Impact Topic: Workplace Culture

Curious about the latest draft of the standards for B Corp Certification? As we prepare for the second consultation, B Lab’s Standards Management Team educates and informs us with this new content series featuring the Workplace Culture Impact Topic.
By Bernard Gouw, Senior Social Standards Manager, B Lab Global
December 13, 2023

B Lab’s standards define the performance that a company needs to manage and continuously improve upon to achieve and maintain B Corp Certification. Since 2006, they have been developed to improve their impactfulness and clarity around what it means to be a leading business and to incorporate feedback shared along the way.

In order to achieve these goals, the draft standards have departed from the current framework where companies have flexibility in how to achieve a verified 80-point score, and instead meet specific requirements across the standards’ Impact Topics. While the components of the draft standards have been developed with the existing standards in mind, you can expect to see new topics, designed to optimize and improve our certification processes. After all, the B Corp community is on a journey of continuous improvement.

The Workplace Culture Impact Topic brings internal stakeholder governance to life. It has companies create solid foundations based on communication, dialogue, measurement, and continuous improvement. Workplace Culture refers to the attitudes, beliefs, and values within a workplace that influence many aspects of workers’ experiences, such as those related to workers’ sense of satisfaction, belonging, shared purpose, psychological safety, engagement, and happiness. Positive workplace culture helps create a sense of shared purpose, which is vital for the success of purpose-driven companies. It is an important part of the B Lab community's shared vision for stakeholder governance in the workplace.

In this blog, Bernard Gouw, B Lab’s Senior Social Standards Manager, explains the quiet power of this Impact Topic and how it’s been refined since the first public consultation in 2022.

What is the purpose of the topic, and why is it important?

Workers’ priorities and issues vary depending on the context, making it important they can advocate for their specific interests. This is what makes workplace dialogue so fundamental. Companies should actively seek worker feedback and consider it when making decisions. It is a vital ingredient for creating positive workplace cultures and an important part of our shared vision for stakeholder governance in the workplace.

A positive workplace culture helps create a sense of shared purpose, which all purpose-driven companies depend on. Therefore, the concepts of workplace culture, workplace dialogue, and company purpose are intertwined.

Workplace culture refers to the attitudes, beliefs, and values within a workplace that influence many aspects of workers’ experiences, such as those related to workers’ sense of satisfaction, well-being, mental health, belonging, shared purpose, psychological safety, engagement, and happiness.

How has the idea of this topic in relation to the standards for B Corp Certification evolved over time, and what are the main driving factors behind this evolution?

The Workplace Culture Impact Topic will see several worker-related sub-requirements being refined as opposed to introducing completely new themes or requirements. For example, a big part of this topic is the requirement to measure workplace culture(1), which is comparable to the existing question in the B Impact Assessment on monitoring ‘worker satisfaction and engagement’. In addition to changing the terminology from ‘satisfaction and engagement’ to ‘culture’, the latest draft standards are more explicit in how this should be done.

The new format of the standards also includes a new type of sub-requirement where companies have to demonstrate a type of behavior or practice, considering feedback from workers on issues that affect them and informing them how their feedback was addressed. It ties together several key themes, such as internal stakeholder governance and workplace dialogue, and has companies explain in concrete and practical ways how they achieve this. The larger a company is, the more examples it is required to provide.

What challenges and obstacles do companies face when trying to adopt this topic?

At first look, some of the Workplace Culture sub-requirements may seem straightforward and easy to meet. And perhaps for many companies that will be the case. However, readers will spot some important nuances introduced in the compliance criteria related to accessibility and languages. For example, there’s a sub-requirement on providing workers with communication channels, which most modern workplaces already have.

However, the compliance criteria add that the channels should be “accessible to workers with disabilities and workers with different language needs,” which for some companies may require assessing who is actually able to access the channels and potentially making improvements.

If you were to convey ‘just one thing’ about why this topic is important for the standards for B Corp Certification, what would it be? 

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the topic was renamed in the 2022 draft, from Worker Engagement to Workplace Culture. This change was driven by feedback showing that ‘worker engagement’ was only clearly understood in the minority English-speaking countries. The term and concept of ‘culture’ are more accessible across different regions and languages.

Meanwhile, we were also confronted with many stakeholders suggesting additional workplace themes to measure. Satisfaction and a shared sense of purpose were already proposed, and stakeholders suggested adding psychological safety, belonging, well-being, and mental health. Each of these carries different understanding and associations depending on the local culture, so rather than trying to find a closed and complete definition, we deliberately opted for an open and flexible approach. In addition to using ‘culture’, which already leaned itself to a more flexible application, we defined it by referring to those many themes and sub-themes associated with measurements of worker experiences: a sense of satisfaction, wellbeing, mental health, belonging, shared purpose, psychological safety, engagement, and happiness. Crucially, as opposed to making companies measure all of these, they pick two depending on what makes sense for their context. This provides flexibility across languages, cultures, and the company's context.

The second consultation will run from 16 January 2024 to 26 March 2024.

(1) Workplace culture: refers to the attitudes, beliefs, and values within a workplace that influence many aspects of workers’ experiences, such as those related to workers’ sense of satisfaction, well-being, mental health, belonging, shared purpose, psychological safety, engagement, and happiness.

What is the overarching expectation of B Corps for this Impact Topic?

The overarching expectation is that B Corps have positive workplace cultures with meaningful workplace dialogue.

What are the most significant differences between the current standards and the latest draft of the standards in relation to Workplace Culture?

Many companies will feel familiar with the Workplace Culture requirements as several of the requirements are comparable to what’s in the current B Impact Assessment.

In addition, feedback from the first public consultation showed that this topic was considered the most attainable social topic, and with relatively few changes, we anticipate this will remain the case. We don’t view this as positive or negative, as variance in attainability across topics is normal and arguably even desirable.

One notable exception is that in the latest draft standards, the largest of companies will have to implement some type of formal worker representation mechanism. This can be a union, but also another mechanism. Why don’t we require companies to have unions? Well, in short, international standards state that every person has the right to join a union, which isn’t the same as saying every workplace should have a union. This right that workers have is covered through a sub-requirement under Human Rights, where a company’s human rights commitment or policy refers to the ILO’s Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which refers to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

So can a large B Corp block unionization and implement another form of worker representation instead? No. Interfering with workers’ freedom of association and right to collective bargaining (i.e. right to unionize) would be grounds for ineligibility, covered in the Foundation Requirements.

How will the standards related to Workplace Culture be responsive to the different contexts of companies?

As elsewhere in the latest draft standards, we have built-in flexibility so that they work across different contexts. For example, the largest companies have to choose a second social identity, in addition to gender identity, to disaggregate workplace culture data. They choose that social identity based on their workforce and the wider community, which is where the contextualization comes in.

As an example, at B Lab Global (which has around 100 employees across three continents), we disaggregate our workplace culture data by various self-reported social identities, including gender identity, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We also include other factors in our workplace culture analysis, such as employee tenure, age, citizenship, and disability. We use our annual Inclusion & Engagement survey to determine the areas of need that lead to the biggest impact.

Here is another way in which the latest draft of the standards responds to the different contexts of companies. Whilst all companies (above a certain size) must measure workplace culture, they are given the flexibility to choose what specific themes and sub-themes within ‘workplace culture’ they measure. We provide examples for guidance, but the latest drafts do not mandate specific focus areas or questions. We do this because we acknowledge priorities and constraints vary by context. For example, asking about mental health may be more feasible and appropriate in some contexts than others.

What kinds of impacts does the topic hope to address?

The Workplace Culture Impact Topic can be seen as a set of foundational requirements, aiming to create the necessary building blocks within companies so that workers can advocate for their specific priorities. The building blocks are communication, dialogue, measurement, and continuous improvement. In all of these, employers are expected to engage with their most important stakeholders when it comes to workplace culture - their workers.

If I’m a current B Corp, or seeking to become one, where should I focus my impact efforts for this core topic of Workplace Culture?

As mentioned before, this topic won’t present companies with any big surprises and will mostly feel familiar. Perhaps one additional step is to assess and ensure accessibility for all workers, noting that our definition of ‘worker’ includes employees and some independent contractors (also known as freelancers). Similarly, as mentioned above, communication channels have to be accessible for people with varying needs and potentially also in multiple languages. These finer points may catch out companies, so are worth a closer look.

Want to learn more about the other Impact Topics in the draft standards?

🪧 Purpose & Stakeholder Governance

🪧 Human Rights

🪧 Climate Action

🪧 Fair Wages

🪧 Environmental Stewardship & Circularity

🪧 Workplace Culture

🪧 Government Affairs & Collective Action

🪧 Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

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