Have you ever walked into an office and felt an odd vibe? Maybe it's too quiet and everyone has their heads down as if they're fearful of getting in trouble. Or maybe you've had the opposite experience. Perhaps you've visited a new office and people are joking around and jolly, meeting in clusters with laptops and chatting over coffee in the break room.
Well, both of these feelings are called the "organizational climate."
The climate of an organization is the perception of the environment, both by outsiders and by the people who work for the organization. A climate can be created by the boss. It also feeds off events that occur in the office, or by the people who work there and how they react to things. The climate can change. It might shift slowly over time if there is new leadership, for example. Or it can change quickly due to an unforeseen event, such as the death of a co-worker.
An organization's culture, on the other hand, includes the values and behaviors that give the office that certain feeling. Culture includes the unwritten rules of the organization, the shared beliefs, and values of the workers and leaders of the company. It is felt when you are within it, but an outsider walking into the office won't necessarily pick up on the culture immediately, as would the organizational climate.
It's easy to get culture and climate confused. Both of the ideas are intertwined, and one tends to impact and feed off the other. As mentioned, the climate can change quickly due to an event. The culture, however, takes time to develop. If the boss wants to change the culture and has a few employee bonding events with the notion that this will provide a shift in culture, he will likely be disappointed. The climate may change during and after those events, but the culture will take longer to shift.
A climate survey is typically an anonymous questionnaire quizzing employees about how they feel about their workplace environment. These surveys can be helpful to company leadership as they are a window into how the company is doing regarding communicating with employees, payment, treatment etc. Climate surveys can sometimes be painful to leadership, but they are an important tool if management is interested in improving the climate of the organization.