Why Corporate Culture Can Make Or Break Your Business

Simon Davies

Many business owners focus their efforts on numbers. Margins, profits, savings, overheads. While these things are important, they may be far less important than we are led to believe. Leaders can get so caught up in percentages that they forget about the people at the heart of their business.

This is where corporate culture comes in. Growing and nurturing a positive culture can give you a huge advantage over your competitors, both by avoiding negatives and creating positives. Workplace specialist Landmark, which has seen many businesses rise and fall, has gone as far as describing corporate culture as the “the key to securing your company’s future.”

Stress is bad for business

It’s understandable for a CEO to prize productivity above all else. More work, it would seem, means more profits. But sometimes pushing workers hard can be detrimental to the bottom line.

According to the Harvard Business Review, this kind of “cut-throat environment” where employees are pushed to their limits actually harms productivity. You might think you’re simply getting the most out of your employees by enforcing strict rules or setting high targets, but really what you’re doing is creating stress. And stress is never a good thing.

In 2014, the American Psychological Association estimated that employee stress costs the U.S. economy $500 billion per year. This figure was calculated based on the costs of lost earnings and the sick pay of employees taking time off for stress and related illnesses. A paper from the American Institute of Stress estimated that a staggering 80% of doctor visits are due to stress or conditions derived from stress.

It goes without saying that any of these conditions affecting even one of your employees will be bad for your business. Because of this, it is crucial to create a positive, uplifting workplace culture based on wellbeing and healthiness, not on squeezing the most out of people to crunch numbers.

There are a few proven ways to do this. Many U.S. companies have embraced the concept of the “mental health day.” Unlike a conventional sick day, mental health days allow employees to take time off work when they sense their stress levels may be about to accelerate. Encouraging employees to take mental health days could be a great way to minimize stress in your workplace.

Good company culture can improve productivity

As well as the productivity boost that comes with alleviating stress, positive workplace culture can improve productivity in other ways. The key to this is having clear, well-established company values.

If you don’t have company values that are regularly communicated to staff, it’s worth working on this immediately. Think about why you do what you are doing. Why does your business exist? If the answer is simply to make money, employees will pick up on this and take the same attitude, or worse, they will become disengaged. A Gallup poll found that disengaged workers make more mistakes and are less productive.

To increase engagement, you need company values your workers can believe in as much as you do and a company narrative they will be proud to be part of. At glasses giant Warby Parker, the core values are straightforward: “Learn, Grow, Repeat.” The company implements this on a small scale by offering training programs and having a well-stocked employee library, and on a larger scale by learning from company business moves.

Google is another great example of this. At the heart of its company values are an experimentation and playfulness that is clear from the moment you step into its offices. The slides, swimming pools, and ping-pong tables are replicated in the company’s business practices. Alphabet CEO Larry Page has said: “If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.” As long as Google sees itself as a bold, creative industry leader, employees will be proud to work there. But if the company began to operate like a faceless, monolithic corporation, productivity would undoubtedly stall.

When employees are not stressed, and when they believe in what they are doing, they are less likely to quit their jobs. That’s why good company culture has been linked to increased employee retention. Since hiring and training new employees is so costly and time-consuming, anything that keeps workers at the company is a good thing.

Your company needs an identity and a purpose, just like Google, to make sure employees believe in what they are doing. This, not sets of rules or even financial incentives, will bring out the best in them.

Providing the flexibility today’s employees demand requires flexibile thinking. Learn How to Design a Flexible, Connected Workspace.


About Simon Davies

Simon Davies is a London-based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues, and solutions. He works explores new markets and disruptive technologies and communicates those recent developments to a wide, public audience. Simon is also a contributor at socialbarrel.com, socialnomics.net, and tech.co. Follow Simon @simontheodavies on Twitter.