5 Tips for Shaping Your Workplace Culture

Americans are getting back to working outside the home.

In 2021, while a third of working Americans did at least part of their jobs at home, more than two-thirds did most or all of their work at traditional workplaces, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the trend of returning to traditional workplaces continues, then the average adult will spend more of his life in the workplace than anywhere else. . . except bed.

If you’re like most workers, then you don’t work alone. Your workplace includes dozens or even hundreds of other people. How these people interact with others during the workday is an indication of the culture of your workspace.

Thousands of organizations rely on chaplains to improve their workplace culture, says Richard Buckley of Corporate Chaplains of America, which was founded by Dr. Mark Cress, an entrepreneur who decided that caring for employees was more important than running a business well. Cress sold his business, went to seminary, and developed a model for corporate chaplains. Today, such chaplains enhance work environments at organizations of all sizes and types.

How? “We give people someone to talk to,” says Buckley. “Our chaplains are trained experts in caring for people.”

You don’t have to be a chaplain to play a role in having a positive influence on your workplace. Anyone in the workplace can shape its culture in a positive way, says Buckley.

Here are his five tips for shaping your workplace culture.

1. Be Joyful

After Buckley’s freshman year in college, he realized that something was missing in his life. But he couldn’t figure out what it was.

“I was enjoying the college experience,” he recalls. “I had a party nearly every night. Plenty of friends. My GPA was decent, and I had a bright future. But I wasn’t fulfilled. And I didn’t know why.”

He would find out soon, in a very unlikely setting.

“My dad called and told me that he had a summer job for me at the oil tool plant where he was an engineer,” says Buckley. “The pay was good, but the job was anything but glamorous. I’d be working for a janitor.”

When Buckley met the janitor, the older man said that he had been praying for Buckley and invited the college student to have lunch with him. “We would talk some work stuff,” says Buckley, “but mostly he would tell me these long stories about growing up in Kansas on a farm. I found these stories, and this guy, to be really intriguing.

“This guy, Jim, was a janitor. He drove the ugliest old VW Bug I'd ever seen. But he smiled all the time. He was joyful. He was the definition of joy. He was an enigma to me. I needed to figure out what made him tick.”

Finding that out would change Buckley’s life and give him a model for serving others in the workplace.

2. Establish Trust

In addition to radiating joy, Janitor Jim established trust with Buckley. That trust enabled conversations to go to a deeper level.

Trust is in short supply in many workplaces. Some people will open up only to a chaplain because they feel that no one else will keep things confidential.

“The person in the corner office signs your paycheck,” says Buckley. “No high-performing individual is going to walk into that office and say something like, ‘I'm actually a functional alcoholic; every night I fall off the wagon,’ or, ‘My marriage is messed up,’ or, ‘I've got a pornography addiction.’”

People also don’t always want to share things with their coworkers, because work environments are competitive. If the organization is not doing well and some cutbacks need to occur, then employees who are known to be struggling, even outside the workplace, may get the axe.

“The rumor mill is alive and well in many workplaces,” says Buckley.

Once people know they can trust you, they may have plenty to share with you. But they won’t share it until they get to know you.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Nortonrsx 

3. Build Relationships

There is a lot of small talk in the workplace. Sometimes, it is just a way to fill time. But it can be a starting point to building a relationship.

“Chaplains are trained in having conversations that are designed to build caring relationships,” says Buckley. “For example, we use a Socratic method where we ask really good open-ended questions.”

Buckley saw similar techniques used by Janitor Jim many years ago. “He would never call himself a chaplain,” explains Buckley, “but he did a lot of the things that we teach our team to do. He was building a relationship with me.”

By asking Buckley open-ended questions, Jim helped Buckley understand, and then begin to discuss, what was going on his heart.

“I was 18 or 19 years old,” Buckley recalls. “I really didn’t know myself very well. I didn’t understand myself. It was a crucial time in my life. His questions, and our conversations, helped me explore that uneasy feeling inside me.”

4. Ask for Permission to Discuss Spiritual Matters

A relationship is not built in a day, or in a single conversation.

“As we get to know people, they open up to us,” says Buckley. “But that takes time.”

Eventually, your growing friendship with someone in the workplace will reach the point where the two of you can discuss private matters, including spiritual matters. When it does, be sure to ask for permission before you move ahead.

This approach was modeled well for Buckley by his janitor boss.

“During lunch one day, he pulled out a Bible from his desk,” recalls Buckley. “Then he asked me, ‘Do you mind if I share something from this book? It has changed my life.’”

Buckley agreed, but not because he was dying to hear about the Bible.

“It was hot outside, and I was on the clock,” he says. “We were sitting in air conditioning. I was happy to stay there, not working, for as long as he wanted.”

Buckley was intrigued by the Bible at first. But as the lunchtime conversations continued for a few weeks, he started to feel uncomfortable. “He started getting a little too close to home,” Buckley recalls. “I felt weird.”

5. Be Patient and Consistent

Rather than pulling the plug on spiritual conversations, however, Jim recognized that God was beginning to work on Buckley’s heart. So the janitor took small steps forward, continuing to ask Buckley’s permission with each step.

“One day, he shared a story from the Gospel of John,” says Buckley. “At the end, he asked me if I was willing to read more of that Gospel at home that evening. I agreed. Soon, he was asking me to read more and more of the Gospels, and I was doing it. I even read the whole book of Matthew in one sitting.”

Thanks to the patience and consistency of a humble janitor, Buckley became a Christian that summer. When he returned to college, Buckley stopped being “the biggest party animal” on his floor and started sharing the gospel with others.

All because his summer boss recognized that a workplace can be a place where God works, too.

Related Resource - Listen to the FREE Capitol Ministries Podcast and their episode on foolishness in the workplace. To listen, just click the play button below:

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes 

Chris Bolinger is the author of three men’s devotionals – 52 Weeks of Strength for MenDaily Strength for Men, and Fuerzas para Cada Día para el Hombre – and the co-host of the Empowered Manhood podcast. He splits his time between northeast Ohio and southwest Florida. Against the advice of medical professionals, he remains a die-hard fan of Cleveland pro sports teams. Find him at mensdevotionals.com



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