24 Oct

Does Company Culture Attract Employees? Maybe.

Ever since the internet explosion that happened in the ’90s, the term “company culture” has been thrown around as key to attracting and keeping the best employees. Thing is, while every company has a culture (intentionally or otherwise), not every culture is as appealing to workers as HR would have you believe. There’s some evidence, in fact, that it doesn’t make much difference at all.

Welcome to the Dark Side. We have free coffee.

Absolutely, employees love great company culture perks, whether it’s a foosball table, free gourmet coffee, or a kick-butt lunch every day. Particularly when you’re talking about a start-up or hot company located where no one would think to move (Zappos, we’re looking at you), great perks are like having a killer profile on OKCupid: it might get you a first date, but if there isn’t some real substance behind it, you’ll turn people off more than entice them.

While perks are a great way to show you value employees, some of the amazing company cultures being touted out there are more smoke-and-mirrors than bells-and-whistles. While we can assume in most cases that management truly believes they’re giving people great benefits, it might not look that way from the employees’ perspective.

As an example, let’s take a closer look at a few perks offered by a typical small company from’s Top Company Cultures list:

  • We recognize and celebrate birthdays each month.

Most employers fall into the “any excuse for a party” category, but don’t think you’re making any individuals feel special this way. Lumping everyone’s birthday together can actually make people feel more isolated. And if you’re asking employees to contribute to these parties on a regular basis, stop. Just stop.

  • Team members take turns making food runs and eat lunch together.

Isn’t this likely to happen under ANY circumstances? How is the company contributing here?

  • Everyone enjoys our annual picnic/kickball tournament/Christmas party.

Are you sure? A good crowd where attendance is considered mandatory (even tacitly) is no indication you’re building a team.

The point here is that having a long list of things HR considers perks might not be doing anything for the actual employees. In fact, none of the above examples take personality into consideration. Someone who is an extreme introvert might make a great employee … but could actually shy away from a job that involves too much forced “fun.”

Then there are perks that folks in the C-Suite might think are fantastic but cause stress to the lower echelons of employees. Things like an all-inclusive campus can be so convenient that it makes it harder for people to get away from the office … and those with a strict 8-5 mindset are quite often more comfortable with set time off than perks like “unlimited vacations.”

Baby vs. bathwater

Ok, so some of your company culture perks aren’t as great as you thought: does that mean you should cancel perks altogether? Of course not. There are some perks almost any employee will enjoy:

  • Flexibility: Now more than ever, employees want a flexible schedule, some even going so far as to take a pay cut in exchange for the ability to shift working hours or telecommute at least part time.
  • Training/education: Employees want to advance in their career, and that can work great for you. Offer to help pay for additional schooling, workshops, or other forms of professional development. It’s a win-win.
  • Balance: If you own the company, work IS your life. For everyone else, though, a better work-life balance is an attractive feature. There will always be too much to do: make sure your employees feel comfortable leaving it at the office until tomorrow.

Clever company culture perks look great on a recruiting list, but some of those benefits might not be as enticing as they seem. Strive for practicality: give employees the flexibility and skill development they need to build their careers and achieve a better balance.