How does the culture of our workplace shape the economy?

Seeing as work takes up a good chunk of so many people’s days, the culture of our workplaces is an integral part of the culture of our societies as a whole. How we communicate with each other, the hierarchies we construct, and how we organise our time in the workplace has a huge ripple effect on the wider economy.

So how has the culture of our workplaces transformed over time? Looking back through the ages, workplaces have developed as different social groups entered the workplace and as hierarchies around family background, ethnicity, and gender slowly began to weaken. Who can and can’t be part of a workplace reflects the deeper social relations and divisions that exist beyond it via things like like racial discrimination in the workplace or the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ - a metaphor for the limit to the level minorities can reach in a workplace hierarchy that’s not explicit, but is still there.

More formal workplaces will shape people’s behavior in specific ways, perhaps encouraging a respect for authority, a competitive spirit, or an emphasis on efficient time management. Often, work that takes place outside a formal workplace isn’t seen as ‘work’ largely because it’s not happening within these recognisable structures. And those who are unemployed have the most difficult time getting the way they spend their days to be recognised as work … partly down to the lack of a workplace.

And even in parts of the world where social movements have led to a some improved recognition of the importance of equality in the workplace, certain jobs, ranks, and industries remain strongly associated with a single group in society, based on previous stereotypes of who was most ‘suited’ to that workplace. Sales, lower-level education, and the beauty industry, for example, are still thought of by a lot of people as traditionally female, while industries like banking, building, and plumbing, traditionally associated with men, remain male-dominated.

That means that our experience of the economy of these workplaces when trying to break into an area which remains unusual for someone from our background is completely different from someone who would fit into the mould. So even before the work that’s being done is considered, the culture of a workplace in itself affects our economic chances and experiences