More than free coffee, bean bag chairs or open workspaces, company culture is about creating an environment where every employee actually enjoys coming to work each day.
Throughout my seven years at Advance Financial, I’ve seen a lot of change and growth, but one thing has remained the same: our commitment to employee satisfaction. With some blood (pesky paper cuts from signing my 20th birthday card of the day), sweat and a few happy tears, we’ve built a culture that myself and more than 1,000 others are proud to call our work home.
So, how did we do it? Here are a few tips:
- Offer Extraordinary, Out-of-the-Box Benefits
Paid health care and vacation days are great, but we wanted our employees to understand that we valued them as people to be taken care of, not just numbers to appease. Our benefits program is constantly evolving to meet the desires of our workforce. Employees are encouraged to share what they value and how it would benefit them inside and outside the office.
As a family-owned and operated company, we are passionate about our community and the ways in which we can better the lives around us. This isn’t just a value we speak about — we act on it every day. This is why we give all employees 40 hours of paid time off a year to volunteer in their communities. That’s a full workweek of our employees doing something they’re passionate about in the community, whether it be volunteering at a dog shelter or building homes with Habitat for Humanity. We also enjoy company-sponsored volunteer activities, such as our first annual “Day of Service,” where we volunteered for nonprofits throughout our home state of Tennessee. It’s easy for a company to say it supports the local community, but we prove it by putting our employees in control of how they want to give back.
For us, being a company that shows kindness to our customers and communities starts with expressing gratitude between our company walls. This year we launched an initiative with PeopleAreEverything, where employees can send e-thank you cards to colleagues, write notes on message boards to give kudos for a job well done or even highlight exceptional effort by awarding each other points that turn into redeemable cash. It's been amazing to see the boost to our culture produced by team members recognizing and thanking each other for the hard work they do each day.
When you spend most your day at work, it can be easy to let your health, passions or interests take a back seat. We understand and value each employee as a whole person, with responsibilities, desires and interests outside of just their job. Offering an onsite gym, nurse practitioner and weekly yoga classes are just some ways that we encourage employees to take care of themselves, without stressing about using precious personal time or the pain of commuting off-site to do so.
We understand that people are our most valuable asset, which is why we celebrate their commitment to our company every day, whether it is their very first or 5,000th. Within the first 90 days on the job, every employee is invited to “NewbieNight,” which includes events specifically designed to welcome new employees in a casual outside-of-the-office setting. This can be as simple as going out for ice cream or for a round of go-karting or TopGolf. We’ve found that getting employees plugged into a work community immediately is a wonderful way to ensure they feel supported, valued and engaged while at work. Employees celebrating their fifth work anniversary are treated to a day of whitewater rafting, while employees that have hit the 10th work anniversary milestone are taken on a Caribbean cruise!
If you’re looking to improve your company culture to inspire employees, the first — and arguably the easiest — step is to implement new, out-of-the-box benefits that they can’t find anywhere else.
- Place an Emphasis on Professional Development
We want all of our employees to reach their full potential, both personally and professionally, which is why we’ve been intentional about creating opportunities for growth. On his or her first day of work, each employee is given a “FORD” sheet to fill out. The acronym stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation and Dreams. These sheets are then given to the employee’s manager, who hangs them in a place where they are visible to the entire department. This practice tells each team member that we care about what they care about. If an employee’s dream is to become a director of their department, we actively help them achieve that goal. There are many opportunities for growth and development within the company for those who show passion and persistence, including quarterly personal development plan meetings, off-site training and cross-departmental shadowing.
We’ve also found outstanding success with our Better Book Club, where we pay employees to read. Yes, you read that right. Employees can choose books from a variety of different topics and earn money for completing the book and writing a short report on what they’ve learned. At first, we thought this would be a great way to appeal to employees who liked to read, but we never could have predicted the team comradery that would follow. Book clubs were quickly formed both within and across departments, forging new work relationships in an organic and authentic way. What started as an initiative to target one group of employees has unearthed a movement across our entire company that is spurring exceptional emotional, relational and intellectual growth.
- Help Employees When in Need
We also make it our responsibility to help our employees when they are in need. After all, they spend more time with us than their own friends and family. It goes back to our idea of treating our employees like our customers. We would never let a customer walk into one of our stores without greeting them and asking them how we can help, so we do the same for our employees.
Because of this belief, we created the Corporate Care Fund, which provides financial assistance to employees experiencing temporary hardship. It is funded by employee donations that are matched by us, and it covers housing, utility, health care and other necessary costs in times of unexpected need.
We provide these strong benefits and professional development opportunities, so our employees feel inspired, positive and excited to come to work. Employees don’t leave their personal lives at home when they come to work, and we understand that. Their hardships and stressors will affect how they associate with our customers, so we try to alleviate them as much as we can. For us, a strong company culture is translated into strong customer experience, which translates into our ability to continue our strong growth and expansion.
About the Author
Brittni Walker is director of customer and employee experience at Advance Financial. She is responsible for building, executing and improving Advance Financial’s customer service experience at 100-plus retail stores. She also oversees the corporate culture to over 1,100 employees, focusing on employee development and engagement.