Culture in the workplace

Source: Dilbert, Scott Adams

Both startups and large companies (not that these are exclusive anymore) have similar objectives in mind. Solving a real problem for customers, making money for the business, making money for investors, and building a happy workforce. It’s strange however, how some companies go about the last one. Asked to solve for that, wouldn’t you begin by asking your workforce what makes them happy? And wouldn’t you define your organization’s “culture” aiming to solve for this objective?

You see companies offering perks like pets at work, free meals, company-wide trips to exotic locales, and humblebragging about their “incredible” workplace culture, what makes them different. This is akin to equating Diwali (the once-a-year extravaganza) to all of the (supremely intricate) aspects of Indian culture that we live out every single day. Sure, these things make your workforce happy, but it is a temporary sort of happiness, something restricted to that particular event, that party – as opposed to what defines your workplace, what makes your people satisfied day in and day out. Why don’t companies focus on making Work (yes, with a W) itself a source of happiness?

It is perhaps too outlandinsh to even consider this possibility. You might argue that Work by its very nature is meant to be dull, boring stuff (as opposed to Play). You might consider the idea of deriving happiness from it laughable. Isn’t Work something you have to do, so that you can go home in the evening to a hot meal and an hour of Bigg Boss (or maybe Game of Thrones).

Are the majority of companies even trying to make Work something their employees want to do?

Sure doesn’t seem like it. By offering superficial perks in lieu of satisfying Work, they are either missing this issue altogether, or having considered it, they have rejected the idea (or perhaps failed to pull this off). This reinforces the idea that work is something you have to do on the job for 95% of the time, so that the other 5% can be “fun”.

Thankfully, a drive to do meaningful work is now a trait of whole generations – the so called “Millennials” are slowly becoming the majority in a lot of companies. Organizations will have to wake up to this, or lose this part of their workforce.

Exhibit 1: Look at the chart below – the disparities are quite amazing

Source: KPCB

And that is exactly why big companies find their employees leaving to join startups – the key thing startups offer is not the big salary, or perks (though they are increasingly doing it) but rather, the opportunity to do meaningful work, make sizable contributions. It comes down to demand and supply. Big companies think salary, brand are in demand (and they are), but they are less in demand than they think. What is more in demand now is work that is satisfying, and this they do not yet know how to supply.

This brings us to the end of this post rant. With the recent spate of startups getting off the ground, getting funded, and getting more visibility, there is an increasing flow of people to new workplaces created, as opposed to established bastions of employment. The people creating and running these workplaces have the opportunity to redefine what culture in the workplace means. And in many ways, their lack of “org culture 101” knowhow is better.

All this is easier said than done. But difficult as it is, try we must. It will have to start by accepting the facts – people have changed, and will continue to change fast. The Internet, social media have made college grads far more informed about careers, opportunities, and most importantly, themselves. “Job security” (a funny term by the way, implying your job is something you should protect, not excel at) is not the biggest concern at the moment. Job satisfaction is.

Disclaimer: The content here reflects only the views of the author

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