Table tennis and kegs. How this company promotes culture
Everyone’s read about the games and cool perks at Google and other tech giants, like climbing walls, endless food, travel stipends and on-site acupuncture. These investments are intended to pay off in a strong workplace culture that boosts employee satisfaction, and there is plenty of research to show it works.
In a 2015 study by BrightHR and Robertson Cooper, 72 percent of those surveyed thought that having fun at work was important. What’s more, an overwhelming majority (81 percent) of employees working at companies rated as “great” in Fortune’s “Great Places to Work For” list say their workplace is fun.
Amy Zimmerman, head of people operations at Kabbage, a fast-growing U.S. financial tech company, says her work environment is “super fun, and that’s no accident.” Kabbage has deliberately built a culture where employees do not dread Mondays. She claims people perform better in a workplace that prioritizes socializing, pointing out that the collaborative environment lends itself to innovation, and that working side-by-side with friends makes staff more committed.
So, how can company leaders and managers build a workplace community that work together as well as it plays together? We asked Zimmerman to share her tips:
- Make Sure Everyone Is Onboard
Zimmerman says the best cultures are not created from the top down but rather “from the top down, bottom up and everything in between.” If a manager decides to build more “fun” initiatives into the work environment without the support of the entire management team, he or she is going to struggle. Similarly, doling out perks that employees don’t care about will not have the effect of boosting the culture.
Kabbage conducts quarterly employee engagement surveys and makes changes in the perks based on feedback. This is important, she adds. “It’s more dangerous to pretend that you care and not do anything about it than to do nothing at all,” she advises other companies.
- Don’t Offer Games and Expect Instant Culture
Zimmerman believes some companies try to compensate for a poor workplace culture by throwing down a few toys. But a foosball table alone does not create a positive atmosphere where employees love to come to work. “If you are running a sweat shop but give employees a couple of cool things, people will see through that quickly.” A company’s sense of fun, she stresses, should be an offshoot of the community it has built.
- Create Convenience around Perks
Google and its ilk take heat for expecting long work hours from their employees. (Those three free meals a day are offered for a reason!) While Zimmerman says that those in her company enjoy a pretty solid work-life balance, she nevertheless tries to add perks that make it more convenient (and fun) for employees to be at work, like on-site exercise classes and free lunch. And she thinks it is completely fine to blend business and pleasure during the day – she often conducts one-on-one meetings while playing table tennis.
- Get Strategic with Fun
Companies should think about the way they distribute the fun and games to achieve certain aims, says Zimmerman. For example, Kabbage’s headquarters are spread across multiple floors. So, to encourage a greater cross-functional interaction, it spreads the perks around. Lunch is served on the 11th floor, the ice cream freezer is on the 10th. Each floor has a different selection of drinks, including a beer keg and an iced coffee keg. Games and massage chairs are spread around. This way, the 300 employees mix it up daily with those from other teams.
- Don’t Manage the Clock
One criticism of games at the office is that they threaten to distract workers from work and decrease productivity. Zimmerman disagrees. Instead of expecting employees to work a certain schedule or number of hours, organizations should create an atmosphere that motivates staff while setting ambitious targets, she argues. She explains that although employees at Kabbage hang out, do lunchtime yoga and drink beer together, they also work very hard. “We would not be able to accomplish our goals if people were wasting their time.”
- Hire for Fun As Well as Skill
Every organization has its own kind of company culture, but those with particularly strong or quirky ones need to be careful how they screen job applicants. An outsider walking into a loud, festive workplace like hers might not think it takes work seriously, says Zimmerman. To a potential hire coming from a buttoned-down industry like banking, the fun-and-games environment could come off as unprofessional.
Yet finding talented staff who embrace the lighter side of work is crucial to maintaining Kabbage’s unique culture. Companies have to hire for the fun fit, too. She recommends being very up front with candidates about the culture, making sure they have the chance to ask questions about what work life is really like. “I expect them to interview us as much as we interview them.”
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.