Is Your Company Culture Really What You Think It Is?

Look at any employer’s website or job ads and you’ll read about how amazing the company culture is. Everywhere appears to be a great place to work. Now, contrast this with the startling statistics about employee disengagement. Something doesn’t quite add up.

It seems that it’s easy to talk about how great your company culture is, but difficult to get it right in reality. Most of us already know this and have learnt to read between the lines.

In a competitive landscape, it’s understandable that companies want to celebrate the finer aspects of their culture – and it’s important that they do. But it’s also important that they don’t get lost in their own hype. After all, if something’s already perfect, there’s no room for improvement.

In truth, there is no perfect place to work, and pretending that there is only serves to stifle much-needed change. To get to the truth of what your company’s culture is really like, you need to ask some difficult questions.

Putting your company’s culture on the spot

Imagine you are interviewing a rather inquisitive candidate. After doing your fair share of grilling, you turn it over to the candidate and ask ‘do you have any questions for us?’

Instead of playing it safe, they put you on the spot with the probing questions listed below. Take a moment to look through them, and have a think not only about how you would answer them, but how you would feel answering them. This process could help to shine a light on areas of your company culture that need improving.

  1. What reasons do your employees give for leaving the company?

Granted, in our rapidly changing world of work, neither employers nor employees can guarantee long-term cooperation. That said, employees decide to move on for a reason.

Whether it’s a lack of development opportunities, burnout, boredom, or the simple fact they got a better offer elsewhere, the reasons behind resignations say a lot about the culture in your workplace.

Do you collect the data on why people leave your organisation? If so, do use it to try to improve the employee experience?

  1. What would you change about your company’s culture?

It is virtually impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time, and to get every aspect of the employee experience just right. But while perfection may not be possible, progress certainly is – if you are willing to look at the situation honestly.

Interviewers are keen to ask candidates what their weaknesses are, but what if this question was thrown back the other way?

  1. How is power concentrated in your company?

If the rise of the gig economy and side hustle have shown us anything, it’s that people crave meaning and autonomy in their work – and that when given the chance, most people can show decision-making and leadership skills.

But still, many organisations continue to use top-down autocratic structures that concentrate power in the hands of a few, effectively disenfranchising the many. Do you encourage regular employees to make decisions and think like leaders? If not, why not?

  1. Are your employees expected to treat certain employees differently to others?

You’ve probably seen the quote: ‘I was raised to treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO’ – and you’ve probably seen how it is met with almost universal approval. But how many workplaces actually live up to this ideal?

The world of work is still dominated by power hierarchies, and to survive within such a system, we are often taught to treat certain high-profile colleagues with a different level of respect than others. But what does this say about organisational culture? 

  1. Are salaries transparent?

While the vast majority of companies keep salary information private, a few are leading the way in improving pay transparency.

Companies like Buffer, for example, not only display the salaries of every member of staff on their website, but also the formula they use to calculate pay, taking into account factors such as location, role, and experience.

Does the idea of making salary information public make you feel uncomfortable? And if so, why?

  1. Do certain demographics dominate positions of power?

Along with gender equality, diversity is now a key social issue in the workplace. Many companies pay lip service to the idea of a more diverse workplace, yet it remains a pressing issue – particularly in positions of power.

Thinking about the leaders and decision makers in your organisation, do they represent a diverse group in terms of gender, ethnicity, and personality type, or is one particular demographic overrepresented? If the latter, why?

  1. Are employees given the freedom to work remotely and flexibly?

The days of remote working being considered a perk are gone. Employees now expect a degree of flexibility around where and when they do their work – and rightly so, given the benefits that it brings to both the individual and the organisation.

Despite this, some employers continue to stick rigidly to old ways of working, and insist that their staff congregate every day under one roof.

Does your organisation allow people a degree of choice over where and when they work? And if not, why?

  1. Do you have a sustainability policy?

Environmental issues have never been more important than they are today, and they will only get more important with time. As a result, employees are increasingly looking to their employers for leadership and guidance around sustainability.

What, as an organisation, are you doing to educate, motivate, and enable your employees to make green issues a priority? If I asked an employee what your organisation is doing to promote sustainable practices, would they know the answer? If not, why?

  1. If I asked a regular employee what the organisation’s goals for the coming year are, would they know?

Transparency isn’t just about pay. In many workplaces, information about the goals and direction of the organisation are kept to a few at the very top, with the average employee remaining in the dark.

But to make sense of their own work, it is vital that every employee understands where the business is heading, and how their work contributes towards this.

Do all your employees understand the bigger-picture strategy of the business? And if not, why?

Time to reflect

If you’d feel uncomfortable answering any of these questions truthfully, perhaps there are areas of your organisation’s culture that need improving.

As previously mentioned, no organisation can offer a perfect culture – given the ever-changing nature of work, that simply isn’t possible. But by refusing to change with the times, or changing too slowly, or even reluctantly, you risk losing out to more forward-thinking employers in the war for talent.

Issues such as gender and pay equality, inclusion, diversity, and sustainability are now priorities in the eyes of many employees. They want to work for an organisation that takes these things seriously. On top of that, they now expect a degree of flexibility and autonomy in their work, as well as the chance to develop professionally and personally.

To offer your staff the workplace culture they expect, it’s important to be honest with yourself. It’s very easy to paint a perfect picture of what life is like in your organisation to those outside of it, but if you can’t back this up in reality, you’ll quickly get found out. Employees are learning to see through the marketing guff, and now expect organisations to walk the walk.


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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