My niece, who works in the Social Development sector, has just come out of a three-week long visioning / looking-in / Inside-out / Future-shape-of-things meeting at her office that has not more than 10-odd staff members.  She has emerged hopeful of what comes next for the team and elatedly reassured with how the top dog spearheaded the exercise. Such an exercise, she felt, was imperative in rehauling the organizational climate that had begun to get more stifling and less sustaining.

This was in a very small team of ten. But the niece asserts that she went through trying issues even in much larger offices where strength of staff ran into hundreds. Significantly, she also shares that she has faced similar concerns during her work years in the United States, twinning with those she encounters in India.

We all have comparable stories to share – stories of experiences at workplaces that have either made us or marred us; strengthened us or slayed and scarred us.

Therefore, it won’t be wrong to conclude that it is we – the workers, who contribute to the organizational climate; making it positive or negative, encouraging or dissipating, productive or abysmally unproductive.

What is organizational climate?

Wikipedia defines organizational climate thus – “Organizational climate (sometimes known as corporate climate) is the process of quantifying the “culture” of an organization. It is a set of properties of the work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by the employees, that is assumed to be a major force in influencing employee behaviour.”

Organizational climate is what we get by intersecting company brand philosophy with the overall bearing and actions of its employees.

While a well set organizational climate shapes up employee deportment and impacts their efforts; there exists a complexly circular relationship with one being the causing agent of another.

Organizational climate is influenced by different nationalities and the uniqueness they bring. That is to say, there would be different organizational cultures in America or Europe that would differ from what exists in Africa or Asia. We know that Americans or French or Japanese or Chinese or Indians work differently in their own milieu. Experts from these regions have been plying us with several hand books on how to understand, perform and survive in these varying cultures.

Still, on account of shorter time spans required to travel around and increased virtual and technology thrusts, organizations have fast become multicultural and multinational bodies. It should be par for the course that multiculturalism will allow thriving of people from different cultures and bring in respect for the varied cultural sensibilities. At the same time, it should safeguard the pronounced expectation that all the rich diversity and divergence dovetails back into the common vision and mission of the organization.

But this is organizational culture at large. Organizational climate is its sibling, that feeds from the collective or even unit energy, behaviour and the value system of the people who form the organization.

What is an organization?

Organizations are really microcosms of the larger universe we live in. Organizations are also carbon copies of the people who inhabit these institutions. They are a composite and sum total of brand ethos and brand vision enmeshed with the intricacies of the human factor.

While a lot of emphasis is given to well-designed buildings, defining looks in terms of the exterior and ergonomic layouts within, what forms the core is the characteristics the organizations imbibe from the organizational denizens.

What factors shape organizational climate?

Nature of business plays a key role in defining the organizational culture. Therefore, government bodies function and feel differently from private companies. Old world professions like hospitals, hotels, banks etc. tend to be more formal than the relatively new businesses such as software firms, advertising agencies, media organisations or FMCG enterprises, where the culture is more informal, less starchy and more yuppy.

So, while all-week Friday dressing or addressing the boss by his first name or grabbing a sandwich lunch while at one’s work station or engaging in informal and impromptu discussions in the corridors are all part and parcel of working in such organizations, all this would be simply sacrilege in the formal establishments.

More importantly, organizational climate derives its form and feel out of the energy, actions, behavioural patterns, values, insecurities, dynamism or lack thereof, team spirit, confidence, leadership skills present in the team members including the senior most.

By this analogy, organizations can be ethical, temperamental, dictatorial, friendly & warm, manipulating & politically charged and so on.

Unarguably, the set of soft qualities that the employees and chiefly the top leadership bring into the organization become the strongest defining factors of organizational climate.

How does organizational climate and culture impact the organization?

Different personality types and people traits stemming from the work force is what defines and shapes organizational climate.

It is the climate that has a direct bearing on the organization’s reputation. Does the organization manage to attract and retain good talent? Or is hiring, firing and frequent resigning more the norm at this place?

Is the organization known for its best practices and often comes out on top of the most respected organizations’ surveys year after year? Or is it a place where people may come for short gains and quick trials, where they end up making as swift an exit as their entry?

A few years back, the same young para-legal expert and social activist niece came back one evening broken and shattered from her work place that had not only formed the foundation, but also helped define her professional identity.

Her main set of grouses were – there was a huge amount of incongruence between what she was expected to do and was being asked to do. With no clear definition of her roles and no proper direction from a supervising authority, she was being made to run around like a headless chicken. To add to her woes, the top boss was whimsical, highly temperamental and given to loud and severe emotional outbursts that would end up sapping a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm.  A lot of colleagues contributed to and festered on malefic grapevine which ended up becoming fodder for the daily news and basis for the existing, rotting climate within the organization.

So much so, that double promotions in a year and increase in salary structure were not proving to be strong retaining factors. The severely damaging and driving out forces that lurked within were far more insidious.

Bad climate vs. good climate

One of the biggest challenges Human Resource Departments face is the handling and managing of the organizational climate.

Bad organizational climate leads to absenteeism, increased number of sick leaves, wastage of a multitude of man hours, loss in yield – both individual and collective, and a sharp blow to the bottom line.

On the other hand, a good and healthy organizational climate is promoting, nurturing, encouraging and leads to brilliance in work and success in business.

Owners invest millions to ensure that their companies function as composite entities and successful businesses. It is, then, a matter of utter chagrin and dismay to note how the people – at all levels really, from the visionaries and strategists on top to the developers and managers in the middle down to the ones who really make things happen at the shop floor – work at cross purposes to the organizational vision and mission.

Organizations need to realize and take into account the huge amounts of time, energy and money they lose when good, well-trained and high performing employees leave.

There are a large number of studies which reveal that companies lose much more when they continue to house an under-performing, negative and poorly trained workforce. Such a workforce is more of a drain on the company’s resources as against the miniscule nothings that it ends up bringing to the table.

A good organizational climate will feed off a strong organizational culture which in turn will be laid on the foundation of trust, respect, honesty, equality, pleasantness, growth and excellence.

So, does your organizational climate kill or sustain and rejuvenate you?

About the author

Aruna Dhir is a hospitality and feature writer and columnist. Her industry writings are used as references in case studies and hotel schools. With over 20 years of experience with some of India and Asia’s top hotel brands, Aruna is a seasoned corporate communications specialist, PR strategist and writer who has taken a sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on book projects on public relations and communications, hotels, food and India respectively. As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardisation of business communication and written manuals. Aruna has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International and participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA and Friendicoes to name a few.

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