posted April 3, 2017

Culture vs. Workplace Cool Stuff

Maggie O'Connor

Beer. Ping pong tables. Nap pods. Designated game rooms. Work-free zones. Scooters. Freshly French pressed coffee. Unlimited PTO. Sounds cool, right? One’s instant reaction to those “amenities” more than likely causes immediate excitement. How do I work at a place like that? Why doesn’t my work place have that kind of stuff? Man, those employees must be so happy. Those things are what I dub workplace cool stuff.

I’ve been trying to decipher the impact workplace cool stuff has on a company’s culture. Beer on tap is definitely cool, but who is really drinking a Tropicalia at 10AM? Ping pong tables are entertaining, but are they appropriate when there’s plenty of work to be done? Same thing goes for nap pods. Sleeping is a nighttime activity, people. Unlimited PTO? Kickstarter actually nixed its policy and Fast Co. discovered that employees took about the same amount of days off under the Unlimited PTO policy as they did with the traditional accrual policy. These things aren’t culture per se; rather, smoke and mirrors.

Company culture is more than its amenities. It is determined and defined by the people. At Dagger, employees are eligible to apply to join the Culture Committee after six months of employment. “Duties” range from helping interview potential new hires to helping plan internal events and programs. This enables us to create and sustain a healthy work environment, an environment where people (not just the employees) can’t stop bragging about the culture. Authentically hand-crafted, not materialistically bought, is key. And although the latter is certainly easier to implement, think about what that might mean long-term: low retention, high turnover, overall unhappiness.

Perhaps most importantly, real company culture is brought to life from the top down, not the bottom up. In order for culture to truly take shape, the entire leadership team must be its strongest and best champions. Just as a winning sports team is led and supported by its coaches, the same is true for a company’s culture. In fact, Dagger’s leadership team places such a strong emphasis on real culture that they created a job for it – my job. So here’s a pro tip: if you find yourself at work trying to keep the culture dream alive but it feels more like pulling teeth, do some digging and figure out leadership’s level of involvement. More than likely, their level of involvement will be minimal if not nonexistent.

Being able to tell the difference between workplace cool stuff from actual culture isn’t easy. Again, facades are pretty easy to build and at the same time can be shiny and bright at first glance. But the good news is that there are ways to train your brain. Ask questions (always), do deep research, and remember that true culture = people.