health issues
- Increased physical suffering and sickness
- Higher organizational costs (e.g., from higher health benefits and employee turnover)
Still, this is an argument against toxicity, rather than microcultures in particular. In fact, the authors of the Inspirus report argue, “non-toxic microcultures have many benefits.” Other researchers support this perspective. The next section considers several advantages attributed to microcultures at work.
1. Microcultures foster belonging
In its State of Workplace Connection 2022 report, Blueboard noted, “Connection is core to our happiness as human beings; it isn’t a periphery factor, it’s essential.” In their survey:
- “77% of employees agree[d] that they want to work at an organization where they feel connected to the purpose and the people.”
- “Nearly 3 in 5 employees surveyed said they would consider leaving their job if they didn’t feel connected at work.”
- Just “38% [of employees said] their company is effective at enabling them to build authentic relationships with coworkers and managers.”
Meanwhile, being part of a smaller group at work day-to-day allows individuals to connect and build relationships. Connected employees are more likely to feel heard and respected. These employees are, in turn, more likely to take risks, speak up with creative ideas, and do their best work to meet company goals.
2. Microcultures support inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a top priority at many organizations today. Microcultures can support DEI initiatives as they allow people to feel that their identity is appreciated and recognized by that group at work. As Inspirus’s authors state, “The broad organizational culture can’t incorporate every employee’s experience and every employee’s difference, but microcultures can, allowing for individual expression broader than the boundaries of a majority culture.”
3. Microcultures facilitate networking
Microcultures provide opportunities to connect with others, regardless of team affiliation or department geography. Employees drawn together by common experience, values, and behaviors, may develop deeper bonds. This could encourage them to help one another through both formal and informal networking.
4. Microcultures provide support
With BambooHR suggesting in 2023 that the Great Resignation has been replaced by the “Great Gloom,” employee unhappiness needs to be addressed. Since the start of 2020, “employee happiness has steadily declined at a rate of 6%.” In the first six months of 2023 alone, BambooHR saw a 9% decline in employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS), a 10x faster decline than the previous three years.
However, a microculture can represent a support network at work. Even in hybrid and remote work environments, microcultures can create spaces online for people to discuss what matters to them. This provides a psychological safety that can have a positive impact on employee wellbeing.
Leverage microcultures at work
Leaders, like Antoine, may feel disconnected from microcultures. That can be challenging. Still, amplifying positive microcultures can benefit employee wellbeing, encourage networking, support DEI, and connect employees more closely to their work. Instead of exorcising all microcultures from your work environment, take proactive steps to foster these groupings and support their positive potential influence on your organization.
In the next article in this series, we’ll talk in more detail about how you might encourage microcultures and reap the benefits.
Want to better gauge employee connections with your organization? Consult with Sogolytics today.