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How to improve company culture by looking at workplace myths


From installing slides and sleep pods to offering unlimited paid time off, there are plenty of stories circulating about how to create a “good” company culture.

But what really works? What’s the secret ingredient to improving company culture?

Here’s a hint: There’s more than one.

In this post, we’ll bust a few company culture myths so you can create an environment where your employees will thrive.

Myth #1: Having great perks means you have a great company culture

We’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

In this case, maybe that phrase ought to be revised to, “A free lunch doesn’t improve company culture.”

When you offer perks to your employees, you must be consistent. If you start serving up free lunches, massages, nap sessions, snacks, etc., you’d better be prepared to keep them coming. After a while, they’ll become less of a treat and more of an expectation.

The truth is, giving out “fun” benefits won’t be more than a momentary blip on your employees’ radar, unless there’s real meaning and intent behind them.

For instance, a company might decide to loosen up its dress code and allow for casual attire every day. It’s a great idea. What employee doesn’t enjoy wearing jeans to work?

But what’s the purpose for the change to the casual dress code?

When new perks are handed out without purposeful intent, they are only acting as a “Band-Aid” to cover up the damaged areas within the company’s culture. They aren’t really improving your company’s culture.

Employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs or the company overall will perceive the new perk not as a treat, but as “dues” for what they must “endure” every day at work. As a result, they may take advantage of what they’re given and abuse it until it becomes more of a problem than a perk.

Before implementing a perk program of any kind, take a step back and evaluate why you’re making these efforts. Ask yourself, what do your employees really want?

In most cases, when employees are demanding fun freebies, it’s a sign that they’re feeling undervalued. Ultimately, these employees want more recognition for their work from their managers and company leaders.

A few extra “good jobs” and “thank yous” can go a long way. When you give deserving employees praise and recognition regularly, you don’t need superficial perks that only mask deeper issues within your company’s overall culture.

The truth: Meaningless employee perks are like empty promises – harmful and disappointing.

Myth #2: It’s all about the money

The more your employees get paid, the better the company culture, right? Not necessarily.

While money does have an impact on happiness when it comes to meeting basic lifestyle needs, offering employees an increase in pay to raise morale is only a temporary fix.

Think about it. Let’s say you tell an employee who clearly hates her job that you’re increasing her salary by $5,000. Initially, she’ll be elated. But at the end of the day, she’ll still hate her job – whatever is making her miserable will still be there. So once the temporary thrill wears off, it’s back to the misery of the grind.

A recent Glassdoor study found that a 10 percent pay raise typically results in an insignificant increase (one point on a 0-100 scale) in employees’ satisfaction with their companies. Even more surprising, the return on this “investment in happiness” declines with every extra $1,000 increase.

Doesn’t sound like a very effective way to boost company culture, does it?

So what did the employees in the study really want? A culture built around values. More career advancement opportunities. A better work-life balance.

The truth: Money buys happiness to the point of meeting basic needs. After that, it’s only a temporary fix.

Myth #3: Employee surveys solve everything

Why didn’t you think of it before? Stop fretting about the lackluster culture within your company and just ask employees what they want.

Hold on. There are two problems with this theory.

First, if the only way you can get honest feedback from your employees is through a survey, you have big communication problems. And this is likely one of the key contributors to your sub-par company culture.

A solid company culture is built on trust. Trust is established when you engage in regular, honest, open communication with your people. You can offer all the fun employee perks you want. But if you don’t have clear lines of communication within your company, those “motivators” will be all for not.

Secondly, are you prepared for the feedback you might receive? Even if it’s negative? Can you actually do something about it?

What if your employees say they don’t like your leadership style? What if they say they hate their hours? Or, what if they think that your production process needs an overhaul?

When you hand out a survey to your employees, your employees are going to hold you accountable. At the very least, they’ll want you to address the issues they’ve pointed out. But ultimately, they’ll expect you to take action – correct the problems.

Before you start polling your people, make sure you’re ready for the cold, hard truth. And that you can put in the time and money to discuss – and remedy – what’s wrong.

The truth: Employee surveys are only helpful if you’re willing to take action on the results.

Myth #4: Executives control the culture

If you control your company’s culture, then you should be able to tell your people to get the job done and be happy. Problem solved. But, we know, that’s not how it works.

In reality, the quality of your company’s culture is largely based upon both your and your employees’ attitudes toward their jobs and work environment.

When most of your people are unhappy and disengaged at work, the mood and morale around the office is bound to be pretty gloomy, too. And it’s going to take more than your peppy personality to turn that trend around.

You need to find the root of the negativity.

Are your employees lacking a sense of purpose in their jobs? Are certain people or processes frustrating them? Do they feel overworked and underappreciated?

Once you identify the cause, you can take action to correct it. Your employees will appreciate that you’re making the effort to right the wrongs. And eventually a positive atmosphere will overtake the negative one.

As a business leader, you do have a role to play in improving your company’s culture. But it’s not just about what you say. It’s about what you do. You must actively display a genuine attitude of gratitude toward your employees. You must embody a sense of purpose that your employees find inspirational and motivational. Every day. In everything you do.

When your people see this, they’ll want to follow.

The truth: Culture can’t be dictated. It must be embodied and nurtured – by both you and your people.

Myth #5: Company culture doesn’t affect the bottom line

Why are there so many articles, lectures and studies focused on improving company culture?

Because it affects the profitability of your business.

When your employees are valued for their work, given meaningful perks, offered training opportunities and paid well, guess what? They like going to work. They appreciate their jobs. They work harder.

Why? Because they’re happy.

A University of Warwick study found that when employees were happy, their productivity went up by about 12 percent. When they were unhappy, their productivity dropped by 10 percent.

And not only do happy employees work harder, but they’re also more likely to stay at your company longer.

This can dramatically improve your turnover rate, which means you’ll spend less time and money recruiting and training new talent.

Additionally, employees who love their jobs usually like to share their good news. This can have a positive impact on your company’s reputation, allowing you to win over top talent who may be choosy about where they work.

The truth: The profitability of your company relies on a strong company culture.

The truth will set you free

The truth is out on what company culture actually is (and isn’t), and what you can do to lead your business into an atmosphere of harmony and productivity.

It’s now up to you and your managers to connect the dots, find the flaws and fix them.

Not sure how to improve your company culture?

Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business, to help your employees make the connection between their work and your company’s mission.