Is Your Culture Fake?

Culture is a hot topic these days, as if it is something new, that we have just discovered. But let’s just pause for a moment and realize that culture has always been there. We are just now starting to pay attention to its importance to the success of a company. This new culture focus is primarily driven by the demands from the workforce for a better work/life quality and I question if most companies would care, if it wasn’t because of the concern for the talent gap, which I believe is really a wellness gap. It is time we realize, that culture is the core foundation for success and a healthy culture is not something that is nice to have in the future of work, it is essential.

Culture is not new

Right now, we see the culture upswing, that is all about ping-pong tables, better snacks, beer on tap (it is a bro-culture) and gym memberships. But is that really what drives a healthy culture? Maybe it is a good start, but it is not the kind of change that helps us prevent burnout and stress, unless we also change the way we work. My concern is that a great culture is becoming more of a company marketing tool to enforce the brand, rather than a company belief system about how we treat people at work.

A fun culture doesn’t automatically mean that it is inclusive. I often hear from people that they like the benefits, but they don’t feel they belong, because once happy hour is over… well so is the interaction and people just go back to fending for themselves. A fun culture is not necessarily a culture where people belong and thrive, it might just a cool place to work.  

“A healthy culture is a place that honors and respects our core human needs to feel safe and belong. Where people don’t have to hide who they are and can speak up about what they need to thrive and succeed.”


We all have culture – what’s yours?

Culture is old, really old. Starting my career in Denmark, I worked with culture in the 80’s when I was working in retail management and branding with Esprit in Europe. Esprit had a people driven culture, because the brand was about the people wearing their clothes and their diverse personalities. They had a mantra that was foundational; Age is An Attitude. At the time I was young and ambitious, and that mantra gave permission to everyone to be who they were and not care about their age. Young, old, and somewhere in between.

The culture focused on relationships, especially the one we have with ourselves, who we are and how we express ourselves, because after all, age is an attitude. It was the core of the brand and it was also the core of the culture of the company. The clothing was an expression of each human being’s personality and so the company created an environment where people’s individuality was celebrated, inside and outside, employees and customers. The company was diverse and inclusive by default and it was a creative and engaged environment, where everyone felt they mattered, and they contributed wholeheartedly. And we worked hard.  

Culture from the inside out

When I came to New York in 1989 I was surprised by the work-culture. I thought the US would be far ahead understanding culture as the core company values that support the brand, but instead I found that culture was about survival of the fittest and most cultures were burnout cultures. Unfortunately, many still are.

A fit culture of course would be great, but I’m not talking about the fittest in the best of its meaning, where people would take really good care of themselves, where being fit means physically, emotionally and mentally healthy and where health is the foundation for peak-performance, success and being at their best. A culture of the fittest is still about who can last the longest on survival mode. No food, no water, no sleep and just constant push-push-push till the day is over, in order to keep up and maybe even get ahead.

I think of a company culture as people management, brand and sales all at once. The job of a leader is to align the vision and mission of the company, with the employee experience, support and training with the customer experience. Because how our people work and treat themselves is how they treat their customers and each other too.

In a healthy culture we care because we feel cared about, not for… about, and we see each other within each department of the company as customers and service providers of each other as well. It is the human interaction that is the foundation for culture. Culture is about humanity.

Why culture matters

Of course, I come from a culture that believes in team-work. Denmark is a socially aware country and the belief system is, that we are only as strong as the weakest link. Now that is actually a good thing if you pause for a moment, because right now in companies across the US, engagement is at an all-time low and people are dropping like flies from burnout. Isn’t that more expensive than having a culture where you can pause for a moment and ask; how are you? What do you need so that you can…?

Fake culture, real culture 

A fun culture attracts talent, and it might keep them for longer, if the benefits are better than at the other company. But that is just a race for more benefits. Real culture is about care. Real culture is about belonging and engagement. Which also comes from care. Real culture is about aligning values. Real culture is about what we care about and feeling that the company cares about us.

Talent today is looking for companies that are aligned with what their values. It is anything from self-care at work to sustainable initiatives in the community and the global impact the company has.

Real culture is not about more, it is about better. It is not about fitting in, it is about belonging. It is not about being seen, because we speak up, it is about being seen and heard because we matter, and we are asked to contribute. It is not about coming to work to grow the bottom line, it is about doing work that allows the individual grow, which in return grows the bottom line. It is not about work/life balance or work/life integration, it is about work/life quality where humanity is the foundation for a healthy culture. Because a healthy culture is what creates a healthy company, from the inside out.

photo by Derek Thomson Via Unsplash