You Only Need 3 Ingredients For a Great Workplace

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Mar 26, 2019

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. This is No. 10 of the 708 articles. You can find the complete list here.


Today’s strong job market has employers searching for effective ways to attract and retain the best talent. Fair pay and benefits will always be necessary, but employees expect much more these days. I’ve found that the three keys to keeping employees fulfilled and engaged are to improve culture, raise the bar when it comes to leadership, and perfect the physical work environment.

By taking care of your employees according to these three tenets, you will realize fiscal benefits as well. Just look at the success of organizations like Southwest Airlines that are known for their culture. Employee burnout costs upwards of $190 billion in health spending, and that figure doesn’t include lost productivity. Anything that organizations can do to promote better cultures, more authentic leadership, and greater wellness will be financially beneficial, result in higher retention rates, and reduce turnover costs.

Culture matters

President Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” To create a culture where employees want to go to work every day (and leave without being exhausted), showing them you care is priority one.

Energy is transferrable: You feel it when it’s positive, and you feel it when it’s negative. So creating a culture where fun, inclusivity, and collaboration are palpable will create positive energy. I know it’s a high bar, but we strive to create workspaces that elevate people — places where prospective employees have a strong desire to work. Creating a culture that is attractive to employees isn’t an exercise to define your desired culture; that only limits what you will achieve.

To paraphrase one of my mentors — Colleen Barrett, president emerita of Southwest Airlines — you don’t define culture as to say this is what our culture is and isn’t. Rather, you hire people who live your core values, and then each new hire adds to the diversity of your cultural DNA. Allowing each person to bring his true self to work will help your corporate culture and will help you attract and retain top talent.

Consider ways to make your employees’ lives easier and more fulfilling. You’re limited only by your imagination. Perks that often make the headlines include conveniences like on-site fitness, dry-cleaning pickup, or high-end coffee service. However, sponsoring community service programs and granting time off for volunteerism are more than perks: They give employees a purpose and help the organization show its heart.

More important than perks and meaningful benefits, however, is the respect and support you show your people every single day. Ultimately, the culture will convince your best workers to stay. Nurture it, and you’ll experience tremendous benefits.

Leadership matters

As Pat Lencioni discusses in The Truth About Employee Engagement. workers want to be known, make a difference, and feel like they are winning. He describes employee dissatisfaction as a three-sided problem: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

Why is it that employees are known for leaving leaders more often than leaving companies? Simple: Leadership matters. Leaders must get to know their employees and show them they care about their development. No one wants to be just a number, a “resource,” or “human capital.” They are people. Leaders must help employees discover the purpose to their work and help them develop simple ways to keep score. Everyone likes to know they are winning!

Your people make up teams that succeed when their leaders are approachable, authentic, and available. Strong leadership inspires innovation and spurs teams to want to contribute and improve. From a talent acquisition and retention standpoint, would you rather work for an organization that believes in your entire well-being or just your production level when you’re on the clock?

In addition to treating people like individuals, make sure folks understand the meaning in what they do. When they believe in your company’s culture and mission, they tend to feel happier and more excited to go to work. And when you prioritize their health and wellness, you show employees that you genuinely care.

Workspace matters

You elevate your workers when you provide an active workspace. Movement sparks creativity and collaboration; it also promotes increased health, happiness, and productivity. Rather than designing a workspace of stationary desks, static cubicle walls, and standard office chairs, consider rethinking your office layout.

Make your space flexible so teams can experiment with different setups and encourage feedback to determine what’s working and what needs to change. For example, moveable walls or partitions can be an easy way to quickly transform a space to meet the ever-changing needs of your workforce. Teams need both “me” and “we” spaces that accommodate both focus work and brainstorming activities.

And when you give employees the opportunity to stand while they work, hold walking meetings, or actually exercise during the workday, they don’t have to sacrifice sleep or healthy meal prep by making time to go to the gym outside their 9-to-5. When you take even small steps to bolster your culture, double down on leadership, and design a workspace that creates positive energy, you truly elevate your people.

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