Building a great company culture is an incredibly difficult but vital part of any highly successful business. They’re so tricky because they require healthy interaction between workers and management, as well as between workers. Businesses don’t have direct control over how work relationships are built between individuals, so they have to set an example through policy to create a work environment that encourages a healthy and productive culture.

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Don’t punish your most productive workers

The top priority for any manager is to get things done. As a result, top performers can often end up being treated unfairly. The reward for a job well done is more work, and a lot of highly productive workers find themselves picking up the slack of their less effective co-workers. In many instances, managers will actively dump extra projects on their desks, knowing that they’ll be willing to stay late or come in on weekends to get the job done.

While this is a natural strategy, it breeds resentment and encourages workers to do less than their best. This is especially true if high and low performers are about equally well recognised and compensated by the company. Good managers have to balance these issues by working to improve the effectiveness of less productive workers, and by recognising and compensating the successes of star employees in a meaningful way.

Build many paths to success in your company

Traditionally, highly competent workers are rewarded with pay increases and promotions. Those are great tools, but they need to be applied in a way that makes sense. Many businesses, especially SMEs, only have one track for advancement, and that’s management. This is inherently problematic, because management is its own separate skill that has to be learned. A great engineer, writer, or sales executive isn’t inherently going to make a great manager, or even a moderately competent one.

To deal with this, businesses need a better reward and advancement structure. For example, you won’t benefit from your best engineer by putting them in a management position; you’ll only lose your best engineer and get an untrained manager. Instead, your best engineer should be tackling your most complex engineering problems and receive the title, recognition, and compensation that they deserve while continuing to work under an appropriately credentialed and competent manager.

Allow employees to help shape policy

As a company grows, it’s natural for it to take on a life of its own that exceeds the grip of just a business owner. Your business’ goals, strategy, and operation are mostly top-down affairs, but how the various organs of the business function and work with each other internally isn’t nearly as clear-cut. It can be immensely beneficial to collect employee feedback and implement their suggestions on things like working conditions, procedures, operating software, tool preferences, and more.

These often relatively low-cost adjustments can significantly improve morale, because it gives workers some control over how they do their job. Since workers interact with these things all day, every day, even minor issues can develop into serious long-term annoyances. The trope of the rage-inducing permanently malfunctioning printer from every office movie ever is an apt symbol of how much of an impact even relatively small issues can cause.

Don’t buy into gimmicks

Trendy startup giants like Uber and Buzzfeed are famous for their gimmicky employee perks, like games, slides instead of stairs, yoga break rooms, free snacks, and more. These benefits look fun and make for great marketing material, but they only work for these businesses because their underlying benefit systems are already robust. Smaller businesses seeking to emulate these ideas without providing much more expensive and significant traditional benefits won’t get far in improving morale.

Having an arcade at work can be a fun perk, but it won’t mean anything to an employee that has to deal with inferior health insurance, low pay, expensive parking, daycare bills, and other serious issues that more traditional benefits packages often help employees with.

Allow employees to use your business

A few of your employees might just be there to do their job, collect their paycheque, and go home. Most people, however, will be looking to grow and to develop their careers for the future. Some employers feel threatened by this, and actively try to discourage workers from growing and diversifying their skillsets too quickly to keep them there longer. This is likely to backfire.

It’s better to encourage employees and even to provide support and assistance in networking them to ensure their future success. Though many will eventually move on, they’ll have a better attitude at work, and leave with a strongly positive opinion of your business. Former employees may well become valuable contacts with other related businesses, and will advocate for you with their future employers as well as other professionals who could be valuable to your operation.