Most CEOs know that a great company culture is the key to retaining top talent for any company.
And for the past couple of years, company culture has become the new industry buzzword.
But is it just another fad, or is there perhaps more to it? Let’s unpack this some more.
What is company culture?
I personally never really realised the importance of good company culture until I left a company where the culture wasn’t so great.
So, what do we mean when we talk about company culture? And why does company culture matter?
Company culture is not about remote, hybrid or onsite work. It’s also not about a 9 to 5, four-day work week or flexible work hours. It’s not even about the free meals at the office, the ping pong table in the break room or the extra leave days. It’s all this and then some.
Company culture refers to how you run your workplace, whether it’s remote, or a brick and mortar office or both. It’s the sum of your processes, values, interactions and systems that form the experience of your employees and customers. It’s basically how your company operates and how things get done on a daily basis.
And it matters because it affects every aspect of an organisation. From its ability to attract and retain talent to its overall achievements and success. A positive culture can create a more enjoyable and productive work environment for employees and contribute to a company’s long-term sustainability and growth.
How it started
Through the years, businesses have gone through many phases or, as most people call it, eras. It started off with the Colonial era (roughly 1607 – 1783). It then moved on to the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1760 – 1840). Then came The Age of Industrial Entrepreneurs (this followed the Industrial Revolution). This was followed by the Production era (1860s – 1920s). Thereafter, we got the Marketing era (1950s – 1990s). And now, we are in the Relationship era (which began in the late 1990’s).
Why am I mentioning this? Not to check up on your history knowledge, but to show you where business started and how it evolved over time, and together with this, how the workspace environment also changed over the years.
The 1800s saw the start of the 9 to 5, eight-hour work day as we know it but went mainstream when Henry Ford implemented it in 1926. Together with the 9 to 5 workday, we have the onsite workspace as well. Employee well-being wasn’t much of a priority during this era, but rather getting a smooth production line to produce more units at a lower cost. Employee well-being only became a thing in the 1980s when companies started addressing issues that were related to employee mental and psychological health. And as the years went on, the emphasis on employee health and happiness increased.
The concept of remote work didn’t really exist until the early 1990s when technology and computers enabled us to communicate and connect with people from around the world. This made working from home more viable and something to seriously consider. The Covid-19 pandemic also saw a rise in remote working, where in South Africa, the percentage of people working from home increased from 26% to 79%.
What does all this have to do with company culture?
All of these details play a role when it comes to the type of culture a company has and promotes. Is the company’s goal to make sure their employees are happy and well taken care of? Or is the company more focused on sales and making a profit at the expense of the health and well-being of its employees?
It’s so important to be aware of this when deciding to join a company or even when contemplating whether you should stay at a company. Recent statistics for burnout show us that a large percentage of employees reported that they have experienced a form of burnout. This is a horrifying statistic, but the harsh reality is that if the company you work for has a toxic company culture, chances are you will be heading in this same direction.
Together with this, it’s important to mention that oftentimes, if an individual isn’t happy at a company, it has more to do with the fit of that individual into the overall company ecosystem than it has to do with the company itself.
Company culture vs company fit
“Company fit”, often referred to as a “cultural fit”, relates to how well an individual’s values, beliefs, work style, and personality align with the culture of a specific company. It is the degree to which a person’s attributes and behaviours are in harmony with the values and norms of the organisation they work for.
So, it’s important to note that a company can have the best culture but still not be a good fit for certain individuals. For example, say a company is big on having socials and get-togethers regularly. For employees who are very much introverted, this can be a difficult and somewhat uncomfortable situation. On the other hand, for individuals who are very energetic, outgoing, and quite extroverted, this is a perfect fit. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with the company’s culture or the employee, it’s simply a fit issue.
So, while keeping in mind what we already mentioned, let’s look at some of the consequences of bad company culture and some of the benefits of good company culture.
Consequences of bad company culture
Research shows that these are the top consequences of bad company culture:
- Higher employee turnover: Top employees don’t necessarily want to work for a company that has a bad company culture. So, if the environment and values of a company are bad, the likelihood of employees leaving will be higher. Together with that, if employees don’t feel valued or cared for, chances are they will go looking for a company that will make them feel valued.
- Unmotivated employees: When employees don’t feel valued or like they are making a difference or adding to the success of the company, they become less motivated to give their best when it comes to their work. And unmotivated employees can have a very negative impact on the success and future of a company.
- Bad management styles: When micromanagement is the order of the day, and employees feel like they aren’t being trusted to do their work, it can also negatively impact their well-being. Bad management styles can also take a toll on employee morale and productivity levels.
- Unhealthy work-life balance: When employees don’t have an organised work-life balance, it can lead to burn-out, which in turn can lead to exhaustion, depression, withdrawal and anxiety. All of these can have a very bad effect on the overall level of employee happiness and well-being within the company, which will have a negative impact on productivity and company success as a whole.
- Competition over collaboration: Competition in the workplace can be healthy, especially when collaboration and teamwork are at the root of it. But when competition overtakes collaboration, it can go from a healthy banter environment to a toxic and aggressive one.
Benefits of good company culture
- Increased employee retention: If your company has a healthy culture that promotes employee welfare and well-being, mentally and physically, this can increase the level of employee retention. People tend to stay at a company if they feel secure, safe and cared for.
- Happier employees: The saying goes, ‘happy wife, happy life’, but I’m sure this principle can be pulled through to any company as well. If employees are happy in their jobs and workspace, be it at home or in an office, it will make all the difference in how they approach their work day. Work will then be something they look forward to in the morning instead of dreading.
- Improved employee engagement that fosters community: Companies that make an effort to make their employees feel appreciated and who also foster transparency within the organisation are most likely to experience better employee engagement, meaning that their employees take part and want to be part of the success of the company. It’s not just another job or day at the office.
- Company reputation: If a company is known for treating its employees well, that message will spread, and soon, the company will have a reputation for being a great place to work. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool, so if a company can get positive word of mouth about its culture out there, it could make a big impact on the company’s reputation and success.
How does Polymorph do company culture?
I might be a bit biased, but Polymorph is one of the few companies I’ve come across that actually lives and breathes what they profess with regard to company culture.
We have an employee wellness programme where employees are strongly encouraged to reach out to a professional if they feel overwhelmed or if they just need someone to talk to.
Although we are a remote company, we have quarterly company team days where the whole company gets together. On these days, we spend time together, connect, and just enjoy each other’s company.
Something else that also stood out to me from the beginning was when I spoke to our CTO about the allocated leave days. He made a point of telling me that annual leave isn’t a perk; it’s owed to me, and I should take it. In my entire career, I haven’t come across a company that takes employee wellness and well-being this seriously.
Another benefit of Polymorph is that we are 100% remote. And that seems to be working great for us. We also have flexible working hours, which is extremely helpful because, you know, life sometimes happens. And it’s so reassuring to know that you are working for a company that trusts you to do the work you were hired to do.
Company culture is the bedrock upon which an organisation’s success is built. It has a profound impact on the workplace experience, employee satisfaction, and the ability to achieve long-term goals. As such, it should be carefully nurtured, managed, and aligned with the organisation’s strategic objectives to reap these numerous benefits. So basically, as the famous Peter Drucker once said, “[c]ulture eats strategy for breakfast”.