How do you make your company culture work for everyone?

Company culture is the bedrock of any business. And it has been thrown into sharp focus in recent months with many high-profile scandals hitting the headlines such as the discrimination case at Uber. In light of this, many businesses are now investing in – even living and breathing – their company culture. This is of course, great news for employees. Shouting about how your company culture is like being part of a family and how everyone mucks in together may have swayed a new recruits’ decision during their interview. However, have you stopped to think how accessible your culture will be to new team members? Close-knit can often translate to the ‘in-crowd’ and office politics can get in the way of a pleasant working environment if the culture is too close.

So, what can you do to ensure the culture you have worked hard to cultivate works for all employees?

Inclusion from day one

There is nothing worse than working hard to reach your dream job, being pumped and ready to go on your first day, yet by the end of the week, feeling disheartened and deflated.

It turns out that the friendly culture you were promised is not so welcoming to new people. Colleagues are polite, but not fully inclusive and you feel like you could be the ‘outsider’ for some time.

As a business owner, it’s imperative that new joiners are made to feel part of the team from the off. The first impression they form of the company may well stay with them for the long-term. A sense of belonging and inclusion should be the goal of businesses of all sizes as it allows employees to feel comfortable and, in turn, perform better and increase engagement.

One such way this could be achieved would be by introducing a ‘buddy’ system; team members are paired up and encouraged to spend time together over coffee or lunch to speak openly about work issues or anything outside of the workplace. This is also an initiative that can help form cross-team relationships, further encouraging that one-team mentality and dispersing potentially cliquey groups. Getting the buddy to arrange a lunch during the new employees’ first week can help in making them feel part of the team.

Go beyond the traditional hierarchy

Our own report (registration required) discovered that those at the top of an organisational hierarchy are relatively insulated from the negative impacts of poor workplace culture. However, for those lower in the ranks this is different – it can be intensely personal and perceptions about work are a critical driver of engagement, relationships and, ultimately, your business culture.

Yes, hierarchies are difficult to avoid in their entirety, but building a positive, inclusive working culture can be achieved in relatively small steps. For instance, spending time with individual employees is invaluable and will show that you are reaching beyond your core circle. This will also allow you to take the temperature from all areas of the organisation to gain a better understanding of the feelings towards the culture and approaches to maintaining it.

Crucial to this is keeping company values consistent across all levels, communications and activities. For example, you should avoid letting staff learn of major news or changes over email or worse, through gossip. Holding face-to-face meetings where communication and feedback is immediate will entrench the feeling of a close-knit group whose opinions are valued.

How do you stop a poor culture in its tracks?

Firstly, you need to understand your culture inside and out. Aside from face-to-face interaction, to do so, you need to take the pulse of your workforce by analysing your HR data. This can come from absences, retention and staff turnover. From this data you will be able to spot any patterns that are emerging and also any stats that you might be missing, such as staff satisfaction levels.

Also, pay close attention to staff surveys and exit interviews. They may be an indicator of cliques you may not be aware of. If you do not already do so, include this as part of any one-to-one meetings to gain an understanding of the perceptions of the individual.

If you begin to hear from employees that there are any issues, there are a few things that can be done to stop them in their tracks. Re-arranging team members and seating arrangements can help disperse any groups that may be forming and allow others to spend time with colleagues they may not normally.

This can also be manifested by assigning tasks that involve different team members working together, such as organising a company social. This can prevent employees becoming comfortable only with their group and encourage cross-team bonding.

The bottom line is this shouldn’t be taken lightly. The negative impact bad culture has on an individual’s wellbeing and the knock-on effect on from a financial perspective of people leaving are two firm enough reasons to act. If it matters to your people, it should matter to you.


Jonathan Richards is the founder of BreatheHR