How critical is work culture to recruitment and employee retention? It’s important, I’ll give you that. But a feel good work culture might do more harm than good. As the economy continues to grow, hiring managers and HR personnel realize how fiercely they must compete for top talent. As I recently wrote, if you’re looking to snag the best prospects, employee perks alone just won’t cut it.
Today’s modern employee is looking for much more than great benefits and a healthy 401K plan. Those recruiting for tech industries especially know that companies such as Google and Facebook have raised the bar when it comes to work culture and the lure of a fun, modern office space.
And yes, I regularly encourage businesses to think creatively, encourage a human-centered workplace, and build a collaborative and relationship-driven work culture. But there is a catch—a trap, if you will—to all these good feelings. Focusing too much on creating a happy workplace may mean you create one that’s less productive. Let’s take a look.
The Bottom Line Impact of an Engaged Workplace
It is easy to drift into Kumbaya-land when discussing how to build an engaged work culture. There is much talk of employee self-actualization and this new, seamless “work-life” way of living that impacts an individual from sunup to sundown.
But the real reason there is so much focus on employee engagement is because the numbers back up the fact that engaged employees are far more productive. Business leaders are beginning to understand that the bottom line is directly and greatly impacted by their work culture.
At the end of last year, CareerBliss released their 5th annual CareerBliss 50 Happiest Companies in America, and it is not surprising that it is populated with industry leaders. As CEO and Chief Happiness Officer Heidi Golledge says, “It is important to see how workplaces are constantly evolving and changing. Creating happiness at work is a very fluid process, building and adapting to a changing workforce, while accounting for the key factors that create happier environments.”
Too Much Focus on Feeling Good Affects Productivity
Employee happiness matters to business success, period. But let’s take a look at the flip side of the coin. As I mentioned, studies repeatedly show that positive work environments equal higher productivity, but I caution against going too far in the “feel good” direction. There is a big difference between creating a happy work culture and creating an environment where productivity comes second to individual happiness. Building a culture of engaged employees does not mean you create a stress-free zone where accountability and productivity take a back seat to personal needs and wants. In order to create an engaged, but successful workplace, a good portion of the “happy” culture must be connected to performance.
What good is a happy workplace if profitability is at risk? A happy employee is also an employed employee, and it is management’s job to keep the business alive and thriving. A culture of excellence, where employees and teams are recognized and rewarded for success, is a signature element of both a happy work culture and a profitable business.
Finding the Balance between Sound Business and a Positive Work Culture
Offering perks like free lunches, part-time remote work schedules, and flex time are benefits any employee appreciates. Paid leave and great healthcare also help to make employees feel valued. However, to build a truly positive work culture, go a step further and create a clear vision so that all employees understand your core principles. Create clear lines of open communication so both management and their reports know that they will be heard.
The danger in not having a strategy for how to achieve a positive, happy work culture is that management may make some very expensive decisions centered on perks and individual happiness without a clear connection to performance. If you’re not careful, you may create an environment where people feel that their right to be happy and not stressed out takes precedence over performance.
Getting the Positive Work Culture Right
For a good example of strategic planning for a positive work culture, we need look no further than Netflix. The slideshare presentation outlining their corporate strategy lays the foundation with the title: Freedom with Responsibility. They clearly lay out that their “culture focuses on helping us achieve excellence.” There is no confusion about the goal—it’s clearly communicated, right at the onset.
In the presentation, Netflix talks about values and they directly connect them to performance, stating, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.”
The company nails exactly what I’m talking about. “Great values is not espresso, lush benefits, sushi lunches, grand parties or nice offices…We do some of these things, but only if they are efficient at attracting and retaining stunning colleagues.”
No one at Netflix can be confused about the company’s work culture and goals after watching their 124-slide presentation. They have obviously thought it through and clearly communicated their intentions.
What do you think? What is your experience with positive work cultures and strategies that create engaged employees? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic.
A version of this article was first published on Huffington Post on 12/30/15