How corporate culture can work against you (and how to avoid it)

corporate culture

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, actively disengaged employees cost between $483 to $605 billion USD per year in lost productivity. That’s a number that would terrify any employer.

It makes sense, then, that so many companies are looking to avoid that loss by keeping their team as engaged as possible. And a common tactic for boosting that engagement is a fun, positive corporate culture: thirsty Thursdays, fantasy football leagues, ping pong tables…anything to make employees excited to come to work each day.

However, culture-oriented workplaces can lead to a whole new type of problem: productivity loss. If you’re not careful, all the fun and games can bring actual work to a standstill – or send employees retreating to the cleaning closet for a little peace and quiet.

To get the most out of your positive corporate culture without derailing productivity, here are a few tips to follow:

Cultivate real creativity

Culture-oriented workplaces are often praised for fostering an environment of creative collaboration. However, as we’ve discussed before, research shows that real creativity comes from working alone and without interruption. As psychologist Ester Buchholz writes in The Call of Solitude: “Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems. Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”

The independent versus collaborative method of creativity is certainly up for debate – programmers, for example, may prefer privacy, while an ad agency might thrive on constant communication. In your office, you likely have employees who prefer some degree of one or the other. Be sure to encourage both independent and collaborative opportunities to be creative, and take notice of what work best for your team.

Respect boundaries

Yes, open-concept spaces are more inviting and collaborative. But for an easily-distracted employee, the ongoing chatter might put a serious damper on their daily accomplishments. And introverted individuals in open-concept offices might feel the need to escape from their workspace more often to take breaks from the social atmosphere.

“Put protocols into place that respect people’s space and people’s time,” says Steve Cascone of Mayhew, a Toronto design firm that helps companies create workspace solutions that enhance productivity, wellness, and communication.

To maximize the productivity potential of an open collaborative space, Cascone suggests creating spaces where people can go to have private conversations; designing effective foot traffic patterns; using privacy panels; and installing a sound masking system (more on that here).

Keep roles defined

One of the best parts of a positive corporate culture is the collaboration and openness it breeds; the ability for all employees – from CEO to intern – to interact on the same level.

It’s good that culture breaks down the traditional workplace hierarchy, but those in a position of leadership need to be able to assert their role when needed. Also, managers need to make sure that their team members are hard workers, not just fun to have around. In culture-oriented workplaces, it can sometimes become hard to tell.

Be wary of setting precedents

We’ve mentioned this before with regards to bonuses: when you offer perks, benefits, and compensation, you’re setting a benchmark for the coming years. It’s important to think about whether the traditions and perks you’re implementing make sense long-term. If you do summer hours this year, for example, will you be able to offer it again next year?

That’s not to say that absolutely everything you offer needs to be on the table five years from now, but to a certain degree, your employees will come to expect the frills of a positive corporate culture over time. And that can make any changes seem jarring and harsh – which can do more harm to productivity than good.

Don’t force it

Not everyone likes fun at work. In a Harvard Business Review article, Grant McCracken put it this way: “commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong.”

Even if most of your team opts in to the fun vibe you painstakingly cultivated, there will likely still be individuals that aren’t interested in afternoon drinks and awards ceremonies. Some will find it insincere; others will simply want to focus on their work. And while there are experts out there arguing the benefits of hiring for “cultural fit,” most would agree that a hard worker that isn’t interested in parties is still a valuable employee.

Perks that promote a positive workplace culture are great for giving employees something more than just a paycheck. But in return, employers need to make sure they’re seeing a profitable return on investment, too.

See also:
Want a better culture? Set compensation strategy accordingly
Should your office have a gambling policy?


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