A great company culture contributes to a more robust and resilient company. In addition to higher financial returns, strong workplace cultures boost employee engagement, retention, and innovation.
But what makes for great organizational culture? Perks and benefits may be the first things to come to mind. On the surface, these make employees feel supported and appreciated.
However, excellent corporate culture goes beyond that. There must also be open communication, mutual respect, and shared goals among its members. Management must also be committed to the growth and development of its people.
Overall, the best workplaces with the best culture are where employees feel that their efforts are recognized and their concerns are heard; that management is honest and equally accountable, and that the people are proud and excited about their work.
It can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it: a great company culture. One where employees feel seen and heard, where management is transparent, and where teams are proud and excited to work together.
Too often, company culture is presented as flashy perks: free lunches, unlimited time off, and dog-friendly offices, but the substance of a strong culture lies not in these amenities, but rather in how employees are valued, trusted, and encouraged to develop both professionally and personally.
While perks and benefits are certainly great to have, and can help employees to feel supported and appreciated, they merely sit on the surface.
A great corporate culture goes much deeper: It involves open communication, mutual respect, shared goals, and a commitment to employee growth and development.
Why does a good company culture matter?
A great company culture makes for a stronger company overall.
In fact, when we compared the annual returns of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® against the Russell 3000 Index® (the broadest benchmark index for U.S. stocks), we found that these companies had a cumulative return of 1,709% since 1998 — compared to a 526% return for the Russell index alone during the same period.
Strong organizational culture is also closely correlated with employee engagement, retention, innovation, and even customer service. For example, our research has found that employees at Great Place To Work Certified™ workplaces (where company culture is prioritized) are 34% more likely to believe their company’s customer service is excellent.
The 8 elements of great company culture
There are numerous things you can do to improve your organization’s culture. Our data shows that great workplaces focus on these eight elements of company culture:
Employees at great workplaces find their people managers and leaders to be more credible: According to our research, 83% of employees at the 100 Best Companies said management’s actions match its words, versus 42% of employees at the average workplace.
Trustworthy, credible, and personable managers have a significant positive impact on:
- Employee retention
- Overall workplace satisfaction
- Employees’ willingness to recommend their company
- Motivation to give extra effort at work
When employees say managers are honest and ethical, they’re five times more likely to want to work there for a long time, and 11 times more likely to think the workplace is great.
We all know this: You need to show people respect to earn respect in return. Respect can take many forms, but the best workplaces regularly show respect by recognizing employees’ efforts, seeking employees’ input, and caring for employees as people with lives outside of work.
Many of the 100 Best Companies trust their employees to work flexible hours and from remote places. This workplace flexibility makes employees more dedicated and engaged because they feel respected and trusted to meet their business goals in a way that works for their life.
Many companies today even offer unlimited paid vacation and let employees work from anywhere; strong employee relationships prevent people from abusing the policy.
Humans place a high value on fairness. Companies where employees feel like everyone is getting a fair opportunity consistently report more positive employee experiences.
Fairness is an area that great workplaces excel at, as our workplace study revealed. When rating equal compensation and recognition, employees score these companies 37 to 42 percentage points higher than the national average.
Employees at these companies also report issues with favoritism and politicking far less often. On employee surveys, these companies score 38 percentage points higher when asking their people about these experiences.
Surprisingly, fair pay isn’t the factor that most impacts employees’ overall workplace satisfaction and intent to stay. Other, less tangible aspects of the workplace, such as pride and strong leadership, play a much larger role.
Employees say that being paid fairly for their work makes them twice as likely to think their workplace is great. But when employees are proud of their work, they are 20 times more likely to say it’s a great workplace.
Employees who have pride in their workplace believe in the company and what it stands for, from what it produces, to how it operates, to how it engages with the local community.
There are three levels of workplace pride:
- Pride in your job and the work
- Pride in the team
- Pride in the company and its reputation
Pride is much more than a pat on the back. When employees feel proud of their workplace, they are more engaged: According to our data, they are 2 times more likely to want to stay with the organization for a long time and 6 times more likely to endorse their workplace to others.
Ideally, employees feel pride in all three areas, but this isn’t always the case — and that could be a problem. That’s because workplace pride needs to be reinforced over time, through consistent actions, no matter the circumstances.
At the 100 Best Companies, employees express a sense of winning together when times are good — and sticking together even when times are tough.
Belonging in the workplace is an employee’s sense that they are accepted and valued by the organization. This goes beyond feeling appreciated for what they do, and into feeling appreciated for who they are.
Every company says it values employees. The 100 Best Companies don’t just say it; they show it. They celebrate employee accomplishments, they ensure new employees feel welcomed from day one, and they embrace the diversity and individualism of their employees.
For example, at the Best Workplaces, we’ve seen things like parental leave practices becoming more inclusive, and employee resource groups being empowered to guide business decisions.
The result? Employees who feel a sense of belonging are 3 times more likely to look forward to coming to work and 5 times more likely to want to stay at the company for a long time.
Our research also shows that workplaces that are consistently great for all employees grow revenue 3 times faster than less-inclusive organizations.
6. Effective leadership
Leadership can make or break a team. A great leader will inspire, motivate, and drive innovation. A bad one will demoralize, kill productivity, and push employees to walk out the door.
The Great Place To Work leadership effectiveness index measures business leaders in four areas. How much management:
- aligns their words and actions
- avoids favoritism
- demonstrates competency, honesty, and approachability
- shows genuine interest in employees as people
Effective leadership is more than hitting company targets. It is fostering a team mentality that ensures everyone is working together and to their best of abilities. That environment will then help to hit those necessary targets.
Our research on effective leaders has found that they:
- Seek out ideas from team members and involve them in decision-making
- Recognize and celebrate employees and support their professional development
- Demonstrate competence and honesty so that they can earn employees’ trust
The good thing is that people don’t need to be born as great leaders. A great leader can be created. The Best Workplaces invest in leadership development, identifying employees with leadership potential, and helping them to learn the skills and qualities needed to succeed — and thereby creating a pipeline of future leaders.
Your company’s core values are your guiding star: the beliefs and principles that shape who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
The best workplaces lead with shared values rather than rules and policies. That’s because when rules are the guiding force, rather than an organization’s values, trust isn’t at the core of the employer-employee relationship. Shared values can engage and empower, which in turn boosts innovation, creativity, and productivity.
When managers create a safe environment to express ideas and make suggestions, employees are 31 times (!) more likely to think their workplace is a breeding ground for innovation. Workplaces that have innovative cultures inspire employee loyalty, confidence, and willingness to give extra.
Employees at innovative companies are:
- 4 times more likely to say they’re proud to tell others they work there
- 9 times more likely to think their company is a great place to work
- 4 times more likely to give extra to get the job done
What is a toxic company culture?
If your current culture isn’t strong, you’re on a slippery slope into toxicity.
A toxic company culture is one plagued by negativity, where employees don’t feel engaged at best, or don’t feel safe at worst. There could be gossiping, backstabbing, bad habits and a general feeling of mistrust.
And while that may sound like a big jump, it’s not really — a mediocre corporate culture, where employees and leaders are merely going through the motions, can easily descend into something far more sinister. Things like a lack of values, ineffective leadership, and no sense of belonging can kill employee trust and morale.
On the other hand, employees that experience a healthy culture are more likely to give significantly higher levels of discretionary effort, reports Workhuman.
How to use employee surveys to improve company culture
By thoughtfully investing time and effort into these eight areas, you can show your people that you care about them, improve employee experience, and put your company on a path to creating a great culture.
To ensure you’re on the right track, conduct regular pulse surveys to get employee feedback on how they are feeling about their work, their workplace overall, and their place within it.
Measure the 8 elements of company culture in your workplace
Show off your superb workplace by earning the Great Place To Work Certification™. With it, you can tap into valuable insights and see how the eight crucial elements of company culture we discussed are truly shaping up in your organization.
Claire is our Senior Content Marketing Manager. Claire works with Great Place to Work data and company culture experts to distil the psychology of high-trust workplaces. Claire co-authored the Women in the Workplace report and her profiles of Best Workplaces™ have been featured in Fortune. When Claire’s not sifting through our 28+ years of survey data, she’s rolling out her yoga mat or daydreaming about her next U.S. road trip.