Company culture may be seen as the “personality” of a workplace. It is made up of the work environment (physical and mental), the company’s mission, expectations, and ethics. It is the vibe that employees have when they show up for work each day.

Companies With Great Culture

Companies with great cultures are happy places to start the workday.

Companies with thriving company culture are places where people are happy to walk in the door and ready to give their best efforts. Companies that lack it are places where people force themselves to show up each day, so they can put in time and collect a paycheck. It should be obvious which kind is better for company success in the long term.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the best way to build a great company culture is to throw money at it. You don’t have to have an on-site masseuse, a pool table in the break room, and fat signing bonuses to have great company culture. That’s because company culture is about the people who work there, and it’s largely a matter of bringing in the people who add to, rather than detract from it. Here are some ways to improve company culture without spending a lot of money.

Understand the Value of Teams

Much has been written about the value of teams – so much so that people are apt to repeat the “teams are important” mantra without really thinking about what it means. Great teams are effective partly because they level out the bumps and dips that occur when people only fend for themselves. Teams can be “always on,” whereas individuals can’t be. A great work team not only has the momentum to push work forward, it consists of members who encourage each other, are empathetic, and provide a medium in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

Embrace Openness and Transparency

Problems will arise, and there is no way to avoid them. What separates companies with strong corporate cultures from those without has much to do with how problems are handled. Companies that are secretive, where people are afraid to bring up problems (or worse, are punished for doing so) generally have lousy company culture and will encounter the problems that go along with it, like higher employee turnover and lower revenues.

When difficulties come to light, it’s important to examine them and learn from them, rather than try to hush them up. Secretive companies are often the ones with the worst gossip and the most negative company politics.

Company Grapevine

The company grapevine has choked out many an otherwise-good company culture.

Invest in the Right Perks

Employee perks are important. Among the most important to employees are flexible work schedules, telecommuting, retirement plans, and health insurance coverage. Retirement plans and health insurance are costly, but other perks do not have to be expensive. The cost of allowing telecommuting, for example, can be minimal. Educational perks like subscriptions to professional journals can be good investments, as can the occasional Friday afternoon happy hour or pizza party. Companies that provide meals for workers who work late to meet looming deadlines show they care for employees without breaking the bank.

Be Watchful for Signs of Burnout

Don’t think that the price for success is burnt-out employees. Your employees are not replaceable parts like the clutch in your ’08 Accord. Helping employees achieve good work-life balance is one of the best things you can do for improving company culture. Disengagement, increased absenteeism, isolation, and higher accident rates are signs you should look deeper for the possibility of employee burnout and address it if it’s present. The cost of replacing an employee who burns out and quits is much higher than the cost of finding out what’s wrong and working with the employee to fix it.

The workplace is more than just a physical or digital place where people exchange their skills and talents for a paycheck. Company culture will create itself if you don’t make the effort to shape it to your needs, and the company culture that arises organically is often the business equivalent to the un-pruned privet hedge, which grows aggressively, often in the wrong direction.

Corporate culture must be tended and maintained, and changes must sometimes be made to keep everyone in alignment with market realities, changing workforce trends, and different technologies. The main way to ensure you create a strong corporate culture is to listen to employees at all levels and learn what matters to them professionally. There’s simply no overstating how important company culture is to success.

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