Company Culture and the Employee Experience
Company culture has a lot to do with employee experience, and vice versa. In fact, they are essential to each other’s success: a great company culture fosters a great employee experience, and a great employee experience both reflects and fuels a great company culture. Together, they can lead to valuable business benefits like increased productivity, reduced turnover, and greater employee satisfaction.
The HR team can be the ideal catalyst for improving company culture and employee experience. With its finger on the pulse of employee and leader sentiments alike, HR is often described as the caretaker of workplace culture and plays a major role in shaping employee experience.
This chapter will help HR professionals step into these roles and responsibilities.
You will learn:
- What company culture and employee experience are
- Why they are so important to your organization’s success
- What HR can do to enhance and strengthen them
- How to measure your progress
- And more
What Is Company Culture?
Company culture is often called the personality of an organization. It is a shared set of workplace values, attitudes, standards, purposes, processes, beliefs, and behaviors. Company culture reflects both the written and unwritten rules that people in an organization follow. Your organization’s culture is the sum of all that you and your colleagues think, say, and do as you work together.
Each company’s culture is different—influenced by the foundational elements of the organization’s mission, vision, and values plus a unique combination of other factors such as the company’s leadership, goals, obstacles, industry, workforce characteristics, and position in the marketplace.
Even if an organization does nothing, culture forms and evolves on its own—but an unguided, unstructured culture may do more harm than good.
Examples of Company Culture
Culture includes a thousand little things, and some big ones too—such as:
- How different departments and teams get along
- The way work assignments are doled out
- Whether birthdays are celebrated
- How opportunities for advancement are provided
- Whether employees can have face time with executives
- What’s talked about (or taboo) in the lunchroom
- Whether employees prefer to collaborate or work alone
- Whether there’s pressure to work when you’re sick
What Company Culture Is Not
People often incorrectly associate company culture with perks that are provided for employees, like free food and video games in the workplace. Most perks are too superficial to create or define a company’s culture, although they may be welcome expressions of it.
How Does Company Culture Take Shape?
Every organization develops a company culture, whether they realize it or not. Even if an organization does nothing, culture forms and evolves on its own—but an unguided, unstructured culture may do more harm than good. A serious disconnect could emerge between your organization’s mission, vision, and values and what its employees and leaders actually do, damaging your employees’ trust in their employer. To avoid this, HR must take an active role in building company culture in positive ways that align your organization’s ideals and goals with everyone’s behaviors.
Some elements of company culture are easier than others to shape and guide—and that’s okay. Fostering a strong culture doesn’t require having complete control of it (which is unrealistic to expect); it’s about nurturing an environment where people can thrive and do their best.
Who Is Responsible for Company Culture?
From new hires to senior executives, everyone in an organization should play a part in developing and maintaining a vibrant company culture. Leaders approve initiatives that shape it. Middle managers put those initiatives into action. Employees strengthen the company’s culture by supporting its ideals. And HR is at the heart of it all.
Here are some of the many ways HR professionals can play a central role in influencing company culture:
- In employee meetings, company communications, leadership strategy sessions, and elsewhere, keep the company’s mission, vision, and values foremost in everyone’s mind as the foundation the culture is built on.
- Collaborate with leaders to define the company’s culture and make adjustments as it evolves over time.
- Recommend culture initiatives that will build on current cultural strengths and provide opportunities for improvement where needed.
- Identify qualified job candidates who will support company values and filter out any who won’t.
- Reward and recognize employee behaviors that support company culture.
- Promote continuing culture improvements by maintaining open communication and frequent feedback between employees and leaders.
87 percent of executives and HR professionals said company culture significantly supports their business goals, and 94 percent said it’s important to their organization’s success.
Why Is Company Culture Important?
It’s hard to overstate the potential impact of company culture—and the business world knows it. In our exclusive culture survey, BambooHR found 87 percent of executives and HR professionals said company culture significantly supports their business goals, and 94 percent said it’s important to their organization’s success.
Here are some of the key business benefits that can result from a thriving culture:
- Increased revenue and profits
- Higher productivity
- Improved morale
- Greater employee satisfaction
- Increased employee engagement
- Reduced turnover and associated recruiting and training costs
- Greater interest from top talent
- Heightened creativity and innovation
- Improved customer experience and satisfaction
When employees enjoy their jobs, they strive to improve their work and their workplace. That’s why maintaining a strong, appealing company culture is not only the right thing to do, it’s a smart business strategy. BambooHR co-founder Ben Peterson sums it up: “By far, the biggest return on investment of a healthy company culture is that our people can create more value more quickly because they’re more invested in our success. We really believe that when we create a great place to work, great work takes place.”
What Does a Great Company Culture Look Like?
No two workplace cultures are alike, but many great ones share common practices such as these that make their company a great place to work:
- Encourage diversity: Organizations with great cultures hire different types of people who add new perspectives and skills instead of people who all think alike.
- Help new hires feel welcome: From the beginning of onboarding, these organizations provide the tools, training, guidance, and relationship-building opportunities that new hires need to settle in and do their best work.
- Engage employees: Great company cultures promote performance, growth, and loyalty by providing meaningful learning opportunities and appealing career paths.
- Include everyone: They make sure every employee is heard, valued, and respected.
- Recognize and reward: They regularly provide helpful feedback and sincere appreciation.
- Prepare for the future: As the industry and workforce continue to change, great organizations proactively adapt to their employees’ evolving needs and interests to sustain each individual’s success.
Maintaining Company Culture with Remote Employees
The arrival of COVID-19 brought explosive growth to the already-increasing number of people who work remotely, and many continue to do so. But whenever employees aren’t physically present, it can be all too easy to overlook them. HR should take steps to make sure remote workers are familiar with your company culture and know they are an important and welcome part of it.
What this looks like will depend on the nature of your business and the remote worker’s circumstances, but here are a few suggestions:
- If feasible, invite remote workers to come into the office for onboarding activities and periodic visits so they have a chance to meet people face to face and experience the workplace environment.
- Introduce them to your company’s mission, vision, and values during onboarding and explain how the new hire can support them.
- Have their manager use a videoconferencing platform such as Zoom to include them in team and company meetings, strategy sessions, training, and even social events like lunchtime birthday parties or baby showers. It’s a good idea to keep the video on as often as possible to help remote workers get to know their coworkers better and bond with them.
- Include remote workers’ deserving accomplishments in your rewards and recognition program.
- Encourage the team to keep their daily chat conversations flowing to give remote workers a handy way to make friends, ask questions, discuss team projects, and avoid feeling isolated.
Ten Ways to Build a Better Culture
As we’ve said, workplace culture inevitably continues to change over time—and therein lies an opportunity. Although HR can’t completely control company culture, you can greatly influence it for the better. Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR, says, “Being a culture warrior may not come in the form of organizing huge initiatives; everyday HR work can impact culture if we approach it from a culture mindset.”
Wherever your culture stands now, there’s always room for improvement. The following steps can help HR repair a broken culture or turn a pretty good culture into an even better one—and keep it there.
1. Know where you’re going.
If your organization is just starting out, leaders should carefully identify the organization’s mission (reason for existing) and the values behind that mission. Then, they can use their mission and values to establish what the organization’s vision is—what it wants to become or the effect it aspires to have on the community, nation, or world.
If you have an established organization that has already defined these important parts of their direction some time ago, take another look to make sure your mission, values, and vision are still as relevant and precise as possible.
2. Find people who fit.
33 percent of new hires quit their job within 90 days, and 32 percent of them blame company culture. To help prevent this expensive and disruptive issue, hire people who not only have the needed job skills but also share your organization’s vision and values. Help candidates get to know your culture during the application process so both you and the applicants will have a better idea of whether they would be a good fit.
Avoid the common mistake of hiring people who all think alike. That might seem like an easy way to have a unified culture, but instead it limits the healthy differences in experience, background, and perspective that strengthen organizations and their culture.
3. Help new employees feel welcome.
Does your onboarding process do enough to welcome new hires into your company culture?
These proven steps can help new hires feel at home, get up to speed, and become confident, successful, long-term employees:
- Use the buddy system. New hires have countless questions about their work and workplace. Assign a nearby coworker to be a friendly resource.
- Talk about culture. Help new hires learn more about your values and culture. Explain how the new employee can help strengthen your culture and create an even greater place to work.
- Show them they matter. Explain how the work they do will make a difference. Help them see meaning and purpose in their job and know that their work will be valued.
4. Set the right example.
When leaders embody their culture’s values, the good example they set trickles down to all levels of the organization. There are a lot of ways for your leaders to do this, depending on the values you’re cultivating.
- To foster transparency and trust: In company meetings, leaders should be as open and honest about the organization’s challenges as they are about its successes.
- To promote teamwork: Leaders should welcome collaboration in their own tasks and use rewards and recognition to shine a spotlight on outstanding team efforts.
5. Integrate your values into everyday activities.
Your company culture should be the showplace where your values come to life and prove their worth. As BambooHR co-founder Ben Peterson puts it, “The values you define for your organization will mean nothing if you don’t intertwine them into everyday work.”
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Make values-based decisions when choosing company initiatives.
- Use your values to guide performance management and help underperforming employees improve.
- Make sure your external messaging (marketing, social media, etc.) reflects your values so your branding is consistent.
6. Give rewards and recognition.
Employees want to be recognized for great work—and rewarded, too. When company culture helps employees feel valued, they are happier in their jobs and motivated to keep improving their work.
Here are four characteristics of successful rewards and recognition programs:
- Inclusive: Everyone is eligible, including remote workers.
- Timely: Recognition for outstanding work is given promptly, making it more meaningful to the recipient.
- Specific: Employees are informed of exactly what behavior or accomplishment they are being rewarded for, encouraging them to repeat it.
- Visible: Successful programs make sure employee recognition is prominently showcased in company meetings and communications.
One of the best ways to prepare your company culture to adapt to changes is to base it on timeless best principles, instead of locking it into rigid best practices that often become obsolete.
7. Keep Up with changes.
The world and the workplace continue to change at dizzying speeds. New industries rise. New processes disrupt proven ways of doing things. New generations of employees and customers bring different expectations and behaviors. No organization is exempt from the effects of change.
One of the best ways to prepare your company culture to adapt to changes is to base it on timeless best principles, instead of locking it into rigid best practices that often become obsolete. For example, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, companies that practice the principle of flexibility were better positioned to adapt to the sudden need for employees to work from home. This article by BambooHR co-founder Ben Peterson can teach you more about evolving your organization and its culture to keep up with the times.
8. Foster more feedback.
Many organizations don’t know enough about what their employees really think of them, leaving leaders in the dark as they make decisions about culture initiatives.
Here are two solutions that promote more helpful and meaningful feedback:
- Performance management software. Well-designed software can replace inadequate annual performance reviews with frequent feedback that’s more timely, accurate, and helpful.
- Employee satisfaction surveys. Easy to create and administer with the right software, brief email surveys can reveal what employees like and don’t like so you can shape your culture in ways that increase employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.
9. Fix what’s broken.
Despite best efforts, just about every organization hits an occasional rocky patch on the road to a great culture. A broken culture can result from growth issues, uncooperative employees, inadequate training, and many other reasons. In each case, something about the company’s culture isn’t living up to your ideals and needs to change. Don’t think of these shortcomings as failures but as opportunities to improve. Before you make changes, be sure your employees understand why and have a chance to air their suggestions and concerns.
Harvard Business Review names four key practices for successfully changing workplace culture:
- Articulate the aspiration. Analyze the issues in your current culture and define the kind of culture you want.
- Select and develop leaders who align with the target culture. Their support, strategizing skills, and ability to implement changes will be critical to success.
- Use organizational conversations about culture to underscore the importance of change. Just as culture is everywhere in an organization, frequent and open dialogue about the need for culture changes must be, too.
- Reinforce the desired change through organizational design. Align your organization’s structures, systems, and processes to support the improved culture you’re developing.
10. Give culture constant attention.
Like tending a garden, supporting and nurturing your company culture requires constant care. Revisit these steps for improving your culture often as you face new changes and update your strategy.
Maintaining Company Culture While Scaling Your Business
Just as a city’s character can change as it grows larger, a company’s culture can, too—sometimes dramatically. Company growth can bring positive cultural changes like increased diversity and greater opportunities for employee development, but growth can also bring challenges to company culture.
For example, as teams and departments proliferate, they may become physically and socially isolated from one another. Subcultures of unsupportive employees may emerge within the larger company culture. Also, the more people there are in the organization, the more difficult it may be to communicate effectively with them.
However, the culture challenges that appear as your company scales its business are fundamentally not so different from culture challenges caused by anything else. That’s good news: it means they can be effectively managed by following the same 10 steps listed above.
What Is Meant by Employee Experience?
Now that we’ve covered company culture, let’s discuss how employee experience relates to it.
Employee experience and company culture can be thought of as two different ways of looking at many of the same things. As we’ve said, company culture is the sum of everything the people in an organization think, say, and do. Employee experience looks at how each individual experiences all of that—the workplace and its culture.
For example, here are two ways of looking at the same behavior through these different lenses:
- If your business is a place where coworkers routinely collaborate and solve problems in a friendly, helpful way, that is a characteristic of its company culture.
- If a new hire notices that whenever they have a question or problem, the teammate who sits next to them always stops what they’re doing and is happy to help, that is the same behavior as in our first example, seen firsthand by the new hire as part of their employee experience.
Employee experience includes every interaction in an individual’s employee journey, from the first contact as a job applicant through the exit interview.
Why Is Employee Experience Important?
Monitoring and analyzing employee experience can reveal trends among workers who have similar experiences. This helps HR learn whether the culture intended to strengthen the entire organization is also doing enough to benefit individual employees. In turn, this creates opportunities for improvement—and improving your company’s employee experience can help your organization attract and retain talent, maximize productivity, and increase employee satisfaction. What’s more, MIT research shows that companies with the best employee experiences generate 25 percent higher profits than others.
Companies with the best employee experiences generate 25 percent higher profits than others.
What Can HR Do to Improve the Employee Experience?
Just as HR can do much to improve company culture, you can help your organization provide a sterling employee experience. The goal is to create personalized experiences for each worker that are aligned with company objectives and help them succeed.
Here are some of the key steps your HR team can take:
Use an employee journey map.
An employee journey map charts the steps that employees will take during their life cycle with the company, from recruitment and onboarding through their eventual exit. Its purpose is to identify groups of employees who share particular wants and needs and then tailor employee experiences that will appeal to each group.
Creating an effective employee journey map requires research and careful strategizing for each step of each group’s life cycle. A key part of this process is identifying gaps between the current employee experience and the ideal one, such as pain points and missed opportunities. For example, engineers may need more training than they have received in the past as their company adopts new technologies.
Determine your desired outcomes for the company and each group to mark “destinations” on your employee journey map. These outcomes should address each group’s needs, strengthen your company culture, and align with your business goals.
Create an internal communications plan that makes every company communication a strategic step in keeping your workforce informed and engaged.
Does your company culture value and foster transparency? Do your employees have a sense of community? Are they regularly reminded of company goals and updated on the progress being made to achieve them? Improving internal communication is crucial for accomplishing these objectives while giving employees a sense of purpose and winning their loyalty, trust, and commitment.
This calls for more than sending an occasional email announcement at random times. HR should create an internal communications plan that makes every company communication a strategic step in keeping your workforce informed and engaged.
ContactMonkey names seven components of a well-rounded internal communications plan:
- Analysis of the current state of the business and its communication needs
- What the internal communication plans goals are
- Who the audience is (entire organization or select teams)
- What each message is, and why
- How you will share your messages (team and company meetings, emails, posters, etc.)
- When messages will be sent (considering times when employees may be most receptive to them)
- How you will determine key metrics and measure performance
Create a great onboarding experience.
Onboarding is the process of introducing a newly hired employee into an organization. We talked earlier about the importance of great onboarding to company culture; if anything, it’s even more essential to creating an outstanding employee experience. The early impressions your company makes on an individual as an applicant, new hire, and fledgling worker will largely determine what they think of your organization as long as they work there.
“When I first interviewed, and I walked in BambooHR, I felt like they must have gone on the intercom and said, ‘Mark’s coming in today. Everybody put on your smiles!’”
—Mark, BambooHR employee
Great onboarding is much more than a quick first-day orientation. It includes steps that help the new hire feel welcome and prepared to succeed during their first days, weeks, and months.
Here are some of the key steps your HR team can take:
- Team introductions
- Executive introductions
- Facilities tour
- New hire paperwork
- Policy and culture training
- Job training
- Frequent coaching and guidance from the employee’s manager
- Setting performance goals and working toward them
Pay special attention to the onboarding needs of remote workers, especially if they aren’t able to come into the office for onboarding activities. Their needs are essentially the same, but they will likely need a lot of online communication to orient them and help them get up to speed.
You’ll learn much more about onboarding in chapter four of this guide, “Onboarding and Offboarding.”
Help employees feel their best.
Invest in an employee wellness program to promote good health. A wellness program can help improve morale, reduce absenteeism, lower health risks, and build camaraderie as employees have fun getting fit. At the same time, it helps reduce employer healthcare costs and boost productivity—a win-win!
Different folks have different wellness needs and interests.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- On-site gym and fitness classes
- Team sports
- Yoga classes
- Group walks
- Healthy snacks
- Friendly fitness competitions with company-provided prizes
A well-rounded wellness program should also include an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP can provide help for mental health issues like stress and depression, as well as other issues that may adversely affect an employee’s work performance and quality of life.
Better physical and mental health can help your people feel good about all areas of their life, including work—so an employee wellness program is an excellent way to help you improve employee experience.
Act on employee feedback.
Many organizations do a great job of asking employees for feedback, but then they drop the ball by not acting on the findings. That’s worse than not asking in the first place. Employees may conclude that no one really cares what they think and lose interest.
To keep employees engaged and provide a great employee experience, the best companies let workers know they’ve been heard by following up on their suggestions. They communicate transparently with their employees, announcing new initiatives with a specific action plan and timetable.
This doesn’t mean leaders should do everything employees suggest. If certain employee suggestions aren’t feasible, the company should explain why they made a different choice instead of saying nothing. They should also seek further input and involvement from their workers as solutions are implemented and refined. Great companies consistently keep employees apprised of the results of their feedback—and continue to ask for more feedback.
Many of the best ideas and most important course corrections result from employee feedback. Your workers want to be heard, and your company will be better for it.
Let surveys help you choose the right benefits.
Do you know how satisfied your employees are with their current benefits? Do you know which benefits they would like you to add or change? Employee benefits surveys can give you the answers, helping to improve employee experience while ensuring your benefits budget delivers the most bang for the buck. A simple annual questionnaire enables you to learn how employees rate your benefits and compare them to competitors’ offerings.
As you weigh the survey results against your limited benefits budget, you may not be able to accommodate everyone’s requests, but you can prioritize based on doing the most good for the greatest number of people. Make decisions that are consistent with your company values and the kind of experience your organization wants to provide for its employees—and be sure to explain that to them.
Learn more about benefits in chapter six of this guide, “Compensation and Benefits.”
Measuring and Nurturing Employee Satisfaction
After all your efforts to improve it, how can you measure employee experience? By measuring its cousin, employee satisfaction.
Employee satisfaction is a metric that rates how employees feel about their employee experience, the work they do, and the company they work for. That’s every bit as important as it sounds: measuring employee satisfaction goes a long way toward sizing up an organization’s overall health.
Anonymous surveys are one of the best and simplest ways to measure employee satisfaction—just as they help evaluate other areas of culture and employee experience that we’ve discussed. The questions you should ask depend on your company’s circumstances, but to help you get started, this survey includes many questions that may be appropriate.
Also consider which type of survey will be best for your needs.
Here are two that may be especially helpful:
- Pulse surveys not only identify employee sentiments, they also track changes over time. To do this, they “take the pulse” of employees by asking the same questions regularly. Pulse surveys can help measure the effects of culture initiatives, turnover, changes in your organization, and many other factors that influence employee satisfaction.
- eNPS® surveys,* which use a method based on the popular Net Promoter System® from Bain & Co., help you understand whether employees would recommend your organization as a good place to work, and why—or why not. They ask only two key questions, which promotes higher participation rates and makes them simpler for you to administer and analyze.
In addition to surveys, having regular one-on-one conversations with workers about employee satisfaction can give leaders deeper insights. This can be done as part of periodic performance reviews or separately. Ask simple, open-ended questions that encourage thoughtful answers, such as:
- What are some things our company is doing well?
- What needs to improve?
- What do you like most about your job?
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
- Do you think you’ll still be with the company in five years? Why or why not?
The data you gather from surveys and one-on-ones can be enormously valuable—but as we’ve mentioned above, feedback is only useful if you act on it. Use your findings to create an action plan that will nurture specific improvements in employee satisfaction. This article lists eight great ways to do it.
HR Is the Key to Success
In this chapter, you’ve seen how company culture and employee experience can work together to create a thriving organization that fosters greater employee satisfaction and success. But this won’t happen on its own; your company needs your help. No one is in a better position than HR to recognize the opportunities, identify solutions, and guide the efforts that will make your workplace shine.
Watching the results take shape can be one of the most satisfying parts of your job.
*Net Promoter, NPS, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld.