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Survey: Job Seekers Want an Honest Company Culture


The phrase “company culture” has steadily become pervasive in today’s workplace. In 2006, Google became one of the first companies to actively increase its focus on workplace culture, adding the title “Chief Culture Officer” to its (then) head of HR’s job title. Following Google’s lead, other companies have appointed their own chief culture officers or added culture management responsibilities to staff roles.

This trend has likewise bled into literature. Using Google’s Ngram viewer, we can see that there’s been an astronomical rise in the occurrence of the phrase “company culture” in books since 1980.

Percent of book text containing  “company culture”

But the term itself often eludes a set definition. For example, defines corporate culture as something that “describes and governs the ways a company’s owners and employees think, feel and act.” Others define it as “what you value, what is important for you and your company.” Regardless, almost everyone agrees that a healthy culture is crucial to a company’s success—especially when it comes to recruiting and retention.

But while business owners and HR professionals can opine about “company culture” until they’re blue in the face, what does it mean to the group it impacts the most: job seekers and employees?

To answer this question, Software Advice surveyed 886 U.S. adults to learn how they define company culture. We then shared our data with Halley Bock, president and CEO of global leadership development and training firm Fierce, Inc., to get her insights on how businesses can use this information to more effectively recruit, retain and engage talent. Here are our most important findings.

“Casual” Is the Most Common Definition of Company Culture

While many businesses define corporate culture as a principle that governs the way its employees work—the beliefs and habits of its workers; not the dress code or presence of a ping pong table in the breakroom—not all of our respondents felt the same way.

We asked survey-takers to describe what their ideal company culture would look like in a free-form text box. While there were some gems among these responses (e.g. “shabbadahoogin” and “loopy”), after sorting through the more earnest answers, a trend began to emerge.

The most common definition of company culture provided by respondents was “casual or relaxed,” with 9 percent using this description. Other common responses were “family-oriented” or “fun.” On the other hand, almost 4 percent of respondents said they didn’t know what company culture was, or didn’t care.

Most Common Definition of Company Culture

One Third of Respondents Value Honesty and Transparency

Once we determined job seekers’ most common definition of company culture, we decided to dig even deeper. Since many companies flaunt their culture as a way to attract talent—think Google’s fabulous offices, which are designed to “maintain the open culture often associated with startups”—we wanted to know which culture attributes attract the most candidates.

As a follow-up to our previous question, we asked respondents which of the five most common definitions from the chart above (casual/relaxed, family-oriented, fun, friendly or honest/transparent) would convince them to apply most when describing the company in a job post.

As you can see below, honesty/transparency was the clear winner: almost 30 percent of respondents said they’d be most likely to apply to a company that billed itself as honest or transparent in a job posting.

Most Preferred Company Culture Attributes

On the other hand, while many companies may think it essential to promote themselves as a “fun” workplace, only 11 percent of respondents said a “fun” office environment would convince them to apply.

So, while the novelty of kegs in the office might seem like an ideal way to attract talent, our data indicates that candidates care more about how their employer communicates with and treats its employees and clients than having a ping-pong tournament during lunch. As such, highlighting an emphasis on company values and integrity over “fun” perks is likely to attract a greater number of applicants.

Bock, who has written and spoken about the need for honesty in the workplace, says job seekers’ desire for honesty and transparency comes as no surprise. She points out that, without honesty, candor and transparency in the workplace, you don’t really have anything. “While being a ‘fun’ or ‘casual’ culture are great things, you can’t get there if you don’t have trust,” she explains.

Define Your Culture Before Your Recruiting/Retention Strategy

Our results clearly show that job seekers have very specific ideas of what the values and behaviors that define company culture should look like. So if your company has defined a recruiting or retention strategy that relies upon highlighting the most important aspects of your company’s culture, be specific about its characteristics.

In other words, just saying you have “a great company culture” is unlikely to enthuse many applicants. Advertising yourself as “an honest and friendly, family-oriented business that works in a casual and fun environment,” on the other hand, is likely to attract more attention.

According to Bock, however, delivering on this promise is easier said than done. She notes that intentionally creating and maintaining cultural values can be extremely difficult.

“Culture is an outcome of all the relationships that are occurring within an organization,” she explains. “So if you want to have a culture of honesty, then you need to back that down to the attributes of every single relationship within a company.”

In order to do this, Bock says, start small: company leaders need to ensure they’re being honest and transparent in each and every team meeting, email and conversation with employees. Supervisors and managers should constantly ask themselves, “Am I being candid? Am I being transparent?”

In sum, company culture means different things to different people. But if you’re specific and descriptive in defining the values and behaviors esteemed in your workplace, and you take steps to ensure these traits are being demonstrated and reinforced, you’re much more likely to attract, retain and engage talent.

Drops” by  Mark Vegas, used under CC BY / Resized.

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About the Author

Erin Osterhaus joined Software Advice in 2012 after earning an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques.

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