Our health care system ­today has made tremendous progress in providing care to ­individuals and families. Change is good, but as the health care industry rapidly responds to emerging trends, markets, and ­opportunities, how staff nurses respond to different kinds of work ­culture is important, particularly when work culture highly ­impacts a nurse’s job function.

Work culture is made up of the norms, values, and beliefs that characterize an organization. Several factors, including management, workplace practices, policies and philosophies, ­employees and their interactions, ­leadership, expectations, rewards or ­recognitions, communications, transparency, and ­support within an ­organization, can influence work ­culture. Work culture,which can make or break a workplace, is powerful. It can ­inspire health care employees to be more productive and positive at work, or it can make them feel undervalued and frustrated. Thus, it plays a crucial role in shaping ­behaviors in ­organizations.

Your Work Culture

Ask yourself the following:

  • What is the culture like in your workplace?
  • Do staff naturally unite and collaborate?
  • Are the leadership and ­executive teams available and transparent?
  • What values and principles does your organization ­express?

Sometimes, you might say “it’s challenging.” Defining work culture can be difficult; nevertheless, it is fundamental to good (or poor) practice. Work culture is not often discussed, but clearly, nurses can be ­negatively or positively ­influenced by their work ­culture.

Work culture in nursing is critical to job satisfaction, nurse retention, and patient outcomes. A toxic work culture can lead to increased sick days, stress-related symptoms, and nurse turnover. It also plays a large role in the ability to provide quality nursing care. Work culture can impact everything from the safety of patients to job satisfaction. If yours is negative and discouraging, you cannot just wait for it to change. The first thing you must realize is that it might not change at all without you taking some kind of action.

Understanding your work culture is key to developing practice that aims to improve care. Although a positive work culture is mostly created from the top down, it often happens from the bottom up. Nurses should not undervalue the power of their work culture. Understanding work culture as a learning environment is ­related to how nurses choose to engage in their workplace and how the workplace normalizes their involvement in activities and interpersonal relations. Nurses can take inspired action, engage in networks, and initiate work culture change. This is not a simple task, but nurses can utilize their own personal power and create cultural transformation in their workplace. Keep in mind that work culture can—and will—change and evolve over time. The first approach is to define and evaluate your work culture—both what it is now and what it should be in the future.

Every workplace has its own work culture. Most of this is unspoken, but a lot can be learned from an employee handbook or company policy. Observation, assessment, and communication are key ­approaches to help you ­uncover your work culture. These key approaches can also be utilized by someone who has unique developmental and ­socialization needs, such as new graduate nurses, international nurses, student nurses, and nurses who are undergoing role status changes or transitioning to a new area. No matter what your status is, here are five ways to help you thrive in your work culture.

  • Watch and learn. Give yourself some time to understand the reasons behind workplace behavior and you will be much more successful in understanding the causes. Observe how things are done. Take notes. Keep track. Building relationships with people in your workplace and connecting with someone on your team who has a good understanding of how the workplace culture works can help you better ­understand and avoid making a mistake.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t need to know everything. Questions are a great way to clear up differences and get to know people. Also, be sure to ask for help whenever you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation should not be considered a sign of weakness.
  • Remain motivated at work. Nurse burnout is real, so it is important to recognize the impacts you make on your patients and workplace every day. Focus on yourself and how you can be a positive influence.
  • Be transparent. Let your ­coworkers know about your background and your career goals. Don’t hesitate to share your ideas and let your team and supervisor know what other skills you have to offer.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes. Apologize and laugh it off. Keep your sense of humor and learn from every mistake you make.

Developing the skills and ability to understand and communicate effectively with all your coworkers (including your supervisor) is critical to your success in your own career, as well as the success of your organization. These skills are not innate; they require practice, but anyone can develop these skills. Adapting to a new work culture is an ongoing process. Once you have the skills, you can work more effectively with different groups of people and adjust easily to working in different cultures throughout your career.

Nuananong Seal & Mary Wiske

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is a nurse researcher and a consultant for health promotion and health prevention research.

Mary Wiske, RN, is a retired community health nurse.

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