How many times have you read a headline about companies like Google or Apple and the latest perks they offer and thought, “Wow, I wish I worked in one of those places where everyone loves to go each day and is treated so well.”
Many of us might assume that our small or medium-sized business could never have the resources or bandwidth to do something to make our workplace the envy of our friends and family. But having spent my career working for companies of all sizes and complexity, I have to say that the size of a company has very little to do with what makes a workplace work well.
It has all to do with the attitude and heart of its leader.
I’ve seen CEOs constantly talk about what “great culture” their companies have and the “fun” activities arranged for the staff. In their mind, this proves to the employees that the company is a great place to work—or at least that’s what they read in all the books. However, if a CEO’s positive attitude or genuine appreciation toward their employees doesn’t shine through, all of the niceties are largely meaningless.
In my experience, companies that need to constantly sell their employees on the topic of workplace culture typically don’t have one.
I recall one CEO who loved to mention how great it was to work at a company like his and how much he cared about everyone there. He seemed to think that setting up activities for the staff and occasionally catering an office lunch would prove this. Yet it was this same CEO who wouldn’t look up from his phone when he walked in each morning to say hello to the staff as he strode past. Did his employees buy into the lip service he was promoting? Probably not.
Another tragic (but true) example of such apathy is one CEO who continually spoke about the personable and close-knit dynamic of the company—but didn’t realize that the woman who sat 20 feet away from his office every day was pregnant until a few weeks prior to her delivery date.
Contrast these cases to the CEO who gets to know each and every employee, finds out what makes them tick or pushes their buttons, and then focuses on those things to better serve them. Truly great leaders don’t do this because they read about it in a manual– they do it naturally because they genuinely care. For example, an employee might live a fair distance from the office, so the freedom to work remotely on occasion could be important. An admirable CEO will recognize that and embrace it if it ultimately helps achieve a positive outcome. Someone else might have a personal situation that requires time away from the office but doesn’t want to quit or have extended leave. An understanding CEO will work with this employee on a plan that allows for time away while still factoring in the necessary work (or a cut-down version of it) that is expected to be done.
Which company would you rather work for?
Often it is when the chips are down, when challenging times come that the true colors of a company’s culture emerges. Employees who feel invested in a company will do the extra work or take additional responsibilities without needing to be asked. This is when you know the company environment is strong—when individuals sacrifice for the greater good. Workplace culture must flourish organically, based on the trust and authenticity that is shown by its leaders over a sustained period of time—it cannot be manufactured or contrived.
Steve Mackenzie is President at EventBooking.