Have any of these questions been floating around the office lately?
Why are my employees leaving?
How long have they been unhappy?
What did we do wrong?
What did we do right?
Are we not paying people enough?
Are my managers as adept as I believe them to be?
Are people fostering discontent without me realizing it?
How can I make my company’s culture better?
Although the concept of corporate culture developed around the 1980s, the idea of enhancing a company’s character through its practices didn’t hit a stride until closer to the millennium. With a global pandemic and the complete shift that occurred in the way people work and live, the conversation about company culture has been reignited.
Employees are now seeing that it is possible to live a more balanced life in a way that supports their needs and their happiness. Work-life balance for employees is a significant factor in a healthy company culture, and finding that sweet spot is one of many ways to help reduce turnover.
What is company culture?
Company culture is how a company functions within the workspace and the combination of behaviors and values that create a particular experience for everyone who interacts with them. At its core, company culture cultivates an atmosphere of positive engagement and encourages growth.
A company’s culture helps to define what behaviors are acceptable clearly and fosters trust between leaders, employees, customers, and clients.
This HubSpot article polled 500 marketing professionals (at B2B and B2C businesses) who wanted to learn more about the reasons behind the high turnover rates at their companies. The analysis ultimately showed that:
41% left because of a lack of work-life balance
37% cited a lack of flexible work schedules as a reason
As mentioned earlier, this is only one component that builds a foundation of a healthy company culture. Employees also cited a lack of remote work options, not enough opportunities for career growth, and burnout.
"Your employees aren't leaving just because they've found better opportunities elsewhere. They're leaving because this is the first chance they've gotten to re-balance the scales of their own wellbeing and success, scales that you and your company swung out of whack during the pandemic." - Lily Zheng, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategist & Consultant
How do I know if my company has an unhealthy culture?
A toxic work culture occurs when a company prioritizes practices without the well-being of its workforce in mind. Often policies are outdated or continued simply because that’s how it’s always been done - without a reexamination of whether or not those policies are still practical or relevant.
An old way of thought is that maximizing employee hours in the office increases productivity when in reality the opposite is proving to be true. Iceland even gave a shorter work week a try to see how it impacted productivity and employee wellness, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. The study was conducted between 2015-2019 on 2,500 workers in Iceland (over 1% of the total workforce) and examined a 35-36 hour workweek without a reduction in pay. A few results:
Productivity and service either remained the same or improved
Employee happiness and well-being dramatically increased
There were fewer indicators of stress and burnout
Certain older policies may still be effective, but the point is to make a thorough examination to determine effectiveness. Avoiding change can be a significant roadblock to growth as a company.
Employees are not spokes in a machine that only exist to tirelessly work to fulfill a company’s needs. They are intricate and complicated humans that have their own lives, dreams, and families - and should be treated as such. Getting feedback from employees and having an open conversation about work-life balance is a great place to start if company culture needs improvement.
“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.” – Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations, Shopify
Signs of an unhealthy company culture to look for:
A lack of clearly defined core values
Clearly defined core values that managers are ignoring
High turnover rate
A lot of employee gossip
Unhealthy co-worker competition
Employees that rarely take lunch breaks
Employees that regularly stay late or work weekends
Often employees are absent or late
Employees aren’t rewarded, celebrated, or praised
There are negative reviews of your company on public forums
A lack of giving initiatives by the company (to the community, non-profits, and other programs that share your company’s values)
What does a healthy company culture look like?
“There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” – Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group
Featured image: the C&T team celebrating 5 years as a company.
There are several elements that contribute to a healthy company culture. If you’re already asking the questions at the top of this post, then this is an excellent time to examine how to improve upon the points listed here.
These are the top 8 things that matter the most to employees when it comes to company culture:
Employees feel respected and appreciated.
This is the highest predictor of whether or not a company has a healthy culture. Employees want to feel supported, treated with courtesy, dignity, and respect and have their ideas taken seriously. Period.
Unethical practices are handled appropriately.
Having those difficult conversations now will lead to a more devoted workforce in the future. If practices aren’t aligned with core values, those situations need to be dealt with, not ignored.
Leaders are supportive and follow core values.
When company heads and managers follow core values, they lead by example and instill trust, integrity, and consistency. Rather than throw roadblocks in the way of work progress, they help to remove them. They adapt to support employees’ unique needs, respect schedules, and respond as peers rather than superiors.
Good benefits and perks.
In one survey examining what factors contribute to a higher company culture score, benefits ranked 2x higher in importance than compensation. The same survey also showed that even small, thoughtful perks (like good coffee at the office) could result in a big jump in culture rating.
Although benefits rank higher, compensation still matters. A 2019 study found that 44% of families in the U.S. did not earn enough to cover their living expenses. And this was before the pandemic.
Growth and development.
A healthy corporate culture encourages further education and learning and provides growth opportunities.
Anxiety about layoffs, downsizing, or automation means employees aren’t feeling secure with how they factor into the future with the company.
Open and clear communication allows for transparency in operations, helping to foster trust within a company. This also helps quell any fear or discomfort that comes from reorganizations.
We have to admit, we had a bit of a rocky start before developing Clove & Twine's culture code. The company heads decided to take a cold hard look at what they needed to change in order to shift company culture by reexamining their goals and reflecting upon past practices. They assessed their priorities and restructured in a way that would support putting people-first and a positive future of growth.
We asked our Chief Operations Officer, Devin Hieb, to get his take on this concept. This is what he said:
“Company culture is vital because it provides people a deeper level of fulfillment and purpose when employee and company values and needs are aligned. It fosters better relationships and builds a community rallying around a common goal.
We value company culture so much because our people are foundational to C&T. By prioritizing culture, we recognize that our people are the reason we are here and work to ensure that they feel known, valued, and have purpose.
The first and second company values we have are people and service. We care most about people. Thus the second value is clear: we want to make people’s lives better - in essence, to serve them. We have seen relationships thrive, happiness increase, and a more profound sense of belonging emerge by serving our people through culture. From a business perspective, this leads to increased productivity, employee retention, and even repeat client rates. This is all due to value alignment - people working towards something they care about with a team that supports and cares about them.”
- Devin Hieb, COO at Clove & Twine
Featured image: the C&T team having breakfast together, celebrating the opening of our new offices.
How do I support moving towards a healthy company culture?
Active participation from the very top is vital in moving towards any kind of positive change. Collaborate with leaders to assess core values, and create a clear understanding of what those mean to the company and employees.
Next, assemble a team that will help support healthy company culture practices. HR is an obvious department; however, some companies don’t have a designated HR person or may require additional support from other team members.
Clearly define, refresh, and communicate expectations to your company, and have it visual and available for reference. Consider a team meeting or training session to answer any questions. Understand steps to take in addressing any conflicts of these values.
Determine future planning of company culture health check-ins and how to adapt and improve. The team supporting HR with company culture will manage this and stay diligent with accountability and appropriate actions. Strategy for a healthy company culture should be constantly evaluated and adaptable with growth and changing times.
Weave company culture initiatives into every aspect of the company, such as future planning, business strategies, and internal and external communications. A healthy company culture isn’t just a component of your business - it is the foundation on which your business lives, grows, and thrives.