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Don't let stress and a crazy pace kill your culture

Sarah K. White | June 28, 2016
Whether it's a cool new startup or a well-established tech giant, culture is a huge part of success in the tech industry. But there are common problems with company culture that span the entire industry -- and it's hurting productivity.

Tech companies have a reputation of being high pressure and fast-paced -- especially startups. That culture can quickly erode morale as employees begin to feel the strain of the long hours and rapid, and sometimes confusing, change.

A 2015 study from VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, interviewed 827 tech employees, to look at how culture affects performance in tech companies. The study identified some key ideas around culture and how it can positively or negatively affect the overall performance of the company.

David Maxfield, New York Times bestselling author and vice president of research at VitalSmarts, has been conducting social science research around Fortune 500 companies for the past 30 years. Based on his research, he offer these suggestions on what needs to change in the tech world, and how to change it. But if you think improving work-place culture in tech is about building a cutting edge office or offering the best benefits, you're probably wrong.

Staying cool

The research shows that employees want to work for businesses that are perceived as cool, but that means more than free snacks or a nap room in the office. Rather, your company's status often depends on less tangible benefits, such as innovation, growth and having a positive impact on society, says Maxfield. Employees reported caring less about the perks and more about working for companies or startups that give them a "sense of meaning."

And sometimes that sense of meaning can be derived from a sense of urgency to remain innovative or to release a quality product to your customers as soon as possible. Maxfield gives the example of Facebook in early 2012. The company knew it needed to embrace mobile. "The reinvention became both a burning platform and an urgent opportunity. The teams that could contribute to this reinvention quickly became the cool teams," he says. By getting employees excited about a new initiative, and emphasizing its impact, will further encourage productivity and engagement with the project, he says.

Businesses can maintain a good image by encouraging growth in the company, and showing employees how a new project can elevate their careers. If there's a new project that will take up much of their time, or require over time, it's important to acknowledge the added burden, and to emphasize how the project will benefit their careers. Maxfield also says the research shows that connecting your projects to social values will be a key factor for keeping your employees happy and productive. Employees want to feel a sense of purpose, and you can create that by encouraging them to work on new projects in meaningful ways.


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