Today companies are finding themselves in a unique position. Unemployment across the country is hovering somewhere between 3% – 4%. Even in the hardest hit, most economically depressed areas it’s around 10%, and in some places it’s at a record low of under 2%. At the same time, almost half of US employees are searching for a new job. It’s a war for talent, and job seekers have the advantage.

The competition for exceptional employees is not a new one, but it has become one of the biggest challenges that business leaders are facing.

When you’re competing for talent, there are myriad ways to level the playing field. You can pay more money or offer all sorts of perks (from sleep pods to 4 star meals ). And while money and benefits are important, the most powerful tool you can use to attract and retain people with the right will and skill is company culture.

People want to work in organizations where they’re going to be a good fit. Where they’ll contribute, enjoy the people they work with, and most importantly feel valued. People are hungry to find organizations that value the same things that they value.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the magic that happens between an applicant and a potential employer when there’s a tight alignment of values. On the contrary, corporate cultures that don’t value people – those that are riddled with dysfunction and murky leadership – make it devilishly difficult to both attract and hang on to talent.

In fact, the investment in creating a positive workplace culture is much lower than the cost of losing experienced and highly qualified folks.

Recently, I was talking to somebody about open plan offices. These floorplans that are used as a way of controlling costs have been shown to have a long-term negative impact on both morale and productivity. And yet we keep filling our workplaces with tiny cubes with no privacy as a way of being more efficient. It doesn’t make any sense economically to keep shoving more people in tiny boxes that they hate. Nevertheless, we keep doing it.

Culture works the same way.

When a business has a very unhealthy culture with unhealthy managers who create toxic workplaces, there is an incredibly high cost –much more so than the square footage price. Not only do these unhealthy cultures drive away the best talent, they don’t attract and retain the talent that we compete on.

To build and maintain a healthy, highly-engaged workplace, employers must engage their current talent to boost collaboration and overall work satisfaction.

Your current employees are the best recruiters you have. If they’re unhappy, if they’re disengaged, if they feel undervalued or don’t have the tools they need, then they’re going to share all that information with potential hires. And they’re certainly not going to introduce you to the best and brightest people they know.

The truth is that most organizations don’t manage or even think much about their culture, although we all have one. Imagine the difference it would make getting really clear on what that culture should look like, then shaping that culture through values and creating a company where people thrive.

People want to feel valued.

They want a fulfilling career path. Pay is not a long-term motivator. There is little worse for your bottom line than a super disengaged and unhappy employee who sticks around for a paycheck.

Engaged employees are more collaborative and productive. They help people see the connection between their everyday work and the larger purpose of the organization. In return, the least we can do is provide a rewarding experience and positive culture.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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