“Start-up culture” is becoming a term job candidates shy away from. We’ve all heard nightmare stories from people who had no work-life balance, were expected to work beyond their job description, and did the job of four people – but were compensated with free drinks, pizza Fridays, and a pool table.

To some extent, working at a start-up can entail less structure, fewer processes and protocols than larger corporations. However, that also means more freedom to innovate and the chance to get involved in more aspects of the business. Smaller workforces may mean more work per person, but they also give you more responsibility and control over your work. For those reasons and more, working for a start-up can be extremely rewarding.

So how do so many start-ups fail at creating a positive culture, and end up with burnt-out employees? In this post, we’ll give you a few pointers and things to avoid if you’re an entrepreneur building your business from the ground up.

Why Does Workplace Culture Matter?

Work is where you spend a large proportion of your week. Enjoying it really makes a difference to your wellbeing, happiness and stress levels. Creating a positive start-up culture is thus all-important if you want to attract and retain employees.

This is even more true in a start-up environment. Working at a start-up can require even more commitment and involvement than working for a larger business. Products and services are often still in development, and a smaller budget and workforce means there might be more work to be done by fewer people. As such, it’s vital that staff feel passionate about the business, and happy to work for the company.

Setting the right tone and culture from the get-go is also incredibly important when you start hiring for your start-up. A toxic culture is hard to dismantle, and if your company has a negative reputation in the labour market, the number and calibre of candidates who apply to work there will lower.

Creating an inclusive, positive and understanding start-up culture can be the difference between success and failure for your business.

How to Foster a Positive Start-Up Culture

Now we’ve highlighted exactly why you should care about workplace culture, we’ve compiled some dos and don’ts to help you foster a positive start-up culture.

  • Don’t rely on gimmicks. Free drinks and a breakfast bar are a nice perk, but if you’re overworking employees and not listening to them, they won’t make a difference if they’re overworked and decide to leave. By all means provide these, but make sure that’s not all you’re doing.
  • Don’t only provide material perks. When you’re putting together benefits, don’t focus only on compensation, bonuses and material perks. Remember holidays, health benefits and volunteering days can make a big difference to employees.
  • Create a culture of caring. Exercise empathy, be an open ear, and encourage others to do the same. If staff feel they can open up and express themselves, they will be more open about what they need.
  • Listen to your workforce. Depending on the size of your start-up, sit down with employees or send round feedback forms to hear what they have to say. Anonymise these so everyone can comment freely. Take these insights into account when you’re considering perks, benefits and culture. Check in with employees regularly, and provide open channels of communication to receive such feedback and suggestions.
  • Be realistic about job descriptions. One of the biggest problems with start-up culture is employees sometimes work way beyond their job descriptions. While some people love the challenge, it’s easy to take it too far. When you put job descriptions together, scope them out properly and be honest with the workload they entail.
  • Hire enough people. Easier said than done when it comes to start-ups with relatively low budgets, but where possible, make sure your workforce is large enough to cope with the work. Check in with staff before potentially expanding their job descriptions, and make sure they’re comfortable with taking on extra work.
  • Create a collaborative environment. Whether that’s through team-building events, socials, training or the layout of your office, make sure your team is well-acquainted and everyone is comfortable. It can make a big difference to productivity and innovation.
  • Reward success. No matter how big or small, make sure there’s time to celebrate the wins. Have a “shout-out” system where people can thank each other, including a potential financial incentive – it makes people feel valued and reinforces loyalty to the business.

Examples of Good Workplace Culture

To cut through the horror stories, we’ve rounded up some examples of companies who are doing things right.

Did you find this post about start-up culture helpful? We’ve got more amazing resources for entrepreneurs on our blog, including an introduction to online marketing.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

Sign up to our Newsletter