Boring, stressful, dreadful, hollow. These are just some of the familiar adjectives so many people associate with Work (capital ‘W’).

Many see Work as something they have to do rather than something they like doing, as a high price they pay to be able to enjoy their lives outside of the confines of the office.

The reality is that we, as a society, are disenchanted with Work.

So many of us feel unhappy in our jobs. We are envious of the rare few friends who tell us they “love what they do.” We wish for a way out, often through quitting, starting a lifestyle business, and working on a beach with a laptop in our laps — sand and sunlight be damned.

Depending on where you work, you might not think that this description applies to your company. Surely, your employees don’t feel this way. Just look at them, happily playing ping pong in the corner!

The odds, however, are against you. As Gallup’s research shows, “[only] 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged — meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

And, according to TinyPulse, when it comes to workplace culture, “There is an epidemic of poor work cultures, with 64% of all employees reporting that they do not have a strong work culture.”

With stats like these, only one thing is clear: whether your company is in need of a hard reset or just a slight course correction, there’s certainly a room for improvement and an opportunity to ask yourself a simple, yet profound question:

How can we make our organization a better place to work?

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen more and more companies — first small, then large — search for answers to this question and cultivate a deeper degree of empathy and care for their employees along the way.

And guess what: it worked.

Zappos, Buffer, Google, and many others have become success stories and sources of inspiration for what Work could be like if employers truly cared about their employees and worked to craft the right conditions for team members to find meaning and enjoyment in their work.

In return, these companies have been rewarded with higher performance, higher than average retention rates, powerful employer brands, and even greater customer satisfaction.

That being said, the companies that have it all figured out are few and far between.

What’s more, just as the world of Work keeps changing, driven by technology adoption, generational differences, and increased employee mobility, the target for what a great workplace looks like keeps changing as well.

We’re only in the early stages of this fundamental shift towards something that many thought leaders have dubbed “The Future of Work.”

That is why many companies still feel like Office Space, and why even the most progressive startups still struggle to translate their aspirations into reality. After all, in the words of William Gibson:

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson

It is up to you, however, as a leader in your company, to decide what kind of organization you want yours to be.

And if you choose to make your workplace a great place to work, there are five strategic principles to keep in mind.

These are the principles we see universally applied by companies that succeed at improving their employee experience. We call these kinds of companies culture-centric.

Culture-Centricity is a way of doing business that focuses on creating a cohesive, engaging, and productive work environment based on a shared purpose, and a well-defined set of company values and norms.

Read on to see how well your company already fits this definition, and what actions you can take to move towards it.

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Principle #1: Work Can & Should Be Meaningful

Above all else, culture-centric companies realize that knowledge workers of today want to work on things that are meaningful to them.

Employees want to understand and feel connected to the company’s purpose — its Why. They also want to know that the companies they work for share their values and beliefs.

In his best-selling book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about a Fortune 500 executive who describes the work of his team this way: “To be honest, it has to be about money. We’re not saving dolphins here.”

This wording alone causes the team to feel disengaged and disillusioned. Achor writes:

“This executive had unwittingly primed his employees for failure. Here’s what he had effectively said: “Saving the dolphins is meaningful and has a positive effect on the world, while the job you’re in provides no meaning or worth beyond making you a lot of money.” He had reminded everyone that they had jobs, not callings.”

This is why it is critical that you have a clearly defined purpose, and back it up with a set of core values, i.e. a short list of guiding principles and beliefs, unique to your organization.

Here’s how Netflix, a truly culture-centric company in our eyes, does this:

The key point here is that you don’t need to be saving the wildlife to make your employees feel connected to your organization’s purpose and feel intrinsically rewarded from doing work they find meaningful.

All you need to do is thoughtfully and intentionally codify your purpose and values, and communicate them to your team consistently through both words and actions (more on this later).

Principle #2: Employee Experience Matters at Every Stage of the Employee Lifecycle

The old way of looking at an employee’s time at a company was linear. The timeline would start with an employee being recruited or applying for a job, and end with that employee leaving, either on their own accord or not.

But the modern workplace is different.

Employees join, leave, and rejoin companies as the needs of both change over time. The level of mobility between and within companies is increasing at a fast rate. Every promotion or a team change can be seen as a small cycle within the journey, and every new hire or departure as large one.

Additionally, the ubiquity of social media and the proliferation of the Internet as a whole have given a voice to employees to discuss and advocate for and against their current and past employers.

From Glassdoor reviews to open letters on Medium, employee experience has become a subject of discussion that impacts how workers perceive and choose their employers.

All these reasons have led culture-centric companies to realize that the employee journey isn’t linear — it’s cyclical; and that the experience that people have at every stage of the lifecycle can have a massive impact on a business.

Principle #3: Company Culture Must Be Reflected in How an Organization Works

One of the greatest hurdles for companies seeking to improve their employee experience or scale their culture is creating consistency between words and actions.

When a company says that it values one thing, but then does something entirely different, employees notice the dissonance. Do that enough times, and they learn that “Management” doesn’t really mean what they say.

This immediately results in collective disengagement, cynicism, and tuning out.

To prevent this issue (or to fix it, if it’s already present), we see culture-centric companies placing their codified purpose and core values at the center of the employee lifecycle.

The Culture-Centric Employee Lifecycle
The Culture-Centric Employee Lifecycle
The Culture-Centric Employee Lifecycle
The Culture-Centric Employee Lifecycle

They then explore every stage the lifecycle and look for ways to infuse their culture into the existing practices and processes, as well as introduce new ones that are more fitting to the company’s aspirations.

For example, Buffer is a company that greatly values transparency. Here are some of the things they do to ensure that value is reflected at different stages of the employee lifecycle:

  1. Attraction: Run Buffer Open blog
  2. Recruitment: Publish salary ranges on job postings
  3. Performance: Share performance data as a private company
  4. Development: Gift every employee a Fitbit and encourage them to share their progress with each other
  5. Transition: Talk openly about layoffs

Of course, you don’t have to do any of these things, or even put this much weight on this particular company value.

However, only when your organization’s practices, goals, and strategies become consistent with the culture you aim to foster, will your employees believe your intentions and start exhibiting the desired kind of behaviors themselves.

Principle #4: Technology Powers Our Experience with Work

There are many external factors that drive the evolution of the workplace. None of them, however, are as influential as technology innovation.

As Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the transportation and hotel industries, respectively, there are some tools and technologies that are completely shifting the way we work.

Hazel Team Working from Home
Hazel Team Working from Home

For example, employees are no longer tied to geographies when looking for jobs, thanks to increasingly elegant web-based communication and collaboration tools. The same goes for work-from-anywhere policies.

That’s why you need to look particularly closely at how technology either enables or hinders your efforts to make your company a great place to work.

First and foremost, make sure that the tools you implement provide an exceptional user experience to both the managers and the employees. This is, by far, the easiest way to increase internal tech. adoption and, by extension, the effectiveness of the tools themselves.

Secondly, evaluate your tech. from the lens of your culture. For instance, if experimentation or design thinking are important to you, how well does your software empower that?

Thirdly, expect employees to take initiative and start using tools they enjoy without explicit permission or mandate from above. This isn’t something to resist; it’s just the new reality.

Slack, for instance, is a great case study of how technology can sprout organically throughout an organization — often starting with a small team, then a department, then a geography, and then expanding to the entirety of a company. And Slack isn’t unique this way.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that a whole slew of technology products have emerged to help companies measure and improve the employee experience directly. Engagement measurement, continuous feedback, and peer-to-peer recognition are just some of the areas worth checking out.

Principle #5: Executing on This Model Requires a New Kind of Leadership

If all this feels like a lot of work, I have news for you: it is.

And although culture might not be an outcome of one person’s or one team’s efforts, there is still a need for someone to lead these initiatives within an organization.

We’re seeing HR professionals step up to the challenge.

Read this next:

“12 Experts Share Their Best Advice on How to Improve Workplace Culture”

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While the role of Human Resources in the past has focused predominantly on administrivia and compliance, we’re seeing more and more HR teams focus on culture-building and employee experience design.

Organizations that are embracing this new vision are even doing away with the term “Human Resources” itself, instead hiring for roles like Director of People Operations, VP of Employee Experience, Chief Heart Officer, People & Culture Manager, etc.

This new breed of HR pros., we believe, is going to lead the evolution of Work and reinvent their profession along the way.

In Conclusion

Here at Hazel, we wholeheartedly believe that the future of Work will not be anything like the past. And one could even argue that the future has already arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed.

As companies continue to compete for talent, work to make employees feel engaged and empowered — all while seeking to improve organizational performance — they will look to the five principles discussed in this article for inspiration and guidance.

We call such companies culture-centric, and we call this movement culture-centricity.

Just last week, we launched this blog as a place for companies and HR people who lead them to learn about and get inspired by these ideas. Thousands of people have already stopped by, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

These subjects are what we will be covering for years to come. If that sounds like something you’d be into, please consider subscribing :).