Culture Isn't Costly

Successful company culture can make the difference between a workplace people dread and one they brag about. You don’t have to have a Google-sized budget to offer great culture. Many culture-changing initiatives have no direct costs to the company. In fact, when properly executed, culture-improving initiatives can lower company costs in both the short and long term.

I’ve spent the past 10 years learning about and implementing solutions to make work better for employers and managers alike. I’ve touched hundreds of companies large and small and have seen many distinct cultures. Based on this experience I offer these simple initiatives to encourage a peaceful, productive workplace that people love.

Make Rules for the 95%, Not the 5% 

Most of your employees are hard working, motivated, and professional. Workplace rules should be designed to give maximum autonomy to the vast majority of your workers. Don’t burden people with rules designed to control the 5% of employees who are constitutionally unmotivated or undisciplined. From dress code to work hours to meeting attendance, fewer rules in the workplace are better. 

For one, fewer rules can start saving you money right away. Get rid of expensive firewalls blocking Facebook and YouTube. At the same time, access to these tools can help your employees research and network faster. 

Celebrate Going Home Early

It’s not true that the longer you work, the more work you will get done. According to a 2010 study, flexible work hours can lead to increased retention and productivity. You can quickly improve culture by focusing on work output instead of hours of input. If you’re going to leave the office early, go ahead and announce to your coworkers that you just closed a mega account, sent out that TPS report, and are now heading for the golf course. There’s no shame in going home after hitting a home run. 

Stop Swearing

Not all rules are bad. Implement a "no swearing" rule today: no swearing about or at your coworkers or customers. By cutting out swearing, you will elevate discourse to expression of thoughtful ideas instead of base emotions. An environment where people swear at one another can quickly turn toxic. The no swearing rule can save you millions by avoiding costly lawsuits where disgruntled employees—with good reason—strike back.

Cultivate Experts

Imagine if every one of your employees was an expert in what they did; if, no matter how mundane their subject, they could teach it with passion. The benefits to you, your company, and your employees would be profound. Encourage people to become experts by having them research best practices in their field and share those with their colleagues on a regular basis. At my companies, we encourage book clubs for every level of employee. We incur cost here by buying every book club member an e-book. The $79 e-book, however, pays for itself twice: once when employees brag about their incredible work environment with their coworkers, and again when employees learn to do their jobs better through ongoing learning.

Talk About the Future

Start taking people out for coffee, one at a time, to ask them where they want to be in five and 10 years. Armed with this information, help them achieve those goals, even if the goals aren’t related to your company. If an employee tells you he or she wants to be an actor, support them when they want to take acting classes. This way, in the time that they are with you, they’ll be loyal, committed, and thankful for the support.

Let Employees Manage Their Own Energy

Our metabolism is guided by our bodies’ circadian rhythms. We all experience peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day, and the highs and lows differ for each person. One-third of your employees experience a dip in energy so steep that between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day they need to nap.  So let them nap. According to a NASA study, a nap of just 26 minutes can boost productivity by 34%. 

Recognize Your Team Every Day

People don’t work for just money. They work for recognition, too, so don’t deprive your employees of this vital form of compensation. They are working to build your company every day. As such, give them specific words of thank-you the moment the occasion calls for it. You should be thanking each person you directly work with at least two times a week. As my mentor Chester Elton (coauthor of The Carrot Principle) says, reward behavior you want to see repeated. 

Author Arshad Chowdhury is the founder of ClearGears, which powers real-time performance reviews for business. 

[Image: Flickr user beast love]

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  • Emily Williams

    Culture is absolutely critical to the success of the organization. What would you recommend as steps to actually implement the changes into the company? I’ve read many of the leading books on change management, and very few ever seem to actually get to the matter of making the change happen. I just read Transforming Corporate Culture by two leading change management experts in the U.S. In their book, they recommend concrete steps leaders can take to put the necessary changes into place in the organization. It’s been tremendously helpful to me and my peers as we’ve worked to make some major changes at our firm. I’d be curious if you’ve read it or have additional suggestions. Thanks! http://www.corporateculturepro...

  • Rohit Regonayak

    In my experience, there is one thing that clearly stands out... Culture comes from the top. You cannot create a culture unless you follow it yourself and lead by example. Your team will easily see through any attempts to manufacture culture and if they do then it's extremely difficult to erase that perception. Be a genuine leader, interested in the lives and careers of your team.

  • Mila Araujo

    Really enjoyed this article Arshad, I think that being open minded and innovative in the workplace can add value for the employees, and in the end when they are happy, the company will do extremely well. This is the first time I am reading one of your articles, and ironically just today I am evaluating my Cleargears. A recent addition to the tools we are using to ensure happy employees and a positive working environment. I covered some of these items, including Cleargears, in my recent post "12 Most Powerful ways to Staff Your Company with Star Employees"

    Thank you for this excellent overview, I appreciate the stats and ideas. We have used some of these here, and we have seen success, and for the ones we haven't gotten to yet, there is a whole new year ahead :)  All the best to you in the New year!

  • Oakleigh Wood

    Great article Arshad, perhaps I can offer an additional reflection. First understand your brand values, what does your organisation really stand for? This is the higher level vision, and it's not revenue generation. Once you can clearly articulate your organisations purpose, use the description (your brand values) in your recruitment process. The result will be candidates that are attracted to your vision, when they experience your culture, it should reinforce your vision. If you hire these people, you will build a team that is aligned to the same values and culture as your organistion. Rules are less important as a tool to keep people inline, they want to deliver results that will help your organisation. put another way, recruit for cultural behaviour first, technical skill second. Easier to teach tech, then deep rooted beliefs. If you have a mature organisation, first conduct a staff survey, review staff positioning against organisation vision. Identify the gap, start a programme of change. Anyone know how I can tweet this in 140?  

  • Sean Rehder

    So many companies use a CRM application to manage relationships externally with their customers. 

    I've only seen a few where they applied a real CRM (customized internally towards their employees.  Allowed them to onboard, track employee engagement, define goals, measure status, create a learning path, succession planning, etc.

  • Andrew Rahal

    There is a company in LA called BetterWorks that provides a cost effective solution to enriching company culture. Definitely worth checking out.


    How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children by Dr. Gerald Newmark and based on five critical emotional needs: to feel respected, important, accepted, included and secure is now being embraced not only for parents and children but also in the work place.  Organizations are developing emotionally healthy environments with their employees.  Can you imagine our politicians asking am I treating you with respect, making you feel important, accepted, included and secure.  How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children can be downloaded free from Kindle Lending Library. 

  • James M. Lynch

    Thank you for sharing this. I'm a culture coach and my work with small companies is to help them create a culture that works for their employees and them; assuring them that culture is the most effective lever of change. AND we're getting great results.
    Truth is, every company has a culture, some conscious, some 'un', and not using this great tool to get great results and create breakthroughs is like investing in computers and not connecting to the internet.

  • jim gerace

    The 2pm to 4pm dip in energy is real as well as mid-morning motivation lag. So, I have always implemented "snack time" at 10:05 am and 3:10 pm EVERYDAY.  The times are arbitrary and never take priority over deadlines and meetings, but a scheduled time to push away from the desk, take a walk and get something to eat or drink, forces employees to recharge for the tasks at hand.  It's a great morale booster.

  • Deidre H. Campbell

    It's interesting to learn more about what how great companies drive greatness and then measure it in their financial performance. At my company, Burson-Marsteller, we surveyed leaders from the companies ranked as the top 25 Best Places to Work in World. Sharing the findings here.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I am a big fan of rules beintg few and simple. You just can't manage the last 5%, fire them, or move them to someplace harmless.

    I'm also a big fan of measuring output instead of input. Who really cares how many hours you are at work? What matters is what you get done, and if you're not clear about what results indicate success, then doing more of it isn't going to help.

    David Kaiser, PhD

    Executive Coach

  • Rufus Dogg

    Can I add one? Make use of good grammar in writing essential, especially in Social Media. It makes you look 100X smarter than your competition almost immediately.

  • TJ

    At a previous employer, we had "comfort rooms" where one could go take a nap, do a bit of yoga, or if they were really feeling under the weather, just take a break. It was a great idea and worked quite well for those who needed a respite during the day.

    JDA - too bad they went back to the old way of doing business with their employees. Did you ever find out why they went back to the old way of doing things?

  • Suchitra Mishra

    Hello Arshad,

    Loved the post. A company's success is directly related to the org culture - how happy and engaged its employees are. We all know this and employee engagement forms part of every strategy plan but it is the little things at the ground level that matter. Acknowledgment, appreciation, empowerment, communication - all these truly don't cost much, they just have to be ingrained in day to day operations and are worth far more than the effort involved.. I have also written about this in my blog - http://blogbysuchitra.wordpres...


  • JDA

    Very interesting, my masters study was into productivity within working hours. Naturally, this doesn't work for all industries but for offices and design/advertising agencies it certainly applied. The most compounding results came at a top digital agency in LDN where work excelled and morale improved from simply starting at 10am (avoiding rush hour on tube) and finishing at 4pm with a lunch break at 1pm. In fact, employees stated they either went shopping, went to gym or went home and had early dinner followed with an hour of prep work from the comfort of their home. Business grew 180% at a time when budgets were being slashed, this was over a two month period. However, I followed up and they've relented to the original structure again, the culture of working hours is a serious hurdle.