Objective The aim of the present study was to determine whether there is an association between having research culture in a health service and better organisational performance. Methods Using systematic review methods, databases were searched, inclusion criteria applied and study quality appraised. Data were extracted from selected studies and the results were synthesised descriptively. Results Eight studies were selected for review. Five studies compared health services with high versus low levels of research activity among the workforce. Three studies evaluated the effect of specific interventions focused on the health workforce. All studies reported a positive association between research activity and organisational performance. Improved organisational performance included lower patient mortality rates (two of two studies), higher levels of patient satisfaction (one of one study), reduced staff turnover (two of two studies), improved staff satisfaction (one of two studies) and improved organisational efficiency (four of five studies). Conclusions A stronger research culture appears to be associated with benefits to patients, staff and the organisation. What is known about this topic? Research investment in the health workforce can increase research productivity of the health workforce. In addition, investment in clinical research can lead to positive health outcomes. However, it is not known whether a positive research culture among the health workforce is associated with improved organisational performance. What does this paper add? The present systematic review of the literature provides evidence that a positive research culture and interventions directed at the health workforce are associated with patient, staff and organisational benefits. What are the implications for practitioners? For health service managers and policy makers, one interpretation of the results could be to provide support for initiatives directed at the health workforce to increase a research culture in health services. However, because association does not imply causation, managers need to interpret the results with caution and evaluate the effect of any initiatives to increase the research culture of the health workforce on the performance of their organisation.