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How Company Culture Impacts Employee Engagement


Pike Place Fish Market sits in downtown Seattle, Washington. Everyday, in the wee hours of the morning, the fresh fish arrives, and workers gut and clean, in preparation for the day’s sales. By the time customers arrive, these workers are all cleaned up and manning the sales counters. It’s a dirty job, and one would expect that should any of these workers be offered a nice “clean” job in an office for the same pay and benefits, they would certainly take it. Not so. Turnover is minimal. The reason?

The owner has established a workplace culture of collaboration, personal relationships, and, probably critical, just plain fun. This store has become so famous that tourists to Seattle stop there, just to take part in the entertainment – loud, fun banter between clerks and customers, and fish being wrapped and tossed over heads to waiting customers with outstretched arms.

Pike’s Place was once featured on the U.S. TV series “60 Minutes.” Employees were interviewed, and all of them stated they loved their jobs because of the camaraderie of the team, which includes management, and the fun they have. Their statements are a reflection of a lot of research that has been completed on the critical relationship between workplace culture and employee satisfaction and engagement.

  • In a Deloitte survey, 88% of employees stated that workplace culture is important.
  • Forbes Magazine publishes an annual list of the 100 best companies to work for, based upon the workplace environment and employee satisfaction. These companies consistently realize higher than average annual earnings.
  • In another Deloitte study, 82% of those surveyed stated that a strong workplace culture was a high contributor to a company’s competitive advantage
  • Portafina, a highly successful UK-based pension planning services firm, lauds its collaborative, friendly work environment as a major “selling” point when recruiting new hires. And lie Pikes Place, employee turnover is low as a result.

Elements of a Solid Workplace Culture

“Culture” may seem like a nebulous “touchy-feely” term that is difficult to define and quantify. But it need not be. It can be evaluated and improved using information gathered from your employees. In essence, how do your employees feel about their jobs and the environment in which they conduct them? And what can you do to establish the positive work culture that:

  • Connects your employees to the mission of your company
  • Motivates employees to exceed goals
  • Engages employees in development of new skills and completion of new projects
  • Fosters a commitment to growing with and staying with you
  • Encourages a collaborative atmosphere of trust, working as a team, and an overall caring and concern for one another

Here are some key strategies for obtaining a positive work culture

Define the culture you want to have. What is your company mission and vision, what are your values, and what are your expectations of the people you employ related to your mission and values? This should not be a top management activity. Employees need to be involved in this process, if you intend to engage them is how and why the company operates as it does. When they have a say, they will take “ownership” and be committed to your success.

Monitor your culture on a regular basis. There is really only one way to do this – survey your employees; hold meetings with them. Allow an open discussion in which there is no fear about being honest and forthright about issues they want to address. You need their feedback. This will drive changes that you make in policies and procedures. Again, the buy-in will be real.

Provide team-building development activities. Plan socialization activities. Employees who play together also work better together. Publicly reward employees with real, valuable, awards.

Involve current employees in the new employee hiring process. Too often, hiring decisions are made at the top, and a new employee is thrust into an established “culture.” They may or may not be a “fit,” and this can turn a collaborative atmosphere of a team upside down. When employees are involved in the interview process, they can provide valuable insights about a new recruit that a hiring manager doesn’t have.

The Benefits are Real and Long-Term

When employees are truly engaged in the mission and goals of the company, and when they are glad to come to work because of a strong positive culture, you will realize great benefits:

Creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture is a long-term and ongoing process. Never believe that you have reached the ideal. Employee expectations change with the times, and you need to monitor them regularly.

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