Why workplace culture matters | The true value of great company culture

By Eddie Cubberley & Ross Langdell, 25 May 2021 | 10 mins read

Sometimes, it’s hard to pin down exactly what gives an organisation its vibe. This makes ‘company culture’ feel like a slightly nebulous concept, with a magical blend of factors all coming together to create a unique workplace environment. Definitions are often along the lines of ‘the values, beliefs, interactions, behaviours and attitudes that are observed within the workplace’. One thing’s for sure: workplace culture has a huge impact on everything from recruitment and retention, to the bottom line.

With this is mind, the importance of understanding and defining your company culture shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ll be getting down to the nuts and bolts of how that’s done later in this article, but first, a little stat to chew on.

56 per cent of employees say company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.”

Although this fact makes interesting reading, there’s a good chance that you’ve already felt the power of workplace culture yourself. Unless you’re starting your first job, you’ll have had the experience of walking into a business and knowing instinctively when it feels right (or wrong). This affinity is important on a number of levels.

Here are our top 5 reasons why companies need to take care of their culture.

1. To attract talent

From the moment a company advertises a vacancy, to a candidate’s first few weeks in the job, applicants (and the eventual recruit) are making decisions about their cultural fit. Some 77% of people say they will take a company’s ethos into account before applying to work there. It therefore makes sense for businesses to define their cultures clearly, so talent can find the right employer (and vice versa).

The consequences of a cultural mismatch make this an especially critical task. If a new recruit feels uncomfortable and unhappy, they are more than likely to leave. This puts HR back at square one, having invested valuable time, money and resources with no result. Getting it right first time is a win-win situation.

2. To engage employees

When your people like being at work, they’re more focused and engaged. One study found that employees who are happy at work say they’re “on task” 80% of the time. As you’d have to be a robot to be on task all of the time, 80% is good. On the other hand, disengaged employees report being on task only about 40% of the time. What that means in reality, is that disengaged workers may be doing the minimum in their roles and lacking attachment and loyalty to your business. That has big implications for productivity, with low employee engagement estimated to cost US companies $450-500 billion each year.

“In the UK, just eight per cent – eight per cent! – of employees feel engaged at work.”

Of course, the million-dollar question is how to ensure your workforce is engaged – especially in a world that’s learning to live with a global pandemic and flexible working en masse. The bad news is there’s no single solution and one-size most definitely doesn’t fit all. However, the good news is that although every organisation is different, there are some common drivers, such as Pride, Autonomy, Recognition and Wellbeing. They translate into solutions such as thoughtful and respectful performance management, a focus on trust, healthcare, creating a sense of purpose or value and opportunities for learning and development. Keen to learn more about these engagement drivers, have a read here.

3. To retain staff

A positive work culture doesn’t just attract the right employees – it encourages them to stay. In one study, 63% of respondents confirmed that a company’s culture was a mitigating factor when it came to remaining in their job.

In short, it’s clear that higher levels of job satisfaction and happier workers mean lower employee turnover. The tricky part is creating that feel-good factor and making sure it’s maintained throughout day-to-day operations. When a business values culture from the management team down, there’s more chance that it will work to foster an environment where people want to be. If your top brass need persuading, they need only to look at the mountain of research that shows that poor workplace culture is among the primary reasons that people quit their jobs and, of course, the real impact on the bottom line. And we don’t just mean values that don’t quite fit. In some cases, it’s work environments rife with bullying, sexism, the acceptance of mediocrity, immaturity, lack of team spirit or lack of direction and drive. Alarmingly, one in five British workers has quit a position due to a toxic workplace culture.

4. To increase staff happiness

One recent study scientifically proved that happiness is one of several important keys to a company’s success. It found that happy workers are productive workers, which probably comes as no surprise. In fact, they’re 12% more productive than their more discontented colleagues. The same study claims that when Google focused on employee happiness, productivity increased by a joyous 37%!

At the heart of this is the fundamental truth that people who feel happy at work will want to be there every day and will feel motivated to give their best. In this environment, they can concentrate, feel invested in their work, and collaborate and innovate.

Conversely, unhappy employees are a drain on an organisation. They’re more likely to feel stressed and fatigued, with the most miserable workers taking ten times more sick leave than their happier team-mates.  It can also foster a negative working environment for their colleagues, creating a ripple effect of discontent across the team or organisation.

Making your employees happy starts with understanding what they want. Create a culture that cares for your people, and they’ll take care of your business.

5. To add to the bottom line

As we said above, happy workers are productive workers, and that means culture is inherently linked to the bottom line. In fact, some feel it’s the ultimate driver of success… “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as management guru, Peter Drucker, famously said.

There are heaps of studies out there that show how companies with strong, positive cultures out-perform their competitors. A quick dip into these surveys reveals the following:

  • Happy sales people produce 37% greater sales (Harvard Business Review)
  • Good company culture increases revenue by 4x (Forbes)
  • Team members who feel disengaged at work cost a company around a third of their annual salary every year, due to higher absenteeism, lower productivity and lower profitability. (Gallup)

Convinced? If you need any further persuasion that a strong culture counts, we have one more stat for you:

When executives from some of the world’s greatest companies place such importance on positive workplace culture, you have to sit up and take notice.

As the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Doug Conant, once said: “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”

Understanding and building your company culture: where to start

So, we know company culture’s important. But how can it be defined? With an ever-growing body of information on the topic, it may seem like a vast and overwhelming task. We can guide you through the process, and we’ll tell you how at the end. But for now, the thing to remember is that your workplace culture isn’t something that management imposes or invents.

If you have to force a culture to fit, you’re probably doing it wrong. Company culture should flow naturally from the heart of the organisation, taking cues from what already exists. Otherwise it will feel fake – and your employees will spot inauthenticity straight away. Your company spirit should be distilled and refined, but definitely not contrived.

Define what your company stands for

A good place to start is to articulate what your organisation believes. What is its ethos? What are its goals? What is its personality? Too many companies turn to generic, cookie-cutter answers when considering these questions. Think about what makes you different. Why do you stand out from your competitors?

And, when you’re done articulating, take a step back and give your answers a good, hard look. Are they really new ideas? Are they truly distinctive? Try to challenge yourself to avoid those humdrum answers to find your company’s true DNA.

What are your vision and values?

Along with your beliefs, you need to establish your values – the pillars that support and inform all your people do. Stick to a small core of principles. Too many will dilute the internal brand and messages you’re trying to create. Your company vision articulates what your company wants and where it wants to be. This is not to be confused with a mission statement, which is more about the ‘how’.

Here at Maverick, we took a good, hard look at our own culture not so long ago. The company had out-grown its original brand and it was time for an overhaul. Our experts got down to business, and working closely with the rest of the team, distilled our company ethos into six key values that are the pure essence of Maverick; what we’re really all about. They’re our blueprint for a success, unlocking our potential, keeping us hungry and uncompromising, and steering everything we do.

Questions about vision and values reach deep into the heart of organisations, touching their strategies and souls. However, it’s good to remember that culture is a work in progress. Over time, your proposition and core values will naturally evolve.

Once you’ve established your values, beliefs and vision, your employees can embrace them and live them day to day. When your people represent and radiate your company culture, it leads to better customer service and strengthens your overall brand. Clients can then buy into this – and bingo: differentiation. You’ve carved yourself a special niche in your particular market.

Once you’ve done all this work, remember to polish your cultural bedrock and let it shine out. Shoving those carefully crafted values in a dusty corner of your website defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Company culture in action: DHL Express case study

If values and ethos work, it’s because they’ve been carefully moulded by experts, with awesome experience in the field. The Maverick Engage team is responsible for helping some of the biggest brands in the world to identify, create and embed the traits, values and behaviours that support their success.

A few years ago one of our clients, DHL Express, asked Maverick Engage to help them reconnect with their global workforce of 100,000 employees in 220 countries. By identifying and focusing on the core attributes at the heart of their culture, Maverick Engage helped everyone to see the value in a more global outlook. Creating an internal engagement program centred around pride in being the ‘International Specialists’, we aligned DHL’s authentic internal ethos with their external business strategy. Fast forward a few years and employee engagement has increased by some 50%, helping DHL Express go from a 1.1 billion loss to 1.4 billion EBIT, with the program still going and the company still growing.

With these globally shared values, diverse employees around the globe can bond together and work towards common goals; really reinforcing the idea of DHL being the ‘Worlds Most International Company’. This organisational culture has helped make DHL Express the world’s number two employer, according to Great Place to Work, amongst many other regional and global accolades.

While DHL aren’t the first company to boost success by identifying the characteristics that make up its DNA, their strategy is clearly a winner – and you can apply it too. If you’d like a hand with that, Maverick Engage are here to help. Our team are specialists in Behavioural Change, Cultural Transformation, Internal Communications and Engagement, and Learning Development. No matter how big your business gets on the outside, they can help it feel small on the inside, with shared values, vision, and direction.

To plug into the tools, strategies and thinking that can help you gauge your current culture and work out how it ought to look, get in touch with our team. As our values state: Together we’re dynamite!