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Company Culture
All About Company Culture
AdobeStock
AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis

Curious about company culture? All companies have one, but no two company cultures are identical. It's important to understand your company culture and foster a positive one for a number of reasons. You want your employees to look forward to coming to their workplace because, when morale is up, as is productivity. And when employees are more productive, companies are more profitable.

That said, American workers aren’t thrilled with their jobs these days. In fact, most Americans don't like their jobs at all. Two-thirds are disengaged at work or worse, according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace. That means that, of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work — they feel no real connection to their jobs and, therefore, they tend to do the bare minimum. In fact, another 16 percent are even "actively disengaged," meaning they resent their jobs and, therefore, they tend to complain to co-workers and drag down office morale. Of course, no company wants to have disengaged employees, even if they seem productive.

Office dynamics can make or break an employees' time in the workplace, whether they're working in a corporate culture or a startup culture. A company culture designed to alleviate work-related stress, however, can sustain enthusiasm, decrease turnover rates and, overall, better company performances.

That's why a company with a solid, practiced and positive culture is a win-win for both the employees and employer. But, if you're not too sure what company culture is or how to define it, how do you know if your company's culture is working or not?

Let's dive into company culture, what it means, how to talk about it and some examples of a good and bad ones.

What Is Company Culture?

According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at the Harvard Business Review, company cultures can be explained as such: “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is, of course, most of the time.”

Cultures can either be created organically or via deliberate and consistent practice of what they're preaching.

What Defines the Corporate Culture of an Organization?

Each company is different, which means that each company culture is different. That said, every company culture can each still be defined by the company's core values and how well the people who make up that company align with those values. A company's core values should be clearly delineated in the employee handbook, on the company's website and in any job advertisements for positions within the company — this way, employees are aware of those values, and those in management are reminded of them, too, when they're hiring for openings.

The employees within a company may share those values or not but, when they do, the result is usually a positive company culture — assuming that the company's actions actually align with its words.

So, in short, the corporate culture of an organization can be defined by allowing partners and children to visit the office and offering flexible hours if a company claims to be "family oriented." Likewise, offering incentives to travel and work trips would define a company culture that touts a global-mindedness.  

How Do You Describe the Culture of a Company?

It's easy to throw around buzz words to describe the culture of a company. Most companies identify as communicative, collaborative, talented, driven, innovative, ambitious... the list goes on. But those characteristics are sort of obligatory in order for a company to sustain itself. You can't have a successful business if your team doesn't communicate or collaborate well, and you can't improve if they're not skillful or inventive in their ideas.

So what else?

Ultimately, there's no right or wrong way to describe the culture of a company, but successful companies are those with implicit cultures that are easy to describe in unique ways.

When describing the culture of your company, you should look back to your core values and how they manifest in the workplace. Perhaps your company is, too, family oriented and global-minded.

What Are Some Examples of Companies With Good Cultures?

Companies with good cultures are those that can describe their cultures beyond the aforementioned cliche buzzwords — and they're companies that actually practice what they preach. Here are a few examples of companies with positive office cultures.

  • Zappos describes itself as "fun" and "weird." While that may seem unprofessional to some, a wealth of research suggests that "fun" is good for business because, when employees have fun, they're more likely to be engaged. And a company that embraces its employees in all of their weirdness is probably a company that embraces diversity, too. While they don't accept unprofessional behaviors in the workplace, they do encourage everyone to be uniquen. Besides, it's quirky individuals with unique ideas and backgrounds that, when brought together, are the innovators of our time.
  • Adobe identifies as "involved." Adobe acknowledges its employees' interests in contributing to work as well as the pursuit of their own personal interests. That's largely why Adobe offers its employees a ton of on-the-job learning opportunities and training programs; this way, they can dabble in and experiment with those different interests. The tech giant also connects employees based on shared interests and supports them in community involvement.
  • Buffer describes itself as "transparent." Buffer releases all of its employees' salaries and even offers access to every corporate email. Not many companies can say they do the same.
  • Airbnb calls itself synonymous with "adventure." The accommodation platform encourages travel for its employees, just as its users do.

A company with a good culture has more than just attractive adjectives to describe that, though. Here are some other qualities of a good company culture:

  • The office is a fun place to work.
  • The company is results oriented.
  • Employees care about each other.
  • The company offers space to learn and grow.
  • Employees feel trusted.
  • Employees feel comfortable speaking up.
  • Employees can see how their contributions impact the company.
  • The company values teamwork.
  • The company holds everyone accountable.

What Are Some Examples of a Toxic Company Culture?

Fairygodboss writer Bonnie Marcus looked at how toxic corporate cultures could actually sabotage your career. She asked: "Wouldn’t it be terrific if you worked at a company that valued you? Where you were rewarded for your contributions and where you had the opportunity to learn and grow professionally? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if this company offered you the ability to get ahead based on your performance and talent — without a lot of politics and game playing?"

Not all companies value all of their employees and show it in the ways that Marcus points out. Unfortunately, some companies do have toxic cultures. A toxic company culture may have the following negatives:

  • Cutthroat Competition 
  • Gossip
  • A Lack of Diversity
  • Unrealistic Expectations
  • Office Politics
  • Lazy Management
  • Micromanagers
  • A Work-Life Imbalance
  • Little Room to Grow
  • Narrow-Mindedness
  • Unconstructive Criticism

A suffocating company culture is why a lot of American workers quit their jobs, according to the aforementioned Gallup's State of the American Workplace research.

What Can You Do to Create a Good Office Environment? 

If you're worried about your company's culture, you can take steps to ensure that you're fostering a positive work environment.

1. Hire Employees Who Share Your Values

Ask candidates why they want to join your company, and ask them about their own values, as well. You may even consider bringing candidates in for a test run of working with the other employees. Learning how new-hires will work with your existing coworkers is important — and it's usually evident early on.

Even if a candidate or an employee is high performing and produces successful results, they may not be a fit for your company. And, ultimately, they may end up dragging down the rest of the team's morale, which ends up hurting the company more than they've helped the company. Eric Sinoway of the Harvard Business Review explains a time when he and his business partner had to ask themselves about one of the top producers at their boutique partnership development firm, who was having a "detrimental impact on company culture." They asked: "Should we continue to support and reward him given his strong results, or should we cut him loose?" In his piece titled, "When to Fire a Top Performer Who Hurts Your Company Culture," he describes these high-performing employees as vampires because their attitude sucks the life out of a company culture.

2. Have Open Ears

Remember to keep an open mind and listen. A company that doesn't take suggestions and ignores employees' concerns or recommendations is a company that usually does not succeed. Employees are on the ground, working directly as part of the company culture. Their voices should be heard and respected.

When employees know they can comfortably make meaningful contributions to the company, they feel valued and they tend to want to do better work. An example of how this has been successful is with Google's Krishna Bharat, who created Google News. Bharat was never assigned the idea of creating Google News; rather, following the September 11 attacks, he thought it'd be useful to see news reporting on a given topic all in one place. So he invented it, and it became a success.

3. Work Together as a Team

Teamwork makes the dream work — as cliche as it sounds, it's true. Coworkers and colleagues of all levels need to think as a team as opposed to as individuals who all happen to be working for the same company. Teams support each other, advocate for each other's success and, ultimately, achieve more success together.

Taking these steps to ensure a great company culture will improve morale for everyone.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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