Today, company culture is a major factor in attracting and retaining the right employees. To differentiate themselves in the eyes of workers, many companies are investing heavily in efforts to create engaging work environments.
For inspiration, employers often look to companies like Netflix, Google, and Zappos, all of which have reputations as exciting, highly desirable work environments. However, their models don’t necessarily work for every company, especially not companies in different industries/regions or with smaller budgets.
Employers would be better served by basing their workplace cultures around their own unique business goals and values. That’s the best way to attract and retain employees who truly align with and can contribute to those goals and values.
How can you make a unique work culture that stays true to your company? Start with these five fundamental principles that most, if not all, highly engaged workplaces have in common:
1. Align Company Values and Employee Values
You can train anyone on job skills, but it’s much harder to change someone’s attitude. That’s why one of the key criteria for any hire should be: Is this candidate a good cultural fit?
A strong, sustainable workplace culture depends on employees sharing the values of the companies for which they work. Employees who are deeply familiar with and share their company’s values are more engaged, for the simple fact that these employees understand what their organization represents and how they can contribute to that.
Hiring candidates who are not a good cultural fit — even if they are highly skilled — is likely to damage your culture. The employee will be unhappy in their role, and their negativity can spread and damage other employees’ morale. A tobacco company is unlikely to be a good fit for someone highly invested in public health, and a plastic manufacturer probably won’t attract a candidate for whom environmental issues are paramount.
Your values are important to both attracting new candidates and maintaining your current culture. That means they need to be more than just words in a binder somewhere. They need to be on display and readily accessible. Here are a few simple ways to bring your values front and center:
- Define your values: Clearly outline what your values are and what they mean. Provide examples of your values in action within your organization.
- Add values to your performance conversations: Don’t just put your values on a poster in the break room. During performance conversations, discuss how employees are demonstrating company values and why those values matter to individual success.
- Put your values on your website: Make your values known to candidates before they even apply. Prominently displaying your values will help attract candidates who hold similar values and want to be a part of what you’re doing.
- Add important values to your employees’ email signatures: Have each employee — including yourself — select 2-3 values that really mean something to them and add them to their email signature. This does a few things: First, it creates a shared language, crucial for bonding and camaraderie. Second, it allows each employee to show others how they embody the company’s values. Finally, clients will easily see your values and be able to find common ground there, too.
2. Foster Positive Relationships
Common features of highly engaged workplaces include regular events and gatherings where employees can build relationships with one another. Many managers don’t realize the importance of internal relationships, but consider this: People with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged.
Here are some ideas to help you get started with fostering strong relationships between your employees:
- Start a company book club: This works whether everyone is in the same office or spread across the country. Whether you choose business books or popular fiction, your employees will have the chance to connect with one another outside of a regular workday context.
- Volunteer opportunities: Working together to build a house, serve a meal, or weed a garden not only strengthens bonds between your team members, but it also gives back to your community.
- Create affinity groups: Especially if your company is on the larger side, it can be hard for employees with shared interests to connect. For example, how would Sam in accounting know that Bailey in marketing is struggling with the same puppy-training issues he is if they never have a reason to interact? Allow employees to create affinity groups where they can connect with one another through mutual interests.
- Plan regular outings: Company outings offer a perfect way to facilitate more casual interactions outside of a conference room.
3. Invest in Your Employees
A fundamental part of creating an engaged work environment is making it clear to your employees that the company cares about them and their futures. You can communicate this by being transparent about company news and developments. Not only will this build trust, but it will also make employees feel involved in organizational happenings.
You can also show your employees that you value them by investing in their individual development. Consider creating a mentorship program, building performance plans to help individual employees reach career targets, and similar initiatives. Don’t try to guess what your employees want: Simply ask them what they need to be successful in both their current and future roles. When you support your employees’ personal career goals, you show them you are investing in them for the long term, not just for the company’s immediate needs.
4. Recognize Accomplishments
Employee recognition is a low-cost, high-impact strategy to boost engagement. Employees want to be noticed when they put in their best efforts. That recognition can be as simple as a manager directly praising them or an email shoutout from a peer, or it can take more elaborate forms. Consider what kind of recognition your employees respond well to, whether it be cash bonuses or positive feedback. The important thing is that you demonstrate that you see your employees and appreciate the work they do.
5. Cultivate Employee Pride
It’s important for employees to know how their contributions help the company accomplish its overall goals. When an employee can see how they contribute to the success of the company, they take more pride in their work.
Consider using some kind of system that allows employees to visualize and track how their efforts fit into the company as a whole. This sort of goal alignment helps everyone from the entry level to the C-suite understand exactly how their work delivers unique value.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.
Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.