Reality Check

Workplace Culture Assessments an Eye-Opening Tool

Scroll through Indeed, Monster, or any other job site at the moment and you will find endless employers describing themselves as “a great place to work,” “like family” and “supportive.” When trying to attract new workers, businesses generally put their best foot forward.

However, when trying to retain and engage a talented workforce, and comply with applicable employment laws, actions often speak louder than words.

Given the current economy and expanding employment law protections, many proactive employers are completing workplace culture assessments, taking a look in the mirror and asking themselves hard questions, like “What kind of employer are we?” and “What is it honestly like to work here?”

A workplace culture assessment is a tool that offers a candid snapshot of an organization’s current work culture. The assessment is intended to evaluate the work culture from multiple perspectives, identify strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately assess how closely the actua culture tracks with the version the organization projects or intends.

The process can be reaffirming, but it can also be uncomfortable and eye-opening. The information learned can make a business stronger, help to drive change where needed, and lead to better risk mitigation strategies. However, as with any tool, employers should be fully informed when making the decision to conduct such an assessment.

Employers should consider the following when planning or conducting a workplace culture assessment:

Internal v. Third-party Assessment

The goal for the assessment is to obtain accurate information about the employer’s actual practices and culture. While a current employee may be able to conduct the assessment more economically and have a deeper understanding of the organization’s operations, employees may be too close to the source to provide an objective and unbiased assessment. Further, if the assessing employee’s duties already include managing employee satisfaction, engagement, or compliance, an inherent conflict may exist. On the other hand, a third-party assessor with proper distance should be able to provide an impartial evaluation.

Additionally, the assessor should have specific experience with employment law and compliance in order to accurately identify areas of potential risk and exposure. If legal advice and/or other privileged information will be a part of the process, the company may wish to utilize its legal counsel to conduct and/or man- age the assessment to preserve privilege where possible.

Backward- and Forward-Looking Components

The most effective workplace culture assessments generally include components that analyze not only the employer’s current work culture based on past practices, but also the employer’s vision for its work culture going forward. The goal is to equip the organization with the information it needs to bridge the gap between the two, if any.

The backward-looking component should include an analysis of whether the employer’s actions in practice have been consistent with its own representations of culture and values (i.e., what has the organization said about its own culture via its policies, statements, etc.? Does the organization follow its own policies?)

It should also ask whether the employer’s practices and policies actually foster the type of culture or behavior intended (i.e., what behaviors are rewarded or discouraged by the practices and/or policies? What traits or values are lifted up?) This part of the assessment would likely include some form of exchange with current employees about their work experiences, as well as an analysis of performance management and corrective action procedures, and related documentation.

The second component of the assessment generally relates to the employer’s vision for its work culture going forward. If the organization’s leadership does not already have a shared vision about work culture, the assessor may be able to help the company intentionally consider this vision. Based on the shared vision, a work culture assessment generally would identify steps to bridge the gap, if any, and address any potential risk and exposure related to compliance issues identified in the backward-looking component.

Commitment to Action

Employers should understand that numerous employment laws require action by an employer once the employer has knowledge of an issue (i.e. discrimination and harassment, etc.). As a workplace culture assessment may directly identify such compliance issues, employers who engage in the assessment should understand that they may be exposing themselves to obligations to take investigative and/ or corrective action as a result of the findings of the assessment. Failure to take such action after knowledge could result in willful violations of law and/or potential exposure to liability. Thus, employers choosing to start the assessment process should be fully committed to act on the results.

While workplace culture assessments can provide an employer with a valuable unfiltered, introspective view of their organization, employers should be fully prepared for what they might see in the mirror.

Employers should consult their legal counsel prior to beginning such an assessment to ensure proper procedure is followed and privileged information is protected to the extent possible.

Lindsay Raymond specializes in employment law, represents employers in all aspects of employment-related matters, and defends employers in employment litigation matters. She can be reached at (231) 714-0161 or

This article was featured in the September 2021 issue of the Traverse City Business News.