Top-down teams are out. Valued individuals are in. The way we work is changing and it’s changing for the better. Positive company culture is gaining traction in the business world for good reason. But, how immune is it to trends?

Office culture has seen a major transformation in the past decade, partly due to advances in technology and globalisation, partly due to a backlash against sexism and a redefining of womens’ roles in the workplace (there’s still some way to go), and partly due to reforms in health and safety. But most of all, businesses are wising up to the idea that a good culture equates to competitive advantage and a greater chance of success. Employee engagement has become a buzzword in the boardroom. It’s the new mantra driving success. But, is it just a passing trend or have we finally happened upon a new and lasting way of connecting business purpose with employees?

What does today’s company culture look like? What is fashionable in company culture and what is not? What cultural trends are likely to stand the test of time and why?

What exactly is company culture?

Company culture doesn’t have an exact definition. It encompasses many different aspects of a business. It includes the values and beliefs of the company’s founders through to the collective force of employees, interactions between management and staff, and the environment in which they work.

Company culture isn’t just about things. Perks don’t make great culture on their own. The culture of an organisation can be described as an ecosystem. Just like an ecosystem, company culture involves a complex network of living organisms (humans) and non-living components (technology, systems, location, premises etc.). It requires careful balancing to operate at its optimum.

What is fashionable in company culture right now?

Company culture is a living breathing thing. There aren’t set rules and what works for one company may not work for another. Yes, there are guidelines for best practice, but every company and its workers are different. Different ecosystems may require the same basic fundamentals (food, water, sunlight) to grow, but there will be unique factors that allow each to flourish. The same can be said of business culture.

There are though some features of company culture that are essential right now.

Employee engagement

The biggest buzz in company culture right now is around employee engagement. Business leaders have grasped the idea that when employees are positively engaged, the business benefits. Engaged employees are happier, more productive and more likely to contribute to creative ideas.

So, what makes a happy, engaged employee?

According to guidelines from ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), there are four key ingredients to a happier, more productive workforce. These are: 

  • leaders with a vision who value how individuals contribute
  • line managers who empower rather than control their staff
  • values that are lived and not just spoken, leading to a sense of trust and integrity
  • employees who have the chance to voice their views and concerns

It’s a formula that is working and it’s why the attention on culture in business has turned from purely perks to include personal development and opportunities.

Employee experience

Employees, especially Millennials, are demanding more from the businesses they work for. They choose ethical businesses over pay. Many Millennials are interviewing employers, not the other way around. The ability to attract and retain top talent is forcing business leaders to look hard at employee experience. How an employee views their job is critical for commitment, motivation and productivity.

These days employees want regular feedback. The annual review is no longer fit for purpose. As a result of these demands, HR needs to be more proactive than ever before and must measure the impact of their engagement initiatives. Questionnaires asking employees to rate employer and managers are becoming commonplace.

Employee experience is all about creating a business where workers want to show up.

Work-life balance

Most business leaders realise that overworked, burned-out employees aren’t good for business.

For a while companies (like Google) integrated fun amenities into the workplace to make work feel more like life outside (ping pong, football tables). Designed to offer zones in the workplace where employees can wind-down and creatively collaborate, these ‘things’ areas have proved a poor substitute for life away from work.

The trend now is to incentivise and facilitate real work-life balance, not mimic it. Business are addressing this issue by offering more flexible working options. They are also encouraging employees to digitally switch off and stop checking emails out of work time. It is increasingly recognised that long working hours decreases productivity and some businesses are restricting working hours to address that problem.

Personal development and employee success

Give employees the tools they need to succeed and business benefits, but that can’t be achieved with a one-size-fits-all approach. Some employees require mentoring, others need flexibility to work from home. Personal development plans at work are a great way to check in with employees and find out what they need to be successful inside and outside of work.

Sabbaticals

Straddling work-life balance and personal development is the idea of sabbaticals from work. US company Zillow Group gives mid-career staff six-week sabbaticals as a reward for loyalty. Employees who have been with the company for six years are gifted a six-week break (three weeks paid, three weeks unpaid) to recharge.

In the UK, Brighton company, Propellernet, offer staff 12 days additional leave each year to go and do something inspiring and creative.

Company culture trends to avoid

Things

There’s absolutely no harm in window shopping to broaden horizons when it comes to developing a better company culture, but copycat culture often fails, especially when the focus is on things. A Google slide, a bean-bag-break-out area and free massages might be nice perks, but culture they are not.

Businesses miss the point when they assume culture equates to perks. The greatest asset a business has is its people. Employee engagement and employee experience are where things are at right now. Not things.

Want to know more about the dangers of equating culture with things? Read our recent blog on Company culture isn't things: why you should avoid a bean bag culture.

Well-being and stress relief

Wellness programmes are becoming popular in the workplace. Quite simply, healthier employees are beneficial to productivity and success.

But successful wellness programmes aren’t about quick fixes. For example, managing stress at work by bringing in a massage therapist isn’t dealing with the root cause.

Well-being at work is more than just people’s medical health. Workplace interventions, such as an open-door policy supporting better communication, flexible working arrangements, employees being encouraged to take breaks, support to make healthy choices (fruit bowls, decaffeinated drinks), positive messaging, clear expectations and giving employees autonomy and responsibility all contribute to an employee’s overall feeling of well-being at work.

Which cultural trends are likely to stand up?

We are heading for uncertain times (Brexit, artificial intelligence). We live in an unprecedented age of transparency. Poor business culture is being ousted. In our digital age, there is no place for poor culture to hide (Uber, Weinstein). People are empowered. Millennials have found their voice.

Cultural trends that mutually benefit businesses, employees and the community are the ones that are most likely to hold up. Consumers demand it and so do employees. Initiatives in business that embrace individual and collective success will be the ones that continue to inspire and enable. Company culture isn’t a trend, it’s what will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Learn more about company culture by downloading our report, The Culture Economy

Other ways to boost company culture