You can't afford NOT to invest in your culture

I was at an event recently where I was surrounded by progressive leaders who deeply understand the value of culture. Well, everyone I talked to, except one. 

As I was talking to one CEO about the importance of culture and the employee experience at his company—something he actively works on—another CEO argued that in his industry, there was no time for things like making the office a cool space to work, or doing regularly check-ins with his staff of about a dozen. 

"They really want a coffee maker," he said with strain in his voice, his Rolex flashing as he brushed his hair back.

"So get them a coffee maker!" the other CEO and I said in unison. It seemed so obvious to us—what a little, inexpensive thing to invest in. Not only that, but coffee makes people more productive, and it would remove unnecessary coffee runs outside of the office. For someone obsessed with productivity, it seemed like a no-brainer. 

"You could even make a little cafe area where people could stop and sit down when they need a reset, or a little creativity boost," I suggested. That comment did not sit well with him.

"There's no time to sit down during the day," he said abruptly. "We have way too much to do. I don't want to encourage any distractions."

Hearing these old-school perspectives—from someone who barely looked 30—really fired me up. I couldn't believe he was actually saying this stuff, so I began to share my own perspectives, and argued that he couldn't afford not to do these things.

"It's not that I don't want to do these things. It's just that we don't have time, or the budget. I'd really like to create a Zen garden, for example, but we just don't have the resources."

I suggested they do that as a team building exercise—take one Friday off, and get their hands dirty as a team to create a tranquil workplace area together. He brushed it off again saying they couldn't afford to take a single day—or even a half day—to do something like that. 

I couldn't help but wonder what his turnover is like, or what sort of culture he's cultivated. What kind of people does it attract? How much of the motivation there is fear-based? 

Liz Ryan, a former Fortune 500 HR SVP and current leader of the Human Workplace, regularly writes about the evolution of HR and culture in Forbes. Something that stood out to me in a recent article was this:

"If your workplace is bound up in rules and policies and the work is boring and the employees are not respected and valued, you will be able to fill your job openings, but people will not stay.

"The best people will leave the fastest. They’ll catch the unmistakable scent of a fearful work environment in their nostrils and they will start a new job search."

Clearly, there are still some companies that can get away operating like this, but it seems it's only a matter of time before they can no longer attract—or at very least, keep—the best talent. 

Fostering a healthy workplace culture doesn't have to be something time-consuming or expensive. At its most basic, it's about recognizing the people you work with, and proactively supporting them in making your workplace an enjoyable place to be, and your vision something they're excited to contribute to. If that means adding more plants to your office, investing in a coffee maker, or doing regular checkins with your teammates, do it. The investment will pay off exponentially. Just try it for one month, and you'll see.