In almost any job interview, you will hear the candidate ask the question “What’s your corporate culture like?” in one form or another. There’s good reason for this: Nobody wants to work for a company that doesn’t recognize the importance in fostering an environment that is both enjoyable and rewarding for its employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed persons ages 25-54 spend an average of nearly nine hours each day working. With that kind of investment, is it any wonder employees are seeking a fulfilling work experience?
Netflix famously earned kudos (and 16.2 million views on Slideshare) when its culture policy went public. In the 124-slide presentation, the company revealed that employees are allowed to responsibly take as much vacation time as they want (“We don’t track hours worked, so why are we tracking days of vacation per year?”) and that it pays top dollar “because one outstanding employee is worth more and costs less than two adequate ones.”
Despite the logic, and how well this approach has worked for Netflix (it became one of the most desirable places to work), few companies are as flexible and forward-thinking when it comes to how they treat their employees. So, what should good corporate culture look like and how does one create it?
The answer can be found in college life. Before your mind goes straight to Animal House, hear me out. Any well-rounded university offers its students a vibrant environment that is as intellectually challenging and educational as it is sociable and fun. In the corporate world, this same mix will help you attract quality employees, keep them engaged, and instill loyalty (said this employee who has been with the same company for 21 years).
Whether your employees are millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers or a combination thereof, here’s what you can learn from college to create a workplace culture appreciated by all:
Expand their minds.
Let’s start with the simple stuff. Students go to college to become further educated. They want to learn new things, be intellectually challenged and experience alternate points of view. The same is true for any employee, and if they aren’t getting this in their present job, they’ll move on to find it elsewhere. Many companies do the obvious by providing things like on-the-job training or in-house “universities” that teach staff new skills. But, if they really want to keep their employees engaged, they need to think outside the box. One of my company’s employee programs, Trading Places, allows staffers to switch roles with a colleague in another city for one month. Akin to an academic exchange program, this gives participants a new perspective of the organization and our culture on both a macro and micro level.
Higher education doesn’t come easy. Students quickly learn that it’s a lot of hard work and late nights — great preparation for that transition to a career with the same requirements. Looking to relieve some stress and break the monotony of all work and no play, students often explore other endeavors, such as Greek Life or student government, and extracurricular activities like sports or music.
While the corporate world is well aware of employee burnout, few companies look beyond simple enhancements, such as putting in a pool table, stocking a snack bar or hosting the occasional after-work “happy hour.” Don’t be afraid to get creative with how you engage and provide relief for your staff. For example, we have conducted everything from an inter-office Top Chef cooking competition to a companywide fitness challenge. We even created a Legends program for tenured employees, offering extra vacation and the opportunity to take a sabbatical. These culture enhancements do more than just afford work-life balance; they yield opportunities for bonding between colleagues as well as show employees that the company recognizes there is more to job satisfaction than a pat on the back and the occasional raise.
Create a path to success.
College is a time of great exploration — when the ambitious seek out opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, such as an internship at a company within an industry of interest, and prove they have what it takes to succeed. They just need somebody to give them the chance.
Employees, regardless of their experience, want the same from their workplace and desire opportunities for advancement. This can include regular touch-bases with bosses (the equivalent of teacher office hours, if you will) and establishing a growth plan. The key is to maintain an open line of communication. Following one of my company’s annual staff surveys, when we ask them what they would like to see more or less of, we learned that some of our managers were hungry for more training. This was the seed that produced two internal programs aimed at educating and empowering executives to become better leaders. To foster a good culture, a company has to be willing to ask its people what it can do better and, more importantly, listen to what they have to say and act upon it.
Just as students graduate and move on, employees grow and advance, and this often affects what they would like to see in the corporate culture. Companies need to recognize that their culture should evolve along with their employees’ wants and needs; if they change, you should too. Keeping your work environment fresh will yield more satisfied employees, lower staff turnover and provide a great answer the next time somebody asks you what your culture is like.