You got yoghurt: What company culture means

Hannah Sims · 01 Nov

When we think of culture we think high-mindedly. He’s so cultured, with his pocket square and his pince-nez! Where did he get that from? Somewhere cultured, I’ll bet!

But there’s a yoghurt at the back of your office fridge that’s been there for a long, long time. So long, it’s green and furry. Some say it’s been there since the dawn of the company. That’s very cultured yoghurt.

So broad it can refer to both pocket squares and past-best yoghurt, it can be hard to pin down what culture actually is.

It’s what a group of bodies, living together, end up creating between them. It’s how they live and what they aspire to make out of their co-existence. It could be high art or it could be green mould.

And it’s sometimes easier to see from the outside: like having a guest at your family dinner who instantly spots the simmering sibling rivalry the parents blithely ignore. That’s the culture within a family group.

There are cultures present whenever a group co-exist. Including the group that’s made up of your workmates.

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What’s your office culture, and how do you spot it?

It could be friendly and welcoming, with no problem unshared - an optimistic start-up.

It could be closed to the rest of the world and driven - a bank with important investments and a portfolio of clients to impress.

It could be warm, rich in sugary energy and breathing space, and allow the little guys to thrive- well, that’s a yoghurt.

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Culture manifestos:

Some companies have a mantra. If you know what it is, then you’re probably in a company that thinks about office culture and works to improve it.

If culture is bad, employee retention suffers. You’ll notice people keep leaving, people are unhappy. It’s not likely that your culture manifesto is “Make it toxic, see who stays!” but rather that there isn’t a manifesto- or at least, not a recent one.

Some companies have very thorough takes on company culture: take Netflix’s, “Freedom and Responsibility”. Its Slideshare has been viewed many, many times on LinkedIn. Marketing company Hubspot’s is also visible in full online “Creating a loveable company”.

Some mantras that embody culture are so well-known people outside the company know of them: “Think different”, “Don’t be evil”. These companies are very successful, in part because of their strong sense of culture.

Why is culture important?

Isn’t pay more important? What about job security? What about pension plan?

All very important aspects of holding a job. But what actually impacts every single working hour? Often it’s smaller things- the coffee machine, the messy desks, the fact that everyone is heads down, wearing headphones, or the fact that it’s too loud to have an important phone call.

All these are products of an office culture.

Even the simplest environment changes can have a big impact. I once went into overdramatic ecstasies over a ping pong table.
When anyone asked how work was I’d say: “work is fine- we have a ping pong table!” it seems silly, but it can be a very visible icon, a pinpoint when people describe their day.

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What if company culture is bad?

What happens if culture becomes toxic? Bacteria die. People don’t. But they do leave. Employee retention goes down. Candidates with choice will stay away- remember family dinner? Once sibling A bites sibling B’s ear, then the guest leaves in a hurry.

How do you measure it?

If you’re not an outsider, your culture might be harder to see. But luckily, it’s become a business buzzword. According to Forbes: “it has now become one of the most important words in corporate board rooms”, along with employee engagement.

Some consultancies, including Deloitte, are trying to measure it. Now that employers are noticing it, you might, too. And you might also notice some changes for the better.

Now, throw out that yoghurt. Please.

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