From Flex Time to Corporate Transparency: Company Culture Reigns Supreme

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Experts say organizations with cultures of honesty and understanding see greater employee engagement and an increased bottom line.

When Tony Hsieh began building the online shoe shopping giant Zappos, he knew the company needed a foundation built on something much stronger than sneakers and high heels.

He needed a culture that was fun, inviting, creative and, above all, honest.

“Company culture is our main business strategy. It’s the number one priority of the company,” Hsieh said in a video highlighting the Zappos culture. “Some companies talk about work-life separation or work-life balance. And for us, our approach is really to focus on work-life integration, because at the end of the day it’s just life.”

Zappos’ much-celebrated culture is based on 10 core values, including “embrace and drive change,” “be adventurous, creative and open-minded,” “create fun and a little weirdness,” “be humble” and “build open and honest relationships with communication.”

The culture of a business or organization can be the difference between success and struggle. Companies with healthy cultures of transparency, honesty and trust see higher retention rates and increased productivity.

“That openness and honesty in a culture where there is respect for both sides, employer and employee, your productivity, your engagement levels increase,” said Rose Stanley, senior practice leader at World at Work, a non-profit human resources association focused on compensation, benefits and work life effectiveness.

“When you can increase the levels of engagement of employees, that increases the level of productivity in many instances,” Stanley said, “and productivity in turn relates back to the bottom line.”

Employees have come to seek out and even expect organizations that nurture them and understand what makes them tick.

According to’s most recent Employment Confidence Survey, new perks that have garnered employees’ attention include flexible hours, the option to work remotely and a more casual dress code.

While pay raises are much appreciated, the work force has overwhelmingly indicated there are other company benefits that would boost morale and retention even more than extra cash. Women are more likely than men to prefer benefits and office perks over a pay raise, according to Glassdoor’s Q3 2015 Employment Confidence Survey. And younger employees, ages 18 to 34, overwhelmingly prefer benefits to pay raises — a whopping 89 percent.

So what exactly are employees looking for?

Good health insurance is the most in-demand benefit across the board, followed by vacation or paid time off, performance bonuses and paid sick days. But how they work is also a huge draw when it comes to benefits and office perks. Employees cited flex schedules, free lunches, professional development and training, gym memberships, paid parental leave and childcare assistance and diversity programs as benefits they would prefer to pay raises.

But even more than perks, Stanley said, a good culture is built on an understanding between employer and employee, from the CEO’s corner office down to the mailroom.

“It’s really respecting the employees,” Stanley said. “You could have a working mother who is a single parent who needs the flexibility to be able to take off for a parent teacher conference in the middle of the day and it’s okay to do that.”

“It’s not one thing,” she continued. “It’s understanding who your employees are and who your organization is and supporting that.”

Online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker takes their employees’ well-being and happiness seriously. As part of their culture, the company offers things like life skills training and a well-stocked library to keep creative juices flowing.

Once a year they host WarbyCon, a daylong seminar for employees with seminars and snacks. Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal detailed WarbyCon and the motivation behind his company’s culture in a recent op-ed for Fortune.

“Recent employee surveys had shown us that employees were eager to polish their public speaking abilities,” he wrote. “A convention seemed like a prime opportunity to supply training in public speaking to participants while cultivating a thirst for learning.”

Warby Parker also asks its employees to contribute one innovative idea per week to encourage creativity and give employees a tangible way to influence company operations.

“In order to breathe life into the collection of words we call ‘core values,’ we’re constantly concocting ways to enact them,” Blumenthal wrote in Fortune, “and regularly surveying employees to find out where we’ve missed the mark.”

While Stanley has high praise for the innovative cultures at places like Zappos, Warby Parker, Google and Facebook, a good company culture can be built even at a 100-year-old company.

And while companies that allow for things like taking your dog to work or in-office yoga are fun, culture doesn’t have to be fun to be successful, Stanley said.

“There are certain aspects that help cultures be real,” she said. “There is an accountability on both sides — both the employer side and the employee side — and they really work as a team together.”

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