It’s not you, it’s us. Company culture and a free breakfast, please

Joe Pope | 18th January 2019




You’ve spent hours getting ready, you’re wearing that outfit that makes you feel great and the butterflies begin to flutter as you walk into the room to meet them. No, it’s not a date, it’s another job interview.

After recently being made redundant (pause for tears) I have the task of finding a company that I want to spend the majority of my waking hours in. Having started my career as an Actor, winning two Academy Awards (please don’t fact check) and deciding it wasn’t for me, I have been working for the last five years in roles where people are at the forefront of everything that I do. Within this time I have noticed the shift in business attitudes toward positive employee engagement and wellbeing; especially in the start-up and SME world. However, some larger companies seem to have a harder time getting their message across to both current and potential employees.

The importance of culture

The importance of workplace culture and employee engagement is not news and it’s fantastic that a lot of companies now know that if they want to attract and keep the best people, they must have additional benefits or perks in order to do so. The problem that I am now witnessing through various interview processes is that businesses seem to have a skewed notion of what a company with an amazing culture actually is. They fill their offices with free fruit, leave early on a Friday and offer yoga classes once a week but these perks are just window dressings if they are not being utilised in the right way. Just to clarify; free fruit is not an employee benefit, so please stop advertising it as one!

My story

My most recent interview involved a four-round process, meeting the most senior people in the company and preparing several presentations on my skillset and changes in HR practices that I could implement and improve. Throughout the process, the hiring manager stressed how pivitol employee wellbeing is to their business and how it builds the foundation of their culture. Amazing; who wouldn’t want to work for a company who puts their employees first? Unfortunately, it seemed that they didn’t extend this same courtesy to potential new employees. After investing hours in preparation (and the fact that they were aware that I am going through a stressful and time-consuming redundancy process) it took the company over three weeks to get back to me following the fourth and final interview. And this was only after I’d tried calling and emailing several times, requesting an update. They then said that they had changed their mind on the role and decided to amend the job spec to meet their new business needs; ‘but thank you for my time’.

Call me bitter, but what does that say about their company culture? The mistake they made was seeing a difference between their current employees and potential new joiners to their working family. Some companies forget that the interview process itself is a two-way street, allowing candidates to get a feel for what the vibes are as well as the employer understanding if they are suitable for the role. Don’t discount those initial gut feelings; they can often be the best guide to helping you make a decision.

I see companies with their mantras glaring on the wall in pink neon lights; how they expect all employees to live their lives. But I often ask myself two key questions:

  1. Whose words are these? – Have they come from the employees themselves or prescribed from the powers that be?
  1. How do employees truly embody these words in their everyday behaviours and work tasks?

Quick wins

It is all well and good to have a list of funky, action words but how can companies pull these off the wall and weave them into the everyday fabric of the workplace? My previous company (like many others) offered a free breakfast every morning. I know what you are thinking, that’s not exactly innovative, but what was so important about this breakfast was that everyone ate together. People didn’t grab some granola and quickly skulk over to their desks to wolf it down. We all sat around the table like a family would; as cliché as that may sound. We would chat about our weekend plans, debate the state of the world and even the occasional argument. This free breakfast enables genuine human interaction that helps to build strong bonds between colleagues and helps to blur the realm of colleague/friend. When colleagues have a genuine interest in each other, this can’t help but translate to the rest of the business function.

“Would you mind staying late to help me with that presentation tomorrow?”

“Of course I will because I actually care about you and want to help you out!”

Final thoughts

Colleagues that have a vested interest in each other have no qualms going that extra mile. They love the company that they work for. They want to see the company succeed and want to be a part of its growth and will stick around to see it happen. So… how about that free breakfast?