In today's competitive business landscape, building a culture that truly engages and inspires employees is no longer a "good to have" but an essential part of success.
If you're not taking the time to focus on your company culture, it's likely that you're missing out on opportunities to motivate and retain top talent.
Here's the thing - many companies think they have it right. They've implemented a few initiatives to check the culture box: a team-building activity here, a bonus there, and mission statements plastered all over the walls.
But in reality, it takes much more than that.
Culture isn't just about having the right values or benefits - it's about creating an environment where employees feel valued, connected to their work, and motivated to do their best.
But why is this so difficult for many organizations?
In this article, we will look at why your culture may not be engaging and what you can do to create an environment that matters to employees.
What is Company Culture?
Company culture is usually defined as the set of values, norms, and practices that are shared by an organization's employees.
It's often called the personality of a company and can influence behaviors, attitudes, and performance. It's how a company handles its operations and interacts with the external world.
But what is culture actually?
And while that is a great definition, culture is actually so much more.
It's quite a complex concept that encompasses everything from the office layout and decor to how employees interact with each other and the way they identify with their work.
It’s about how employees feel when they come to work, it’s about what drives people to do their best and to be a part of the team. It’s about having an inspiring mission and finding meaning in what you do every day.
Why is Company Culture Important?
From attrition rates and productivity to customer service and of course, employee engagement, a thriving culture is at the heart of it all.
It's what differentiates exceptional companies from average ones and the key to a company’s long-term success and growth.
Think Google, Apple, or Amazon for example. What do you think made them the giants they are today? Sure, the products and services are great, but there are dozens of other tech companies offering similar services.
Their unique cultures were what really set them apart.
When employees feel connected to a mission, have pride in the work they do, and know that their ideas are being heard and valued, a culture of engagement is created.
So culture is a big deal, in every sense.
Why is it so hard to get it right?
We're not inventing the wheel here, the importance of company culture is a well-documented fact in the business world.
And there's probably no organization out there that has not invested at least some effort in trying to build a thriving culture.
So why is it still so hard to get it right?
Well, there is no one reason. Each organization has its own unique set of dynamics, processes, and values that makes it difficult to create the perfect culture.
But what often is the case, is that the culture the company wants to have is not necessarily the one they would need to have in order to be successful.
For the C-Suite, culture is often seen as a means to achieving corporate objectives. They want a culture that promotes values and behaviors that help to reach these goals.
Things such as innovation, risk-taking, and a focus on customer service are then prioritized.
And while these values are important, they don't necessarily create an inspiring and engaging culture that employees actually want to be part of.
What Makes Company Culture Engaging?
What this question boils down to is: what do employees want from the culture? Which elements of it shape the employee experience?
To address this question, MITSloan analyzed 1.4 million employee reviews on Glassdoor - a platform where employees can review their company in two ways: by leaving a 1-5 star rating, as well as by commenting on what they like and what could be improved in their own words.
By analyzing those freely written comments, as well as the language used in them, the analysts came to a somewhat surprising conclusion.
Topics that you might expect to matter, such as friendly colleagues, flexible schedules, and manageable workloads, had little or no impact on a company’s overall culture score.
What Employees Are Looking For in Culture
According to the data, what really made employees engage with their work and what they valued most in their workplace culture was:
The single best predictor of a company's culture score is whether or not the employees felt respected or not.
It's twice as important as the second factor - which we'll discuss in a moment - and by analyzing not only the score but also the language used, the results really show how much of an impact this has on people.
The employees said they were feeling like disposable cogs or robots, being treated like children or even cattle. The words used to describe this feeling of being disrespected ranged from 'humiliation' to 'demoralizing'.
But it’s not just these extreme cases that matter. Even small instances of disrespect can have a big impact on how employees perceive the culture and their overall job satisfaction.
We already wrote about the importance of management in building a positive culture. It has such a tremendous impact on employee engagement and job satisfaction that it's no wonder then that this factor is the second most important one.
And of all the ways they impact work experience, the most important predictor of a company’s culture score is whether managers support their employees.
By helping them do their work, being responsive to requests, accommodating employees’ individual needs, offering encouragement, and having their backs when times are tough, managers can create a work environment where employees feel comfortable and respected.
When it comes to C-Suit, it was found that the best predictor of a company’s culture score is whether senior leaders actually walk the talk and uphold the values and mission statements they set out.
3. Perks and Benefits
When it comes to predicting a company’s culture score, benefits are more than twice as important as compensation. Which benefits employees prefer, however, is largely dependent on the type of work they do.
Perks such as free coffee, snacks, or even arcade rooms and Zumba classes are all things that are great for morale but won't necessarily have a lasting impact on employee engagement.
The real benefits are the ones that help employees balance their professional and personal life, such as flexible hours or daycare support. They also include things like wellness programs and tuition reimbursement, which show that the company is invested in their employee’s development and well-being.
Nearly one-third of the employees mentioned personal development in their reviews, which makes it the third most discussed topic (after management and compensation).
4. Job Security and Trust
This is one of those things that seem pretty obvious, but a lot of C-Suite executives don't really think about how important job security is when it comes to engagement.
Employees need to feel safe and secure in their jobs, knowing that they can always count on the company to stay afloat if times get tough.
And it's not all about the layoffs either - it seems that any type of reorganization is seen as negative in the eyes of the employees, as 97% of those who mentioned them in their reviews did so in a negative connotation.
You might think it's the fear of change, but actually what it comes down to is trust in the workplace.
Employees often express frustration when they hear news of a reorganization, citing the speed at which changes occur and inconsistencies in strategies over time as well as confusion surrounding the evolving strategy. So it's not really about the changes themselves, but about how it's communicated and handled.
If companies can build a culture of open communication and transparency, they will find that their employees trust them more and are thus more engaged in the workplace.
So How Do You Create an Engaging Culture?
While values and mission statements are an important part of a strong and thriving culture, we've seen that there are other key elements that go into creating an engaged workplace.
The most important part is making sure that your workforce feels supported, respected, and valued.
From there, companies should work to create a culture of trust where their employees feel secure in their roles, have access to resources for personal development, and enjoy benefits that can help them lead satisfying lives.
By investing in these key areas, companies can create an engaging culture that drives higher engagement and performance from their employees.
It really is that simple: if your employees feel heard, valued, and appreciated, they will be far more engaged in their day-to-day work.
Getting them there, however, is not as easy as many think it is.
Simply having a mission statement or providing perks isn't enough - companies must be willing to invest in their employees and engage with them actively.
By doing so, they will foster an environment where everyone can thrive and feel like they are truly part of something bigger than themselves.
And that's what engagement is all about.