Everyone knows how a strong workplace culture is important in attracting and retaining top talent. We also know employee engagement is key to productivity, innovation and ultimately a healthy profit margin. Endless studies, polls, papers, and reports stuffed with positive statistics confirm these facts. We recognise and reward companies with the best workplace culture, handing out trophies and prizes, but for what exactly?
What is culture in the workplace?
I’m genuinely fascinated by the culture concept because a LOT of companies believe they have it if they offer free beer on Fridays. Just because you have an inspirational quote on the wall, a ping pong table and some retro arcade games, or present employees with the choice to take a slide instead of the stairs, doesn’t make for a strong workplace culture. Maybe these examples would motivate you to get up and go to work on a moody Monday morning, but we all know it runs deeper than that.
Don’t get me wrong, perks are great, but your company culture is so much more than its freebies – It’s the sum of your mission, beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes. It’s the character and personality of your organisation, it’s what makes it unique and it should rank of equal importance to your business strategy. Workplace culture brings together all the everyday practices and policies that impact people and create a positive experience. Strong leadership is crucial, and those who interact with their team, recognise and reward them, and clearly communicate the company vision, directly influence its culture.
Once you strip away all the shiny things, ask yourself – Are you trusted at work? Are you respected? Do you feel valued, supported and empowered by management to make your own decisions? Is your voice heard? If so, the stats say you’re happy and fulfilled, more productive, more creative and 41% less likely to chuck a sickie. In short, you feel job satisfaction. You are engaged, filled with passion and purpose to actually show up and make a contribution!
Engagement is more than the warm fuzzy feeling you might get from free-beer Friday, it’s being made to feel like you make a difference. Companies that recognise employees as business stakeholders engage them more successfully. When you think about it, it’s not so surprising that clear performance expectations, personal development programmes, and positive co-worker relationships all translate into higher productivity and a stronger profit margin.
Who has it and who doesn’t?
A company is defined by how its employees talk about work after they’ve left at the end of the day, and especially after they’ve left the business. It’s the indelible mark a job leaves on people and whether that’s positive or negative starts at the top with strong leadership, good management and a team built on shared values. Those that have it recognise that fit is everything and never try to adjust the workplace to suit an individual employee, because nobody is THAT good.
It’s a common mistake to allow workplace culture to develop organically instead of first deciding what it should be. Many agencies develop culture in reaction to a perceived need instead of it being defined by the company vision and values. It always feels hollow and false.
For new starters here at M&P, it can sometimes feel like joining a cult. Everyone is nice, everybody seems to know an extraordinary amount about everyone else’s private life, we are genuinely close, we socialise outside of work and we actually like each other. For me, it felt like a big family and I was the foster kid, a bit of an outsider, feeling wary, and waiting for the truth to be revealed, because I was convinced it was all just for show.
Eight months in, nothing has changed, except me. If you have ever experienced micro-management, you’ll understand what this means. Many of us spend far too long in toxic workplaces, where an outdated leadership style imposes suffocating rules and regulations that choke any opportunity for open and honest communication. We’ve all been there; an underlying lack of trust and no concept of mutual respect or admiration which inevitably leads to high staff turnover rates. No amount of free beer on Fridays, or a beach in the kitchen can make up for it. The cultural gestures feel false and employee engagement is non-existent.
Like a troubled foster kid exposed to a loving home, I’ve embraced my new family. Alright, we have a drink on Fridays too but it’s generally down the pub and it never feels forced. There isn’t an arcade game in sight, but everyone has an equal voice, their opinions are listened to and respected. There is a strong confidence in our collective abilities that drives ambition. As a team we are 100% invested in the company, its success is our own success and that’s exactly how it should be.
How to get the right culture in your company.
First decide what your culture is, and find people that fit, not the other way around. Trust in your team’s abilities and give them the freedom to make decisions, allow for mistakes, and support them when they happen. Put systems in place which encourage open communications about personal goals and ambitions then watch your team develop, learn and grow along with your business.
Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying,