I was thinking recently about the differences between company culture and employee engagement. How are they different? Is the distinction important for companies and managers to understand? I recall hearing the term “company culture” when I was growing up, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, “employee engagement” is a very new term. Google’s Ngram Viewer reveals that company culture has been in use about twice as long as employee engagement. For some reference, I also added “company values,” “company mission,” and “employee appreciation” to my search. It is interesting how little employee appreciation is used compared to the dramatic rise of employee engagement. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that only 31% of the US workforce is classified as engaged. 

The term, company culture, has been around since the early 1980s. While it has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity, employee engagement has quickly eclipsed its popularity in less than half the time. So, what are the differences? Is one of them more important than the other? And, is company culture as necessary today with a more geographically fractured workforce?

There are many definitions for company culture – all of them speak of a shared set of beliefs, purposes, values, standards, attitudes, and behaviors. I like to look at this as a company’s personality (although this only scratches the surface). It follows that if your personality resonates with that of your company, it’s a good fit for you. Does this mean that if your company culture resonates with you, you will automatically be an engaged employee? Not necessarily. Remember, an engaged employee commits deeply to their company, their company’s values, and their work. They enthusiastically, accurately, and efficiently complete their work and keep an eye on how they can best move their company forward. Stated another way, if your employees are either not aligned or are unaware of your company culture, they can’t be fully engaged. So, having a clearly communicated company culture and hiring people aligned with that culture is essential if you want to create an environment with high employee engagement. 

However, it’s critical to remember that company culture is not just about common beliefs or a common corporate purpose or grabbing beers after work as a team. It is so much more complex than that. Part of the complexity is that culture requires standards and some form of structure to exist over time. Without these things, your company culture is a “flavor of the month” at best. We’ve all seen this. New employees come in, management talks a big game, new people get excited, existing employees roll their eyes, there’s no structure or follow-through, and the new people realize it’s not founded on anything. Presto! That’s your culture – the flavor of the month culture. That’s not the culture of a high-performing company. Many companies miss the boat here, which is why I’m so passionate about having clear processes and procedures and communicating them clearly to all of your people in a way that’s interesting and engaging to them. Without this most fundamental of structures, you cannot have a solid company culture. It’s not possible. And, we know that, without a solid company culture, you can’t have engaged employees. It doesn’t matter how much fruit you stock the kitchen with or how great your time off policies are. If you don’t get this right, everything else you build is on an unstable foundation. As Tony Robbins says, “When would now be a good time to fix this?”