Great Workplace Cultures Are Nurtured by Shared Purpose

Creating a positive company culture is a complicated endeavor

This story appears in the July 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Any company that offers “fruitcake curling” and creates putt-putt golf courses in the office must be a fun place to work. That’s what Seattle engineering firm Parametrix has done. Several employees cited the company’s focus on collegiality, collaboration and camaraderie when nominating it for a Seattle Business magazine “Best Companies to Work For” award. Parametrix is just one of the 100 companies on the prestigious list. Another is Seattle-based Parker Staffing Services, which is sending all of its 20-plus employees to Hawaii and giving them $500 in spending money as a reward for hitting what one employee says was a “very big goal.”

“These surveys often focus on the tangible items of what makes a company so great,” the employee wrote. “I think what makes us the best place to work, though, is something intangible. That can’t always be described.”

Apart from golf — Parker also has a putting green — creating a positive company culture is a tricky thing. It’s more than just trips, bonuses and generous benefits, though those matter. It’s the feeling of trust, respect, teamwork and the belief that no job is more important than another, regardless of title or hierarchy. That takes conscious effort.

As this month’s magazine issue attests, lots of companies are doing it right. Common themes include transparent, communicative leadership and a sense of purpose. “I love the people I spend all of my time with here,” wrote one Payscale employee.

Yet lots of companies are doing it wrong. Type “hostile workplace” into a search engine and one of the top hits is an article this magazine published way back in 2011 about, well, workplace hostility. Every month, it’s still one of the publication’s most-read stories.

A survey by Seattle training company Fierce Conversations found that the majority of employees in corporate America, regardless of gender or seniority, said they cannot share an idea or concern at work due to a fear of how their colleagues or supervisors will react.

“People are afraid to speak openly or confront the behavior of others for fear they may ‘rock the boat’ or be judged as challenging the status quo,” says Fierce President Stacey Engle. “This can have a significant impact on an organization, not to mention employee mental health, and if not addressed can lead to problems that could be difficult to bounce back from — from significant turnover to direct loss of revenue.”

Never has the war for talent been more critical. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than
3 million Americans quit their jobs each month. A study by Gallup found that only 15% of employees worldwide consider themselves engaged in their work, and only 7% say they have a “great” job.

But companies that emphasize workplace culture — it takes work, and it starts at the top — are winning.

Wrote one employee at Seattle’s Gravity Payments, which offers credit card processing services: “Our company’s leadership team bends over backwards to create a positive work environment for all of us. Anyone in the company can reach out for a meeting with our chief executive officer or chief operating officer. Every person here is viewed as a valuable contributing member and is given the information necessary to be successful.”

That’s worth more than any perk.

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