Posted in HR | by: Laurie Ruettimann

Stop Talking About Your Company Culture—Just Do These 6 Things

Talking about company culture is still a hot conversation topic for entrepreneurs. But as business owners, we could probably spend our time and energy in far more productive ways.

In the past, we used the word “culture” to describe art, poetry, and science. Now we use it to describe unlimited PTO and cold brew coffee.

Hate to break it to you, but your company culture isn’t any of that.

So what is company culture? It’s what helps you create a positive and supportive workplace so your team can do their best work. 

But before you ever start talking about company culture at your business, please do these things first.

What to do instead of talking about company culture.

Start implementing programs, policies, and processes that your employees actually want—even if your budget is tiny. Here’s how.

1. Spend more time on new hire onboarding than any other HR task.

Thoughtful onboarding is everything. Companies with structured onboarding programs have 50 percent higher retention rates and 54 percent higher productivity levels among new employees compared to employers that don’t.

That’s because good onboarding helps new hires feel welcome and more equipped to do their jobs—right from day one.

In fact, this is the most important thing to do if you want to build a strong company culture. 

How to do it:

– Use this new hire onboarding checklist to ensure you’re collecting the right info and staying compliant.

– Create a welcome packet for new teammates that includes the following:

A personal note from you or their hiring manager

A list of the best restaurants in the area, and a date for when you’ll take them there

A one-sheet with the top five things employees need to know to be successful at your company

Your employee handbook

– Find an HR platform that can help with both the compliance and interpersonal parts of onboarding.

2. At the very least, offer medical, dental, and vision plans.

Turnover can actually be more expensive than offering benefit plans. In fact, one out of three employees have turned down a job due to a lack of health benefits. And over half say benefits are a big reason why they’re still at their current companies.

But benefits are also the foundation of a solid company culture. Because when people don’t have to worry about getting wiped out from a doctor visit, they can be more effective at work. When you take care of your employees, it inspires them to take care of the people they work with too—customers, vendors, colleagues, and others.

How to do it:

– Find a benefits broker who can help you navigate this confusing landscape.

– Explore FSA and HSA options to help your team better manage their health care costs.

3. Get a PTO tracker so it’s easier to implement your time-off policy.

Giving your team flexibility shows them you trust them, which can be huge for morale and productivity. But even if your PTO policy is generous, you need to make the process for requesting and approving that time off as simple as possible.

How to do it:

  • Invest in a PTO tracker so you don’t have to micromanage your employees when they request time off. This might be built into your HR platform, or you might have to use a separate program, like Homebase, TSheets, or When I Work. Once you get it set up, it will give you a birds-eye view of how much time people are taking off and when.

4. Help with your team’s retirement in some way.

Your millennial employees want to retire—but can barely afford to pay off student loans. Even if you don’t offer retirement programs, you can still help your team get in better financial shape by implementing a financial wellness program.

How to do it:

– Regularly share savings tips, retirement planning apps, or even information on how to set up a Roth IRA.

– If you’re able to, offer a 401(k) plan. It can even help you snag some tax credits in the process.

5. Take career development seriously, even if you don’t have a budget for it.

Career growth is more important to millennial employees than how much money they make. Luckily, there are multiple ways to offer your team educational opportunities on the cheap.

How to do it:

– Try out a few online learning programs, which can be a more affordable way to train your team. LinkedIn and Coursera both offer on-demand classes in a variety of business areas.

– Depending on what your business does, you might be able to offer classes to the public that double as on-the-job training for your team.

6. Encourage feedback.

Performance management trips up even the most sophisticated small businesses. Instead of only doing performance evaluations, spend your time on creating a climate where feedback flows up and down. You can do this by educating yourself and your team on what effective feedback really looks like.

How to do it:

– Read up on how to give your employee feedback more effectively. You may also want to forward this article on how your team can give you feedback.

– My two favorite books are Crucial Conversations and The Feedback Fix. You don’t need to be an HR guru to create an environment where people are able to communicate honestly and constructively.


Now, pick two items that don’t exist at your business and implement them in the next 12 months. If you’re short on funds, get creative and take baby steps.

For example, if you want to offer more career development opportunities but can’t afford to, try setting up a business budget so you can put aside money that will bring you closer to your goal.

Have you already addressed the basics? Sorry, but your job isn’t over.

Congratulations are in order if your business offers competitive health insurance coverage and doesn’t struggle to attract (and keep!) a talented team. That’s great.

But culture doesn’t rest on its laurels.

As your business grows, so does its responsibility to your community. Once you meet the basic needs of your employees, it’s time to talk about meeting the needs of our culture at large. And by doing so, your company culture will develop in the best way possible—authentically.

Where do you go from here?

Instead of hyper-focusing on company culture cliches, start by treating your employees well. Create a comfortable environment for your team to do their best work—without obsessing about it.

Your business will become competitive because your employees will actually want to come into work each day. And that is the real definition of an incredible company culture.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Gusto’s views.

About Laurie Ruettimann

Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader turned writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. She's been featured on NPR, The New Yorker, Vox, and CNN. She is the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR, which Forbes named as one of its top 100 websites for women.