The Case for Culture: 5 Ways to Engage and Retain Employees

Posted by Ben Weiss on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 @ 11:08 AM

By: Ben Weiss and Jessica Sanfratello 

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A rock wall in the lobby, a quiet work space in the outdoor garden terrace, a bowling alley in the basement, foosball and billiards in the conference rooms … sounds like an office environment that could only exist in fiction. At Google, they make it a reality.

In our recent feature “Stuck: Turnover rates remain subpar post recession,” we highlighted turnover data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that suggests many professionals in tech and otherwise are still thinking twice about changing positions as the economy continues to reel from the 2008/2009 economic collapse.

Consequently, employers should be taking advantage of this opportunity right now to spruce up their corporate culture and employee benefits as a strategy to best retain top talent before these professionals become more confident in alternative career options and turnover rates increase.

And when considering how an office can create a culture that fosters employee retention, Google is pretty much the gold standard.

Google’s philosophy is that “you can be serious without a suit: the founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun. Google believes that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture – and that doesn’t just mean lava lamps and rubber balls.”   

What it does mean is free food, next-level break rooms, post-mortem benefits and a laundry list of other perks that all contributed to Google’s #1 ranking in Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work in 2012.

Needless to say, Google’s competitive hiring practices combined with these benefits make for happy employees that are likely to stick around.

Now, of course, most companies don’t have the resources to purchase the space or amenities that make Google’s corporate culture so unique. But, putting an emphasis on a creative and fun professional environment is still central to making employees love going to work and as a result, promotes better loyal to the company.

What is corporate culture, and why is it important?

Corporate culture is the personality of an organization, revolving around consistent and shared beliefs, values and behaviors of a specific company.

And according to research news source ScienceDaily, corporate culture is the single most important factor in driving innovation: the key to growth, success and wealth for a firm.  

Now, of course, most companies don’t have the resources to purchase the space or amenities that make Google’s corporate culture stand out as it does. But, developing a great working environment is still central to employee engagement and retention and can be done without bamboo-lined hallways or in-house eyebrow waxing (not making that up).

Let’s check out a few cool ways to build a corporate culture employees will love and how these drive next-level culture, engagement and retention.

1) Create an accessible mission statement that can be tangibly deployed every day

At Google, the company’s unique way of approaching business is apparent across all its branding, starting with its mission statement. In other words, from the second a potential employee visits Google’s company site, it is apparent the firm values hard work in a modern, casual environment. By contrast, many companies struggle from a mission that either not all employees understand, or that isn’t embraced at all levels of the organization.

With that in mind, decide what values and goals are central to the organization’s success, instill the importance of those values to employees and lead by example in rolling them out on a daily basis. This way, employees can latch on to the fact that their work is actually helping propel the company forward rather than trying to reach ambiguous goals that are constantly in flux. Employees who know they’re making a difference=employees who will want to continue making a difference.

2) Always have something that employees can look forward to

There’s no shortage of folks that advocate a “fun” workplace. But, the natural worry for executives is that creating a workplace that’s too loose will stand in the way of employee productivity. While this is certainly a viable concern, nothing will damage morale and turnaround more than employees who feel stuck completing the same tasks with nothing cheerful on the horizon to shake things up.

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Avoid these ^ kinds of employees: always have something exciting coming up

One way to avoid this attitude is by always having things employees can look forward to. While many offices have holiday parties, casual Fridays and occasional field trips, employers can also promote sporadic revelry based on the achievement of team goals. For example, set out a timeline for specific sales initiatives at the beginning of the year with rewards (nice dinners, days off, tickets to concerts or sporting events) for hitting the goals on target. As a result, employees will be motivated to work together to achieve these rewards, building inter-office camaraderie and avoiding stressful, cutthroat environments in which co-workers are pitted against one another. It’s that positive reinforcement kind of thing.

3) Promote an active office culture

More and more jobs today – especially in the explosive tech and startup fields – require staff to be tethered to a desk, conducting all of their duties through the computer. While this may suit some, there are lots of folks out there who are less than enthused about staring at a screen for nine hours a day.   

But, not only is sitting at the desk all day boring, it’s actually bad for health and productivity.

 “When you sit, you distort the natural curve of the spine, which means your back muscles have to do something to hold your back in shape because you’re no longer using the natural curves of the spine to lift yourself up against gravity,” said Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D – a back and neck specialist. In laymen’s terms, sitting at your desk for hours on end is no good.  

Additionally, a recent article written by Forbes columnist Susan Adams cites experts like James A. Levine of integrated clinical practice, education and research institution The Mayo Clinic who mentions that the thought process is not meant to be continuous, and that professional efficiency is maximized when employees work in shorter, uninterrupted periods with breaks in between.

All of these ideas point to the fact that a great corporate culture is one that gives employees options to get away from their desks and computers during the workday. For example, management can promote staff members taking solid lunch breaks, going for walks mid-day or using the conference room for a stretch so they can return to their daily tasks with a clearer head and refreshed enthusiasm.

Additionally, while most companies don’t have the budget to outfit a game room like Google’s, investing in a pong-pong table, foosball, darts, Nerf basketball hoop or similar recreational devices are a perfect way for employees to break up their day, get the blood flowing, interact with colleagues and ultimately get back to their desk with a clearer head.  

Management can also facilitate an active office culture by providing employees with gym memberships or discounts. Activity=endorphins=natural highs=happy employees=good place to work. Isn’t math fun?

4) Enable workplace flexibility

This is a big one, especially in our native tech community. With the pervasiveness of mobile and cloud computing, employees have the ability to complete their work from almost anywhere. What they don’t always have is a corporate culture that enables them to do so.

But, according to April 2011 data collected from leading tech job board Dice, flexibility is so important to technical professionals that the Dice community expressed a willingness to take a salary cut of nearly $8,000 on average for the chance to work remotely.

But, the report mentions that “Less than one percent or 500 of the total jobs posted on Dice mention telecommuting as an option.” Consequently, employers that can cater to this expressed desire will have effectively differentiated their corporate culture and increased their chances at retaining top talent who don’t want to come into a traditional office every day. This may also be an effective cost-reduction strategy.

5) Foster open and honest communication, all the time

As much as job candidates are motivated by a large salary, just as many are hungry for an ability to contribute in a meaningful way – especially when it comes to the Millennial generation currently in the early stages of their careers.

With that in mind, it is in employers’ best interest to design a corporate culture in which every staff member’s input is clearly valued. Allow employees to challenge existing practices and to expand upon existing ideas. Have different departments share information with one another and have as few physical barriers separating employees as possible. When employees know there is a perpetually open forum for their voice to be heard, that’s when they’ll feel they made a difference, exponentially increasing their comfort level and their willingness to grow with the company.  

Ultimately, this is what will not only motivate loyalty, but will drive innovation. Think the guy who designed the built-in sauce holder in the Burger King chicken fries containers would have changed the way we dip if he was busy fuming over the fact that no one listened to his ideas? I think not.

The bottom line is that these strategies are only effective if they come from the top down. Create a next level corporate culture and employees will thank you by putting forth their best effort, every day. So get crackin’ now before your employees start thinking about their next best option…


Infusive Solutions Inc. is a niche technical recruiting firm within the Microsoft Partner Network dedicated to serving the workforce needs of our clients as well as taking our candidate’s careers to the next level. Join us on Twitter and Facebook

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Were these tips helpful to you? If so, let us know in the comments section!

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Topics: General Leadership