What do employees really think about company culture?

Asimina Stamatiou shares insights from some recent research into the UK workforce’s experiences of organisational culture

At MHR, we recently conducted research in partnership with YouGov for a new white paper to gain an insight into broader experience of company culture.

While ‘company culture’ is a term commonly used in business, there is very little quality research available on this topic. Most articles concentrate on one or two companies and take the form of news articles or summaries with little depth.

For this reason, we asked YouGov to survey the UK workforce, so we could see what UK companies are experiencing. This gives us a better understanding of what they are lacking, as well as what they are getting right. 

Our survey covered a broad range of the UK population, including different age groups, genders, industries and geographic locations to get a clear view of the overall work experience, rather than making assumptions based on just office workers, for example.

So what did the research reveal?

The survey found that 49 per cent of employees believe the portrayed public image of the company they work for matches the actual experience of working there.

An almost 50/50 split is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but what was really telling was the list of comments from each participant that accompanied the responses to their multiple choice questions. 

A huge range of emotions were evident – some people were really passionate about where they work, many were apathetic, and at the other end of the scale, let’s just say the language was not suitable for polite conversation.

Company culture feels like it has been discussed to death, and yet it still isn’t working or even understood in many cases – a lot of people thought their company culture was basically just the messages on a set of promotional posters in the office and despite the questions themselves containing a definition of company culture, a lot of people still didn’t understand the relevance of businesses nurturing the right culture. So it seems some of their employers don’t get it either.

It’s not all bad news, though – lots of companies are doing well, with 70 per cent of people agreeing their company’s ethos is well communicated to staff, and that they’re happy with how this affects the culture and general atmosphere. This seemed to work better in smaller businesses or standardised organisations like schools, showing it is easier to maintain an idealised culture in areas where it’s easier to have control over what happens each day.

Additionally, almost two-thirds (63 per cent) said they were given the flexibility and support to do their job, with many citing the freedom to work from home, feeling trusted and having understanding managers as reasons for their satisfaction.

Cultures grow holistically and it’s difficult to get the balance right between offering enough stimulus for the culture to develop and appearing totalitarian. My work at MHR focuses on people and how businesses can get the best out of them, so I know the everyday work experience is a huge part of that. It’s crucial to organise things properly – having enough staff completing each task, engaging with them over any issues and creating a happier, more positive and productive workforce in the process. Even if your business is performing well without the need to pay much attention to culture, with a bit of effort your business can become something truly remarkable, with a workforce that feels the same way.

Asimina Stamatiou is a senior business analyst and employee engagement expert at MHR