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The Slippery Slope of Improving Company Culture (Without Imploding It)

Statistics show that a healthy company culture is more crucial than ever for thriving businesses.  It’s also top-of-mind for leading talent in every industry, and an especially important consideration for millennials entering the professional workforce.

Businesses increasingly recognize that top talent want to be part of an amazing company culture  – and meeting that need has a significant impact on a company’s bottom line.

“Culture is a company’s greatest competitive weapon.”
 Marissa Levin, author and founding CEO of Successful Culture.

Companies whose employees are actively engaged in their workplace culture enjoy 33% higher revenue over those whose are not.

With more millennials and Gen Zs (born after 1996) permeating the workforce, the desire to improve company culture and create a “fun” work environment has almost become trendy.  As a result, companies are rising to the challenge.

Or trying to, at least.

Some offer perks like free energy drinks, ping pong tournaments, or the option to slide to your morning meeting instead of taking the stairs.

Unfortunately, top employees don’t really care about those things.

It takes much more than complimentary fruit bowls, casual Fridays, and arbitrary “team-building” exercises to create a space in which top talent want to work and innovate.

In fact, superficial attempts to “boost morale” often have the opposite effect.

For businesses looking to stand out in their field, attract great employees AND earn the coveted buying dollar of their target market  – a sincere, tangible, and amazing company culture is one of the most effective growth strategies there is.

Let’s break it down. What is company culture?

Simply put, the culture of a business encompasses the following:

  • Who you are  (as a company AND as a team of individuals)
  • Why you do what you do
  • How you do what you do
  • Where you are going

The benefits of a healthy and robust company culture trickle down through every level of the organization.  

From top executives to hourly employees  – all the way to the customer experience  – company culture is reflected in every aspect of how a business operates.

After all, in the words of Simon Sinek:  “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”  

So, what do businesses really need to know to improve company culture and create an environment their employees will love?

The first and most important thing to know about company culture is that it’s already happening.  Culture is inherent to every business.  And there are only two ways that company culture is formed:  Intentionally, or by default.

In either case, the effect can be positive or negative.

Company culture isn’t complicated;  but there are some essential elements that must be in place in order for it to be healthy and engaging.  

Here’s the shortlist to improving company culture, without imploding it:

1.  Core Values

It’s difficult to emphasize the importance of core values for any business.  They determine how a company functions, and how it is perceived both internally and externally.  When properly implemented, core values provide a roadmap for day-to-day operations, as well as a guiding light for growth which strengthens the company vision.  

Here are some examples of core values in company culture:

TRUST

Trust is a two-way street.  For both employers and employees, trust is imperative to creating a safe environment in which to grow and take risks.  

However, stats tell us that many businesses are sorely missing the mark when it comes to establishing trust in their company culture.

Only 46% of employees report having a “great deal of trust” in their employers.  

Ouch.  It gets worse, too.

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, who do 58% of respondents say they trust more than their own boss? Strangers.  

Employees report trusting people they don’t know MORE than the people they work for.  

What’s wrong with this picture?  

Trust erodes in an environment where employees are micro-managed, overworked, or observe company practices which are unsupportive to their ability to feel good and perform well in their job.

Correspondingly, lack of trust in employers means less effort and engagement from employees.  Unfortunately, this may reinforce the attitude in employers that their employees can not be trusted.  

This vicious circle is broken when core values are meaningfully expressed and acted on throughout every level of an organization.

“When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing,” says Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb.

COMMUNICATION

As with every relationship, coworkers rely on clear and effective communication to operate harmoniously.  All parties must feel heard, validated, and supported in order to fully engage at work and perform at the highest level.  

Poor or non-existent communication between management, staff results in a toxic workplace culture, where employees compete with each other over what little recognition and validation may be available.  

Unresolved workplace issues inevitably affect the level of service a business provides, and are often negatively reflected in the customer experience.

After all, it doesn’t matter which department won the last company foosball tournament if coworkers can’t stand each other, or communication breakdowns are costing time and productivity.

Without successful communication at every level, there is no way to ensure that morale is high, systems are functioning, and every member of the team is operating with clear expectations regarding the company and their own role.

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CARING

What does it mean for a company to care?

For employees, it boils down to 2 things:  Empathy, and integrity.

Essentially, employees care about how their employers treat them, and how they view their quality of life as it relates to their job  – as well as the positive impact their work is having.

Ninety-two percent of CEOs say that their organization is empathetic.

That sounds good, right?

However, only 50% of employees agree.  

Uh oh.

Such a large discrepancy in attitude is a strong indicator of a breakdown within the core values of businesses, and how they are currently choosing to communicate and act on those values.  That’s where integrity comes in.

Statistics demonstrate that employees will work harder and perform better when they feel their employer truly cares about them.

They’re even willing to put in extra hours for it  –  with 81% of employees saying they would work longer if they felt their employer was more empathetic.

Company culture thrives on intentional design;  but it only works if it’s truly connective and supportive to the individuals in that organization.

Superficial measures like printed mission statements and the occasional catered lunch are nice;  but employees actually care more about things like continuous learning, recognition, and paid time off.

2.  Morale

Businesses want happy, productive employees.

With endless opportunities to be creative about improving workplace culture –  from pet-friendly offices to incentives like parties and awards – the sky’s the limit for coming up with ideas to make employees happier.

But it’s important that employers not get too whimsical on this one.  What employees really want is actually fairly straightforward.  

On the most basic level, employees want the tools, training and resources necessary to do their job well.  They want:

  • Efficiency and Organization
  • Systems and processes that streamline tasks and make it easier for everyone to do what they need to do
  • Leadership and Cooperation
  • Competent and respectful management and team dynamics.
  • Adequate training
  • Clear expectations
  • Recognition and Appreciation
  • Feeling that their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated

Global studies cite “lack of appreciation” as the reason given by 79% of people who quit their jobs.  For savvy companies and HR professionals, this one fact paints a startling reality.  How could such a simple courtesy be so overlooked?

3.  Engagement

Research conducted on employee engagement is sobering, at best.  As it turns out, roughly 85% of the global workplace don’t like going to work.

Employee engagement is alarmingly low.  Gallup’s Global Poll told us that only 15% of employees are actively engaged.  For millennials, 29% reported feeling engaged with their job.

The implications?  Huge. Lost productivity costs associated with employee turnover ring to the tune of 7$ trillion within the global economy.  In the U.S. alone, millennial turnover costs an estimated $30.5 billion annually.

Conversely, companies with high employee engagement see a 41% reduction in absenteeism, along with a 17% increase in productivity.

So What Makes Company Culture Engaging?

  • Challenges  – Continuous learning and opportunities for growth.
  • Responsibility –  Top talent crave the responsibility to develop their own skills, projects, and career path within their organization.
  • Innovation  – Successful company culture promotes creative problem-solving, fostering innovation and change.
  • Purpose  – Engaged employees share the company core values, feeling inspired to contribute positively to the overall business vision.

Creating an amazing company culture is a strategic opportunity that businesses can’t afford to miss out on.

At the end of the day, most employees want (and expect) to have the tools and training necessary to do their job well.  They want respectful relationships with coworkers and management.

They want to feel appreciated.  

They want adequate resources to care for themselves and their families. They want to enjoy their life inside and outside of work.

Here’s one more secret ingredient that can easily set a business on track for an amazing company culture:  Flexible scheduling.  

For happier, healthier, more productive employees  – this tactic is a slam dunk, allowing individuals to have greater control over when and how they work.

Flexible scheduling acknowledges the employee as a “whole person”, providing greater freedom to achieve an optimal work/life balance.  This type of scheduling has been shown to increase productivity, retention, and overall satisfaction at work.

When done correctly;  improving company culture is low-risk, high reward.

Taking care of employees is taking care of business.  Bean bag chairs and Xbox can’t prevent toxic culture any more than office slides help employees reach their potential (no matter how many loops they have).

As competition grows for consumer revenue and top talent, only companies who successfully create an excellent company culture will truly maximize the benefits of their most valuable assets  – their employees.

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Rejean Martin

Rejean is the Marketing Manager at PurelyHR but some people also know him as the guy who lived in a bus in the prairies. As a world traveller and nature lover, Rejean can strongly attest to the power of time off in the workplace.

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