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BEYOND PINGPONG TABLES: BUILDING A HEALTHY WORKPLACE CULTURE

Great workplace culture gives employees a purpose. It helps them enjoy their work, and it makes it easier for you to hire top talent. It’s especially important at high-growth companies, and yet even well-intentioned employers often get it totally wrong.

To find out how companies can build a healthy workplace culture from the start, we spoke with with HR expert, author, speaker and GlitchPath CEO Laurie Ruettimann. Here’s what she says you’re probably doing wrong — and her advice on how to fix it.

What does workplace culture mean to you?

I'm not a big fan of the word “culture” being used for work. I think it's a larger and more important concept. Many people think I'm caught up in semantics. Quite simply I think words matter. We use the word “awesome” for everything, but not everything is awesome. If we call your toxic work environment "culture," what do we call the Renaissance? Seems like a bigger deal than your stupid foosball table at the office.

Civilizations have culture. Companies have behaviors and norms that are influenced by money, influential people with egos and groupthink. If you're lucky, your company treats people with respect and makes a positive impact on the lives of its employees. That's no easy task. It's hard to create a shared space where people feel like they have a purpose. But that's not culture. That's just good manners and healthy living. And we should all be so lucky to be the benefactor of a founder or CEO who believes in treating workers well.

Why do so many companies focus on the office perks then? Does that have a faster, more visible impact or is it just cheaper and easier?

Companies invest in superficial solutions like free beer and "unlimited PTO" to boost morale because it's cheaper than making a commitment to fair pay, equal opportunity and worthwhile work that makes a difference in this world.

What policies or programs can a company invest in to really make a difference?

A company that knows why it exists and loves its customers will attract and retain more talented workers than a company with a slick corporate office and free food in the cafeteria. Founders should hire smart and savvy HR leaders well before they want to (or think they need to) hire anybody for HR. But it's important to get the basics right in the early stages — fair pay, diverse talent pipelines, opportunities to communicate without barriers — so that healthy and productive behavioral norms are built into an organization's DNA.

Once these elements are in place, how can a company promote its culture?

Many founders and CEOs will talk about promoting their company culture like it's a content marketing campaign. To some extent, good marketing practices apply. Use all the digital channels in your arsenal to promote your great employer brand. That includes Snapchat, Twitter, email and even smoke signals if you can capture those smoke signals on video and upload it to YouTube.

But the best way to promote your positive work environment is to ask your employees to do the work for you. Encourage them to tweet and share moments of recognition. Ask them to refer their friends and former colleagues for jobs. Support them when they have something positive to say, and listen to their constructive feedback.

And founders and CEOs should absolutely be in the community talking about the good work they're doing, and bring along an employee to provide a testimonial.

Basically, if a company treats its employees well and has meaningful work to offer, they should do whatever it takes to tell the world. That's the kind of organization that has a license to poach talent from its competitors.

Stephen Loy