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Employee culture disruptors: 5 companies that have changed the way we work

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We live in the age of the disruptors. There have probably never been more businesses that have entered the market and dramatically changed the way we live. Established models that had remained unchanged for decades have suddenly been turned on their heads - predominantly the result of significant developments in technology: think Uber, and the impact it’s had on the way we use taxi services; or Deliveroo, and how it has changed how we order takeaway food. The world is changing at a dramatic pace, and businesses that remain stagnant run the risk of becoming redundant.

Of course, it’s easy to spot a disruptor when they’ve launched a tangible product or service that we use on a daily basis. But disruption is also happening in less obvious places, and we have seen some significant shifts of behaviours and attitudes in employee relations – and more specifically, in employee culture.

There are now a number of businesses that are influencing a sea-change in our experience of working. Below, we take a look at some of the employee culture disruptors, and what we can learn from them.

The increased availability of flexible working has probably had the greatest impact on modern workplace culture. Initially, one of its primary gains was to enable women – who had traditionally carried the bulk of the responsibility for childcare - to more easily enter or remain in the workplace, and is now evolving to provide men with the flexibility to undertake more childcare. But whilst everyone has a legal right to request flexible working from their employers, there is no doubt that some organisations are better than others at meeting this request. One example of a firm that emphasises flexible working opportunities is mobile network operator O2, which has a track record of offering support to employees re-entering the workplace after a career break. It has recently extended paternity leave from two to 14 weeks at full pay – and the policy is open to employees regardless of whether they are heterosexual, same-sex or adoptive partners, or become pregnant via surrogacy.

O2’s flexible working policies are not just to the benefit of working parents either – last year, the firm’s Muslim colleagues were able to offer to swap shifts with those who wanted to celebrate Christmas, in return for time off at Eid.

Of course, flexible working is not automatically a positive thing – there are some reports that people working flexibly can end up working longer hours than those on fixed shifts. If you are considering introducing wider flexibility in how your staff work, it is important to make sure that any policies are to the benefit of everyone.

For young companies starting up, office space can be an intimidating or even prohibitive investment. Companies like WeWork have done an enormous amount to disrupt the way we hire office space, by offering cost effective co-working spaces with options for lone freelancers as well as larger start-ups that need the flexibility to increase their office size as they grow. WeWork has also emphasised the benefits of a shared space that functions like a community, and has been hugely influential in supporting the growing trend towards creative industries and entrepreneurialism as an alternative to more traditional employment opportunities.

Facebook has long been considered the happiest place to work in Silicon Valley. It ranked Number 1 among tech workplaces on recruitment website Glassdoor, which uses anonymous staff feedback, and those who got a job there seemed in no rush to leave. The firm created a culture of collaboration within its workforce through initiatives such as the requirement that employees find five colleagues to evaluate them as part of their performance review. This ensured that people went to the effort of making friends and alliances, and was designed to limit dissent and conflict within the firm. Perhaps inevitably, there has been something of a backlash against Facebook’s culture, with reports of pressure to hide any concerns about the company and always present a positive attitude about working there. But regardless of a potential shift in its reputation now, it’s hard to deny the influence the organisation has had on shining a spotlight on the importance of business culture rather than only the bottom line.

Anglian Water
A water and sewage company may not sound like the most glamorous place to work but the fact that Anglian Water was crowned the best place to work in Britain according to the latest league tables from recruitment website Glassdoor, suggests that it is doing something right. With over 4,500 employees, the utility company has demonstrated that you don’t need to work at a glossy tech company to experience cutting-edge employee culture. A big part of its success seems to be the passion it has engendered amongst its people in the company’s purpose and vision. Responsible for the water in the driest region in the UK, the firm has created a team that seem genuinely dedicated to optimising every drop – a challenge that the whole company works together as a team to achieve. It offers a real insight into the power of a clear vision, and the rewards of committing to achieving it and indicates the growing emphasis on the role that a company’s values and ethics plays in the success of its culture [disclaimer: Xexec has played a small part in this, having worked with Anglian Water to develop a bespoke version of one of our reward and recognition programs for their team.

Netflix is well-known for its advanced employee initiatives. As well as one year of paid leave for new mothers and fathers, it offers unlimited time off for holidays and sick days. Its approach to culture was revealed in a PowerPoint presentation that went viral in 2014 – a document that Sheryl Sandberg subsequently described as one of the most important to ever come out of Silicon Valley. Why? In part, because it highlighted Netflix’s decision to remove formal performance reviews and instead emphasise simple and honest conversations with employees on a regular basis. This trend towards a more informal approach to people management has grown ever since and, in the process, has broken down barriers between more senior people and those they manage, and opened up more productive lines of communication throughout businesses.

Employee recognition can help create a healthy company culture. Download our free e-book to find out more about how to build an effective recognition strategy.

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