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Trends in Company Culture

Filed under: Benefits

Trends in Company Culture

With the unemployment rate below 5 percent, America's job market is heating up and employers must compete for the best candidates. Traditionally, this meant enriching compensation and benefit packages. However, the rising cost of healthcare has more businesses transferring a larger share of health insurance costs to workers. As for compensation, there's a whole new generation of workers who aren't in it just for the money.

Millennials may have been distracted teenagers, but they observed what their parents went through during the Great Recession. Seasoned veteran workers were laid off in droves, putting their homes and families' financial security at risk. What lessons were learned? Loyalty doesn't last forever, so it's time for employees to look after number one.

Today's idealistic young adults seek out corporate cultures that celebrate their uniqueness. The trend of identifying candidates who "fit" the company's culture – valuing Myers-Briggs psychological types over skills and experience – is fading out. Customized benefits, perks and career paths for individual contributors is in.

Furthermore, young professionals have their own agenda: transparency, ethical business practices, and community impact. Today, 61 percent of millennials seek out companies with a strong track record for engagement and corporate citizenship, while 77 percent prefer working for an employer with robust community involvement.

If you're wondering what Gen X, Baby Boomer and senior workers think about these cultural transformations, many have long experience with corporate politics and believe a stronger focus on worker contributions is overdue. The sticking point is that while millennials may be driving changes in company culture, everyone should benefit equally. The following are some of the issues and qualities trending in today's corporate culture evolution.

Work/Life Blur
After years of attempting to balance the concerns of work and personal life, we've actually created a work/life blur. Though initially touted as conveniences to support employees, smartphones, laptops, virtual meetings, flex time and 24/7 access via email and text are now considered invisible tethers that blur – not balance – the boundaries between work and home. In short, employees feel an overwhelming sense that they must respond and be available to their employers all the time, whether that's true or not.

During and long after the recession, mass layoffs forced companies to do more with less – pushing "survivors" to the brink. The stress of working long hours and the pressure to be more productive on top of the omnipresent environment of corporate politics takes its toll. On one hand, companies work to foster collaboration through team projects. On the other, they offer incentive pay and fixed departmental bonuses that inherently endorse competition among colleagues – essentially working at cross purposes with the teamwork concept.

Mindfulness: Treating Symptoms

One of the trends to help counteract a stressful work environment is the multibillion-dollar industry that promotes mindfulness, a therapeutic technique designed to help people block out distractions and focus on thoughts and feelings in the present moment. While many people find the practice helpful, some experts claim it's simply a coping mechanism that treats only symptoms but doesn't broach the larger issues that lurk in many organizations.

Peddling Happy
Some companies have developed a culture of casual playfulness and rampant social engagement to promote a "happiness agenda". They feature fun perks such as ping pong and foosball tables, free snacks and company-sponsored happy hours. While these benefits appeal to some, particularly youthful employees, others find them wasteful distractions that denigrate a strong, traditional work ethic. It's important to remember that not everyone wants work to be a party place. Parents who have to run errands during lunchtime and carpool kids before and after school may struggle to complete their work between 9-and-5, with no time or interest in participating in a sand volleyball game.

Multi-Generational Flexibility
The reality is that fun perks can work well at motivating, de-stressing or spurring innovation among some employees. But not all of them. It's important to offer a wide variety of options so that perks don't skew toward one demographic. Perhaps millennials like fun and games and appreciate the opportunity to volunteer for corporate charity causes on weekends. Older workers may prefer help finding an elder parent caregiver or the opportunity to meet with a financial planner.

Personality Acceptance
The trend of issuing personality tests to hire a workforce of like-minds and like-dispositions is becoming outdated in today's society of body art, blogging and other means of personal expression. Hiring only those who meet the construct of "cultural fit" misses out on the benefits of personality diversity. It takes all kinds of people to fill the roles needed in a business, and many of today's corporations recognize this by working to develop a culture that rewards performance, not personality.

Focus on the Individual: Put the "I" Back
Managers like to quote that there's no "i" in teamwork. But maybe it's time to put the "i" back where it belongs – with the individual. It's important to recognize and appreciate strengths. While every employee will have weaknesses, don't let them detract from what he does well. Some may be innovators who think outside the box while others are organizers who make checklists and create spreadsheets. To better engage employees, work with them to shift roles and responsibilities to better feature their strengths and/or pair partners whose traits complement but don't necessarily overlap.

Indeed, some of the best places to work put the focus on the work, not the perks. Employees at every age and experience level want to be respected and supported by their direct supervisors and be recognized by people higher up the food chain. They want to know their work matters and contributes to the company's larger goals. This organic form of engagement can provide a far more satisfying day-to-day experience than lunchroom chocolate fountains and an indoor tree house.

Company Culture Leaders
With that said, plenty of workplace culture leaders combine fun and video games with more soft skill engagement perks. For example Google, recently named the No. 1 place to work for the eighth time in 11 years by Fortune's list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For", features more than 25 on-campus cafes, dozens of fully stocked micro-kitchens with complimentary snacks and drinks, and a full-time barista who customizes free coffee drinks all day long.

Note, however, that the Fortune criteria is not a measure of beach sand volleyball or breakrooms with massage chairs. This annual list is compiled based on employee ratings of their workplace culture, the level of trust they feel towards leaders, the pride they take in their jobs and the camaraderie they experience with co-workers. At the end of the workday, that's all anybody wants.

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