Building a strong company culture is no longer the exception in the business world, it is now the zeitgeist. Once unique to Silicon Valley, company culture is definitely no longer the secret of the iconic high-tech powerhouses, such as Google and Apple.

In our increasingly competitive global economy, businesses small and large are wising up to the positive effects of growing a strong company culture. The bottom line is, a good company culture brings many benefits. It helps to attract and retain talent, results in more motivated staff and increases productivity.

But, not all businesses are getting it right. Many still struggle to understand exactly what company culture is.

Perks and comfort in the office are great. A fun environment to work in is cool. But, a few bean bags shouldn’t be confused with company culture. For sure, a creative and quirky office can add to the vibe, but things aren’t 'it'. Company culture is so much more than things. You can create the coolest office in the world, but with a toxic company culture, perks and surroundings are meaningless. Throwing bean bags at the problem just doesn’t work.

So, what exactly is company culture? And why should you avoid relying on bean bags to sell your vision?

Company culture: what it is and what it isn’t

Company culture isn’t surface-level perks. A break-out room with table football might be nice, but it focuses on stuff, not on people. Having table football in the office is a perk. Getting an office football team together to play in a charity competition is culture.

Company culture is about building meaningful relationships. It’s about supporting staff, holding them accountable, and offering opportunities for personal development. Company culture is about management getting to know staff, finding out what they care about and encouraging them to accomplish and develop. Company culture is about attitudes, feelings and behaviours, not things.

There isn’t an exact definition for company culture. It encompasses many aspects of a business. It goes way beyond bean bags. Company culture is all about giving your employees a sense of purpose. Your employees need to understand your vision and be on board with it. Company culture is a living, growing thing influenced by core identity and values. It isn’t a one-off purchase. It needs nurturing.

Why you should avoid a bean bag culture

When it comes to work, a comfortable and cohesive environment is important. Bean bags, break out areas, living walls, slides, free snacks and a great view are nice touches. These are all perks that will add to the atmosphere you are trying to create. All of these perks may be synonymous with your values and vision, but they don’t equate to company culture alone. Here’s why:

  • Bean bags don’t engage your employees
  • Bean bags don’t tell your employees that they matter
  • Bean bags don’t offer opportunity to grow
  • Bean bags don’t provide a sense of purpose
  • Bean bags don’t hold your employees to account
  • Bean bags don’t address leadership issues
  • Bean bags don’t offer praise

What happens if you confuse bean bags for company culture?

How your employees feel about your organisation will make a huge difference to its success. Show a prospective employee around your office and they may be impressed by the bean bags, break out areas and the modern aesthetic you have created. But they will also be able to feel and notice if the atmosphere is a toxic one.

Bean bags won’t address mediocrity, poor leadership, discrimination, gossip, poor communication, and high staff turnover. A swag bag of perks isn’t the answer. Being able to wear pyjamas to work and sit on a bean bag while you eat your lunch is meaningless if your boss is shouting at you the moment something goes wrong.

Confuse bean bags for culture and you are missing the opportunity to make your company the best it can be. Bean bags alone don’t make happy staff, happy customers, great productivity and an engaging and innovative business.

Why culture is more important than ever

There is clear evidence to show that employees aren’t just interested in the highest salaries. They are also looking for employers with attractive company cultures. While salary is an initial incentive, on its own it doesn’t keep employees happy in their jobs. People are searching for jobs that will provide positive experiences and challenges.

People nowadays want to work for businesses that care. CSR (corporate social responsibility) matters to people and it’s a part of what company culture is all about. In fact, our Culture Economy report revealed that one third of employees leave their jobs due to poor company culture. Customers seek out businesses with strong ethics too. A strong company culture adds value to brand image. It shines inside and out.

Yes, perks add flavour, but they aren’t the heart of company culture. Those who confuse bean bags for company culture do so at their peril. The success of your business relies on your people, and job candidates are calling for more.

See our report on The Culture Economy to find out more about why company culture is as important as strategy when it comes to growth and long-term success.

Culture economy