nt. J. Work Organisation and Emotion, Vol. 8, No. 2, 201
Copyright © 2017 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Organisational atmospheres: the missing link
between organisational culture and climate
Fakultät für Wirtschaftswissenschaft,
Lehrstuhl für Betriebswirtschaftslehre,
insb. Organisation und Planung,
University of Hagen,
58084 Hagen, Germany
Abstract: This article introduces the concepts of Hermann Schmitz’s new
phenomenology to organisation theory and links them with the concepts of
organisational culture and climate. It is the concept of atmosphere in particular
that serves as a bridge between organisational culture and climate. Although the
significance of Schmitz’ work on atmospheres has been acknowledged and
applied in different areas, so far no corresponding attempt has been made in
organisation theory. According to the approach presented here, organisational
culture can be understood as a shared situation based on conventions, whereas
organisational climate is regarded as the wholeness of atmospheres on an
organisational level. It is shown that organisational culture and climate are
inextricably intertwined, but must be distinguished. Finally, the connection
between both concepts is delineated as a gestalt circle. Above all, the affective
involvement of people is regarded as a precondition for any culture or climate
Keywords: affective involvement; affect; felt body; atmosphere; organisational
culture; organisational climate; new phenomenology; Hermann Schmitz.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Julmi, C. (2017)
‘Organisational atmospheres: the missing link between organisational culture
and climate’, Int. J. Work Organisation and Emotion, Vol. 8, No. 2,
Biographical notes: Christian Julmi was awarded a Doctorate in Business
Economics at the Faculty of Business Administration and Economics,
University of Hagen, Germany. In his dissertation, he discussed the
development dynamics and method of appearance of atmospheres in
organisations thematically. He is an associate member of the International
Research Network ‘Atmospheric Spaces’. In 2007, he was awarded with a
Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Karlsruhe Institute of
Technology (KIT). His research focuses on the area of management and
132 C. Julmi
Whatever happens within organisations, as long as no one is affected, nobody will strive
to act (or even notice anything). In this sense, being affected is the opposite of being
detached (Ahmed, 2010; Vachhani, 2013). Affect therefore plays a pivotal role in
organisations. Although largely neglected in the early history of organisation theory, the
study of affect and emotions has become one of the most popular areas within
organisation theory (Barsade and Gibson, 2007; Elfenbein, 2007; Ashkanasy and
Humphrey, 2011), often referring to an affective turn (Cromby, 2012). Affect is seen here
as a broader term encompassing emotions and atmospheres. In the context of this article,
atmospheres are spatially poured out emotions; hence emotions serve as a starting point.
Although emotions are predominantly treated as private inner states affecting only the
person possessing them, the experience of emotions goes far beyond that. As “emotions
are not only shaped by, but also shape, the relationship in which they occur” [Boiger and
Mesquita, (2012), p.222], emotions are essentially social and cannot be neglected in
studying interpersonal, group-wide and organisation-wide relationships (Fineman, 2003).
Accordingly, Ashkanasy (2003a) identifies five levels in the study of emotions in
2 between persons
3 interpersonal interactions
On the organisation-wide level, the relevant objects of investigation are the culture and
the climate of an organisation. Although it is widely recognised that organisational
culture has an affective side (Schein, 1984; Van Maanen and Kunda, 1989; Hatch, 1993;
Beyer and Niño, 2001; Küpers, 2002; Elfenbein, 2007; Härtel and Ashkanasy, 2011;
Ashkanasy and Härtel, 2014), “the link between affect and culture is not well explored”
[Härtel and Ashkanasy (2011), p.9]. The same can be said for the organisational climate,
where an affective side has been identified as well (Ostroff, 1993; Brown and Brooks,
2002; Carr et al., 2003; Patterson et al., 2004; Härtel and Ashkanasy, 2011; Ashkanasy
and Härtel, 2014). Thus, this article aims to contribute to the study of emotions on an
organisation-wide level by introducing the concept of atmosphere and investigating its
link to organisational culture and climate.
According to Ashkanasy (2003a, p.38), the exploration of emotions on an
organisation-wide level makes it “necessary to deal with the more nebulous concept of
emotional climate” from De Rivera (1992). Although De Rivera (1992) uses his concept
of emotional climate in the context of societies, the concept can easily be adapted to
organisations (Kiefer, 2002; Ozcelik et al., 2008; Nolan and Küpers, 2009; Yurtsever and
De Rivera, 2010; Ashkanasy and Humphrey, 2011; Ashkanasy and Härtel, 2014; Fink
and Yolles, 2015). De Rivera (1992) defines emotional climate as an objective social
phenomenon that affects the members of a group or society in a concrete way. The
Organisational atmospheres 133
emotional climate refers to the collective feeling and behaviour of people and is the
expression of the way the people stand in relation to each other emotionally. Apart from
the emotional climate, De Rivera also introduces the concepts of emotional atmosphere
and emotional culture. The term emotional atmosphere refers to the actual moment when
a group focuses on a common event. Compared to the emotional climate, the emotional
atmosphere is therefore not only of a shorter duration, but is also grounded in the actual
moment. Emotional climate goes beyond the actual situation. The emotional culture
corresponds to the socialised emotional relations within a culture and therefore refers to
the phenomenon with the longest duration. In summary, the main distinction between the
terms emotional atmosphere, emotional climate and emotional culture relies on their
different duration. With regard to the dynamics of emotional atmosphere, climate and
culture, De Rivera (1992, p.199) identifies a complex interplay between the three
concepts: “Emotional climates depend on underlying emotional culture, and both
influence, and are affected by, emotional atmosphere”. Although De Rivera’s concepts
underlie several subsequent studies (Bar-Tal et al., 2007; Rimé, 2007), this interplay
between emotional atmosphere, climate and culture still remains largely unexplained,
especially in an organisational context.
Whereas the concepts of culture and climate have become well established research
fields within organisation science, it is the study of atmospheres that has largely been
neglected so far. One of the few noteworthy exceptions is the work from Borch (2010,
2011), who applies Sloterdijk’s (1998, 1999, 2004) theory of spheres to organisation
theory. This article aims to shed light on the study of organisational atmospheres and
their relations to organisational culture and climate choosing a different approach. Instead
of Sloterdijk, this article relies upon Schmitz’s phenomenological theory (as Sloterdijk’s
work on spheres does too). The significance of Schmitz’s work on atmospheres has been
acknowledged and applied in different areas, such as aesthetics (Böhme, 1993; Griffero,
2014a, 2014b, 2016; Rauh, 2014), medicine (Langewitz, 2007; Appel-Opper, 2008),
architecture (Löw, 2008, 2016; Hasse, 2011, 2014, 2016; Grant, 2013; Pallasmaa, 2014),
marketing management (Biehl-Missal and Saren, 2012; Biehl-Missal, 2013; Julmi, 2016),
law (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2013, 2015), emotion theory (Slaby, 2014), creativity
research (Julmi and Scherm, 2015), and archaeology (Sørensen, 2015). In organisation
theory, no such attempts have been made so far, although Julmi (2017) recently
highlighted the potential of Schmitzian philosophy for management and organisation
studies. As Schmitz relies upon a phenomenological method in his work, this article also
responds to calls for a stronger integration of phenomenological studies in organisation
science (Sanders, 1982; Holt and Sandberg, 2011; Gill, 2014).
The article begins by introducing the key concepts in Schmitz’s philosophy. These
are the concepts of affective involvement, felt body, atmosphere and situation. Schmitz
has devoted several books to these concepts, so they can only be outlined briefly here.
Next, it will be argued that the concept of organisational culture is a situation based on
conventions as defined. On this basis, the concept of organisational climate can
subsequently be understood as the wholeness of atmospheres on an organisational level.
It will be shown that the concepts of organisational culture and climate are closely related
on a phenomenological level (Ashkanasy, 2003b), although they have to be distinguished.
The article closes by illustrating the overall connections between organisational
atmospheres, climate and culture against the background of De Rivera’s work.
134 C. Julmi
2 Key concepts in Schmitz’s philosophy
Schmitz is acknowledged as the founder of new phenomenology (or
neo-phenomenology), a phenomenological movement developed to regain “a sensibility
for the nuanced realities of lived experience” [Schmitz et al., (2011), p.241]. Although
Schmitz developed the greater part of his philosophy in a series of ten volumes from
1964 to 1980, his work is still being elaborated and advanced in more recent publications
(Schmitz, 2014, 2015, 2016b).
In general, phenomenology is the study of phenomena. More precisely, Schmitz
defines a phenomenon as a state of affairs whose factuality appears to someone at a
specific time to be unchangeable even with an arbitrary variation of all possible
assumptions, and imposes itself on him in such a way that he is unable to seriously deny
its existence. An example of a phenomenon is felt pain, because it is not possible to deny
felt pain through the assumption that it does not exist (Schmitz, 1967, 2009; Schmitz
et al., 2011). Having access to a phenomenon is only possible through the affective
involvement of a person. According to Schmitz, affects are not only a necessary
condition for gaining access to phenomena, but are also a prerequisite for subjectivity in
general: “Affective involvement is an immediate, pre-reflective, not yet articulated
self-consciousness” [Schmitz et al., (2011), p.245]. Without affective involvement,
everything would be neutral and uniform; there would be no first person perspectives. It
is necessary to emphasise here that Schmitz conceptualises subjectivity and objectivity in
a specific manner. For Schmitz, subjectivity and objectivity are by no means mutually
exclusive, as assumed in dualistic conceptions. Importantly, it is not primarily the
subjects and objects that are subjective and objective. Instead, subjectivity and objectivity
refer to facts (or, more broadly, to states of affairs). The fact that someone is sad is an
objective and neutral fact in the sense that it can be stated by anyone who possesses
sufficient information to do so. In contrast, the statement that ‘I’ am the one who is sad is
a subjective fact that only the person who is affectively involved can state. In this
example, the subjective fact is richer than the objective fact, because it contains the
nuance of subjectivity that the referring objective fact lacks (Schmitz, 1969, 1974, 1992,
2009, 2011; Schmitz et al., 2011).
Consequently, it is not the private inner sphere of the soul that is the custodian of
subjectivity in Schmitz’s philosophy, but the felt body (Leib in German). The
phenomenon of the felt body refers to what people feel of their own body in contrast to
the objectively measurable physical body which cannot be felt at all (see also Parviainen,
2014). The felt body is what someone can feel of himself in the area (but not always
within the limits) of his body, as belonging to him, without making use of the five senses
and of the perceptive corporeal schema acquired from experience (the habitual idea of
one’s own body). The difference between the felt body and the physical body can be
illustrated using the example of someone ill with fever who experiences his forehead as
being hot (I am hot), but at the same time the forehead actually feels cool when it is
touched (this is cold). Whereas the first case can only be subjectively experienced by the
person concerned (felt body), the second case can be objectively verified by other persons
as well (physical body). Phenomena of the felt body are neither part of a physical world
as they are experienced subjectively, nor do they belong to a private inner sphere of the
soul as they are experienced spatially (Schmitz, 1965, 2009, 2011; Schmitz et al., 2011).
Hence, there is no room for the felt body in a dualist paradigm, which is why most of
Schmitz’s works start by criticising this paradigm.
Organisational atmospheres 135
Closely linked with the phenomenon of the felt body is the phenomenon of the
atmosphere. An atmosphere is defined as “a total or partial, but in any case
comprehensive, occupation of an area-less space in the sphere of that which is
experienced as being present” (Schmitz, 2016a). The given distinction between
subjectivity and objectivity applies here as well. Atmospheres are objective facts, as a
common sense about them can be established interpersonally (e.g., the tension within a
meeting). As soon as someone is affected by an atmosphere, however, it becomes a
subjective fact for the involved person. On the one hand, atmospheres can be perceived
only, without affective involvement (e.g., a relaxed person within a meeting fraught with
tension), and on the other hand they can corporeally affect a person (e. g., a tensed person
who is affected by the tension within a meeting) (Schmitz, 1969, 1992, 2009, 2011;
Schmitz et al., 2011). This means that atmospheres are objectively present in the space,
but on the other hand impinge on the subjective corporeal condition. The distinction
between atmospheres and the affective involvement in them is similar to the distinction
between the affective qualities of an environment and the corresponding core affect of a
person made by Russell (2003, p.148): “Perception of affective quality is a ‘cold’
process, made hot by being combined with a change in core affect”. Despite these
similarities, however, the underlying assumptions between Russell and Schmitz are
contradictory (Julmi, 2015).
The interplay between the objective presence of atmospheres in space and the felt
body rests upon so-called bridging qualities. Bridging qualities are qualities that can be
found in the objective (not necessarily physical) space, but are also present in the
subjectively felt body. According to Schmitz (1969, 1974, 1977, 1978, 2009, 2011), there
are two types of bridging qualities: kinetic and synesthetic qualities. Kinetic qualities are
omens of motions, which can emanate not only from executed motions, but also from
latent motions. Kinetic qualities depict the suggestion of a motion that can be experienced
corporeally. Examples of such bridging qualities are a glare, a pointed finger that stabs
the person pointed at like a dagger, an eye-stinging smell, the branches of a weeping
willow, the rhythm of a piece of music or the affordance of a door knob (Gibson, 1977).
Another example is the dynamic design of a sports car: although the shape of the car is
not moving itself, motion is corporeally suggested. Haverkamp (2013) speaks about the
concept of kinetic design in this context. Similarly, Bonnin and Goudey (2012) explore
the kinetic quality of a store design. As the second type of bridging qualities, synesthetic
qualities are qualities of perception that go beyond the allocation to individual genres of
perception (e.g., colours, temperatures, noise or light). A colour is perceived as bright or
dark (light), as cold or warm (temperature). Sounds can be heavy, dense or hard (mass).
Generally, synesthetic qualities stand out due to positive and negative qualities and a
neutral zone between them. Examples of positive qualities are bright, warm, fast and loud
with the corresponding negative qualities dark, cold, calm and quiet. The exploration of
synesthetic qualities of products from Haverkamp (2013) is one of the few examples
explicitly considering synesthetic qualities in the perception of atmospheres. Kinetic and
synesthetic qualities often occur simultaneously. The heavy atmosphere of a meeting
(Strati, 2009), for example, both relates to the suggestion of a downward move and to the
heaviness of a mass that cannot be measured physically but affectively hits the felt body.
For Schmitz (1980, 2005, 2009), people are always embedded in situations. Besides
an individual’s personal situation, there are many shared situations (e.g., the common
situation at work or at a party) through which the personal situation obtains a social
136 C. Julmi
background. Situations are defined through three attributes. Firstly, situations are
uniform, that is, they are characterised by coherence in themselves and by external
detachment. Secondly, situations cohere through a meaningfulness that consists of
significances. Significances are state of affairs, programs or problems. A state of affairs
indicates that something is; a program means that something should be or is desired; a
problem refers to the question of whether something is. Significances may also be
objective or subjective facts. Thirdly, the meaningfulness of a situation is internally
diffuse. This means that individual significances do not have to be either individually
countable or separable from each other. They may even contradict each other without
threatening the wholeness of the situation. There are two types of shared situations: actual
and conventional situations. Whereas actual situations are formed by the actual moment
and can easily be tracked from moment to moment (e.g., the shared situation of a
conversation), conventional situations consist of more segmented, social conventions.
Social conventions determine what is expected to be done or not to be done (norms),
what someone is allowed to do without being sanctioned and what someone is expected
to wish. Actual situations can turn into conventional situations over time.
It is only due to the fact that the conventions of a shared situation are given as
internally diffuse meaningfulness that its participants are able to rely on them in a naïve,
pre-reflective way. Situations are permeated with atmospheres giving the situation its
specific and emotional character. The distinctions as well as the connection between
situations and atmospheres are crucial for the ideas developed in this article.
3 Organisational culture as a shared situation
In this section, it will be argued that the culture of an organisation can be understood as a
shared conventional situation. Because organisational cultures are often explored using
phenomenological methods (McLean, 2005) and because the field of research on
organisational culture is rooted in anthropology (Geertz, 1973; Smircich, 1983; Wright,
1994; Alvesson, 2011; Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013), phenomenological concepts can be
integrated into organisational cultures from an epistemological point of view.
Ontologically, however, neither an objectivist nor a subjectivist understanding of
organisational culture (Smircich, 1983; Schneider et al., 2013) may be applied here.
Instead, an integrative view of organisational culture in the sense stated above is
necessary. Briefly, organisational culture is an objective fact that becomes subjective for
its members (Küpers, 2013).
Although Schmitz himself does not explicitly apply his concept of situation to the
concept of culture, the connection between both concepts is established by Rappe (2004)
in his intercultural anthropology. Based on the terminology used by Schmitz, Rappe
defines culture as a shared conventional situation that aligns its members in a
pre-reflective way: through the course of living together, culture conveys social
competence regarding appropriate forms and behaviours. As a conventional shared
situation, culture allows its members to act and coexist in an appropriate and conflict-free
manner. Such an understanding of culture can be applied to the more specific case of an
organisational culture as well. Alvesson (2011), for example, analogously views
organisational culture as a shared and learned world of experiences, meanings, values,
and understandings that informs people about which behaviour is considered appropriate.
Another corresponding definition of organisational culture is given by Schein (1984, p.3):
Organisational atmospheres 137
“Organisational culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group
has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of
external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough
to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the
correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems.”
This definition of organisational culture satisfies all three attributes of a situation given
above. Firstly, the notion of external adaptation presupposes the existence of external
detachment just as the notion of internal integration equates a coherence of an
organisational culture in itself. In the end, it is the culture of an organisation that
distinguishes it from other organisations (Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005; Cardador and
Rupp, 2011). Secondly, the meaningfulness of an organisational culture is significant as
its basic assumptions are considered valid and therefore refer to subjective facts.
Alvesson (2011, p.14) similarly states:
“Meaning has a subjective referent in the sense that it appeals to an expectation,
a way of relating to things. Meaning makes an object relevant and meaningful.”
Thirdly, the fact that the meaningfulness of an organisational culture is internally diffuse
is reflected through the use of the term ‘pattern’. As opposed to a set or an aggregation of
elements, a pattern of elements tends to emphasise its wholeness. At a minimum, a
pattern does not rule out the possibility that it is organised in a chaotic way. This
possibility is even more highlighted by Hatch (1993, p.663), who refers to “the gestalt of
underlying assumptions”. Going beyond the three attributes of a situation in general, the
definition given by Schein also applies to a conventional situation as the correct way to
perceive, think, and feel apparently refers to conventions. An explicit connection between
organisational culture and ‘shared behavioural expectations and norms’ (i.e.,
conventions) is established by Glisson and James (2002, p.770). Although Schein (1984,
1990) further differentiates between basic assumptions and shared values as the invisible
levels of organisational culture (see also Schein and Schein, 2017), these levels can be
subsumed under what is called conventions here. Basic assumptions and shared values
both refer to conventions, although they may differ in their degree of pre-reflectiveness
(or consciousness, respectively). In other words, conventions reflect the invisible side of
an organisation’s culture.
It is often argued “that culture is a powerful force in explaining the behaviour of
individuals and groups within organisations precisely because it is unspoken and taken
for granted” [Barney, (1986), p.661]. The everydayness of conventions unfolds its power,
because it is not challenged in its self-evidence (Heidegger, 1996; Julmi, 2015). It is
based on the (shared) expectation that everything will be done as prescribed by the
conventions. In general, a shared expectation results from many individual, intersecting
reactions, for example in the form: she expects that they expect that she expects, etc.
Reciprocity spirals of anticipatory expectations are created from countless reactions,
which are amalgamated into a holistic, shared expectation. In organisational culture, “a
bond of reciprocal dependence” exists, linking its members to one another [Goffman,
(1956), p.50], “in order to maintain a particular definition of the situation” (p.53).
Apart from the invisible side of conventions, there also is a visible side of
organisational culture. Schein calls this side the level of observable artefacts. The
artefacts of an organisational culture contain the specific architecture, interior design and
dress code of an organisation as do the specific rituals by the members of an organisation.
In this sense, cultural artefacts are the visible expression of the culture’s conventions. As
138 C. Julmi
an expression, cultural artefacts are perceived as a holistic impression, whereby this
holistic impression is charged with significance from the organisational members’ point
of view. As a holistic impression, cultural artefacts are perceived and felt as atmospheres.
Obviously, the atmospheric quality of the architecture and the interior design of an
organisation affect the felt body via bridging qualities. An atmospheric quality of a
building or room may be bright or dark, warm or cold, narrow or wide, oppressive or
uplifting. Either way, the atmospheric quality of a building or room has to be consistent
with the conventions of the organisational culture; otherwise, this atmosphere will be felt
in a dissonant manner (Berg and Kreiner, 1990). This is also valid for the rituals of an
organisational culture as these depend on bridging qualities in a similar way. In
face-to-face communication, bridging qualities are mainly transported via facial
expressions, tones of voice and gestures (Rafaeli and Sutton, 1989). The institutionalised
way of conducting a conversation in a specific context can be characterised by a cold,
warm, piercing, pushing or inviting intonation or glance. Even the content of a
conversation may be laden with kinetic and synesthetic qualities. In some cases, for
instance, simply mentioning the name of an organisation’s charismatic leader may be
sufficient to uplift the corners of one’s mouth. Organisational culture determines the way
emotions are expressed through conventional display rules (Van Maanen and Kunda,
1989; Beyer and Niño, 2001; Elfenbein, 2007; Haman and Putnam, 2008). Such display
rules may determine the way emotions are poured out spatially in a sense that is palpably
Putting everything together, the culture of an organisation is a shared conventional
situation that not only consists of the conventions of an organisation, but also of the
artefacts as their visible expression; and it is this visible side of the organisational culture
that is perceived and felt atmospherically. The conclusion here is, therefore, that the
organisational culture directly and permanently affects atmospheres on an organisational
4 Organisational climate as the wholeness of organisational atmospheres
The shared perceptions conventionally bound and induced by the organisational culture
refer to atmospheres on an organisational level. As a situation, an organisational culture
is permeated with atmospheres, and these atmospheres can therefore be defined as
organisational atmospheres. Organisational atmospheres are providing the organisational
culture with its specific and emotional character. As organisational atmospheres are
rooted in the shared conventions of an organisation, it can be assumed that there is a
certain degree of consistency and coherence in perceiving and feeling organisational
atmospheres among the members of an organisation. Moreover, as organisational culture
with its deeply held conventions is assumed to be relatively enduring and stable over time
(Guldenmund, 2000; Campbell, 2004), there should at least be some consistency and
coherence of organisational atmospheres over time as well. These features reveal a close
connection between the concepts of organisational atmospheres and organisational
The concept of organisational climate broadly relates to the shared and relatively
stable perception of an organisation or certain characteristics of an organisation by its
members (Ashforth, 1985; West and Richter, 2008; Schneider et al., 2013). Although the
organisational climate is based on individual perceptions, the concept is regarded as a
Organisational atmospheres 139
feature of the organisation and exists outside the individual (Woodman and King, 1978;
Moran and Volkwein, 1992; Schneider et al., 2013). With reference to the aspects of
shared perception and objectivity, the connection between the organisational climate and
organisational atmospheres becomes apparent: the organisational climate is the
wholeness of all organisational atmospheres. The climate of an organisation is the
relatively stable and shared atmosphere of its culture. This is consistent with other
studies that explicitly understand the organisational climate as the atmosphere of an
organisation (Pritchard and Karasick, 1973; Flamholtz and Randle, 2014) or use both
terms interchangeably (Forehand and Gilmer, 1964; Payne and Mansfield, 1978).
Notwithstanding this, integrating research done within the field of organisational climate
into the theoretical foundations offered here remains difficult. As organisational climate
research is derived historically from social psychology (Ehrhart et al., 2014), the
construct is often understood as static, measurable and not directly observable (Glick,
1985). From a phenomenological perspective, however, the organisational climate can
actually manifest itself in many different facets without losing its consistency or
coherence (Ashkanasy, 2003b). As a situation, the organisational culture can be
permeated with different (shared) atmospheres that all have to be considered for a
non-reductionist understanding of organisational climate.
If atmospheres are understood as spatially poured out emotions and organisational
climate as the wholeness of atmospheres on an organisational level, culture is a source,
expression, and reinforcement of climate in organisations. Organisational culture
reproduces itself through organisational climate. This does not mean, however, that the
organisational climate is an epiphenomenon emerging from organisational culture as a
result only. Organisational culture also builds on organisational climate. They share a
reciprocal relationship. The shared conventions are constantly renewed and confirmed by
the organisational climate. This is particularly evident for new members in an
organisation. When entering an organisation, new members are initially more or less
unfamiliar with the prevalent conventions. New members are required to learn about the
correct way to feel, think and perceive through a process of socialisation (Schein, 1984,
1990; Schein and Schein, 2017; Alvesson, 2013). Conventions are internally diffuse and
cannot be represented through a closed system of rules that can be communicated to and
instantly applied by new members. Rather, conventions first have to be accessed through
their visible, atmospheric (or climatic) manifestation, before they can be incorporated as
conventions. New members initially gain access to the shared situation through its
atmospheres. By perceiving and feeling the atmospheres, new members corporeally
experience how other members within the organisation treat each other and which
atmosphere is regarded as appropriate or inappropriate. For instance, the affordances of
cultural artefacts naturally enlarge or narrow the room for possible behaviour. In general,
artefacts allow the members of an organisation to do and not to do certain things, and to
react in a specific, conventionally accepted way (Gagliardi, 2006; Vilnai-Yavetz and
Rafaeli, 2011; Islam, 2015). In this sense, the conventionally accepted scope of behaviour
is pre-structured atmospherically through artefacts. The atmospheric perception of
artefacts not only comes from cultural conventions, but also influences them.
Another example that emphasises the autonomy of the concept of organisational
climate is what Schmitz (1973) calls climatic changeover of the shared and felt
atmosphere. Because the organisational climate refers to the shared perception, it can
shape and change itself more rapidly than the deeply held conventions of organisational
140 C. Julmi
culture (Moran and Volkwein, 1992). Even a single event may change the organisational
climate. Accordingly, the climate of an organisation may significantly differ from its
culture or even stand in conflict with the shared conventions (Nolan and Küpers, 2009;
Härtel and Ashkanasy, 2011). Take for example an economic crisis that suddenly
threatens the existence of a company historically spoiled by success. The climate of the
organisation may suddenly change from a climate of safety to a climate of fear. The
culture of the organisation cannot change within a moment, however. Because
conventions are corporeally inscribed into one’s habitus, they cannot be discarded
overnight (Bourdieu, 1977; Rappe, 2005, 2012). This holds true even when it is obvious
to everybody that the shared conventions have lost their validity and need to be altered, as
corporeal inscription is pre-reflective by nature. In such cases, it is the organisational
climate that literally takes the lead and shapes the shared conventions, and not vice versa:
“Experiencing of emotional climates trigger self-reinforcing behaviour cycles” [Nolan
and Küpers, (2009), p.67].
Basis for a climatic changeover is a certain threshold of intensity regarding the
affective involvement when feeling a shared climate. According to Schein (1990, p.111),
“shared intense experiences (as in a combat unit)” have to be considered as a possible
source for allowing a culture to form. In a political context, Berezin (2012, p.627) states
that “spectacular events aim to create experiences that can be reabsorbed into collective
experience”. The strength of an organisational culture may be critical in determining the
threshold of intensity that has to be exceeded before the members of a culture are
affectively involved in an organisational climate that differs from the existing culture.
In total, the distinctiveness of the concepts of organisational culture and climate
emphasises that the organisational climate cannot be reduced to the visible level of
organisational culture. In many cases, it may be true that the organisational climate is
indeed the ‘manifestation of the culture’ [Schein and Schein, (2017), p.17] and therefore
can be reduced to its visible side. In other cases, however, the artefacts of a culture may
stand in stark contrast to the currently felt climate within an organisation.
Although the debate as to whether organisational culture and climate are distinct,
overlapping or synonymous concepts is still ongoing (Moran and Volkwein, 1992;
Denison, 1996; Glisson and James, 2002; Schneider et al., 2011, 2013), their relationship
is clear from the perspective taken here: whereas the organisational culture is a situation,
the organisational climate is the wholeness of its atmospheres. While organisational
climate is essentially an emotional phenomenon, organisational culture is more stable and
rooted in shared conventions (Ashkanasy, 2003a). Both concepts are inextricably
intertwined, albeit they have to be distinguished. As Flamholtz and Randle (2014, p.249)
put it: “If culture is the personality of an organisation, climate is the atmosphere of the
organisation, driven by culture and related factors”.
Coming back to De Rivera, the interplay between emotional atmosphere, climate and
culture becomes clearer. People are always embedded in situations and thus immersed in
emotional atmospheres. Such an emotional atmosphere may be the affective tone of a
group situation (George, 1990, 1996; George and Brief, 1992), but can also be located on
Organisational atmospheres 141
an organisational level. Whereas emotional atmosphere refers to a distinct emotion
poured out spatially, emotional climate refers to the wholeness of atmospheres a given
situation is permeated with and can therefore be regarded as more stable. Finally,
emotional culture reflects shared conventions that are incorporated into the felt body and
are by nature corporeally persistent. With this in mind, emotional culture can be regarded
as the most stable and enduring phenomenon.
In the context of this article, however, there is no need to put the attribute ‘emotional’
in front of the terms atmosphere, climate and culture. Atmospheres and climates are
emotional by definition. As situations, cultures are not emotional per se, but necessarily
permeated with atmospheres. Accordingly, there is no (shared) culture without (shared)
emotions. Beyond this, the concepts of organisational atmosphere, climate and culture are
understood as pre-reflective. Atmospheres and climates are pre-reflective as they refer to
emotional phenomena. The culture enables its members to rely on shared conventions in
a naïve, pre-reflective way. In this sense, there is no culture-free reflection or climate-free
perception for anyone affectively involved in a culture or climate.
The relationship between organisational culture and climate can correspondingly be
described as a gestalt cycle (Gestaltkreis in German), a term that originated in biology.
Weizsäcker (1990, p.520) uses this term to refer to the circular connectedness of
organism and environment:
“Because real performances apparently arise in a continual circular
connectedness of organism and environment, environment and organism, but
not in such a way that they could be put together like two parts of a whole.
Because the organism always defines as well what part of the environment has
an effect on it, and the environment always what is aroused by the organism.
[…] We can designate this circular connectedness as gestalt cycle.”
According to Rappe (2006, 2012, 2016), this biological understanding can be transferred
to a phenomenological understanding of the gestalt cyclical connectedness of felt body
and situation, which is closely connected with the idea of the hermeneutic circle
As a gestalt, artefacts (as the visible expression of the shared conventions) are
perceived and felt holistically as atmospheres via bridging qualities. As these
atmospheres are shared due to their recurring or intense character, together they
constitute a climate. The climate, in turn, reproduces or alters the shared conventions
(Julmi, 2015). Such a hermeneutic understanding of culture and climate implies that
neither culture nor climate can be traced back to a zero point. For example, the founding
members of an organisation always bring in their personal situations as well (Bass and
Avolio, 1993), and already act upon specific rituals and beliefs. Although the existence of
an organisation may have a clearly defined origin, the origin of its situation remains
gestalt cyclically (or hermeneutically) sealed. Thus, any understanding of culture or
climate presupposes previous understanding.
In a nutshell, it is this idea of a gestalt cycle between organisational culture and
climate that enriches the understanding of the concepts of (emotional) atmosphere,
climate and culture from a phenomenological point of view. Eventually, the glue that
binds the gestalt cycle together is the affective involvement of the people.
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1 This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or