The 6 Elements of Great Company Culture

Claire Hastwell


The secret to attracting and holding onto the world’s best talent isn’t about the perks—it’s about relationships.

With 98% of employees saying that Cisco is a great place to work, it’s no wonder that it’s the number one company on the 2020 World’s Best Workplaces™ list. But Cisco isn’t on the list because it takes perks to new highs.

In fact, it’s not about the perks at all. The fact is that Cisco gets glowing employee engagement survey results because the company is doing a lot of things right.

For one, Cisco has developed a strong culture of service over the years. Employees around the globe get the time and resources to help their local communities.

While some might worry that the time away from the office is distracting, service programs are proving to have a positive effect on business results. Cisco stock has risen above $50—its highest point in 20 years.

CEO Chuck Robbins says the business boost is fueled by doing the right thing, because employees everywhere are fired up to work at a company they’re proud of.

Looking at an example like Cisco might seem intimidating — after all, they’re a huge company with vast resources to devote to creating a great company culture, and not all businesses have that.

Here’s the good news: fostering a positive company culture doesn’t mean you have to mimic Cisco. There are numerous things you can do to improve your company culture.

Our data shows that great workplaces focus on these six areas:

Six elements of great workplace culture

1. Community

At Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®, employees express a sense of winning together when times are good—and sticking together when times are tough.

Top features separating the Best Workplaces from other organizations include:

  • Celebrating special events
  • Sharing profits
  • Treating layoffs as a last resort

The importance of unity extends to giving back to the community, which we see at Cisco, Salesforce and many other Great Place to Work-Certified™companies. Unity and community also create conditions for better employee cooperation.

2. Fairness

Humans place a high value on fairness. Companies where employees feel like everyone is getting a fair opportunity consistently report more positive employee experiences.

Fairness is an area that the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® excel at, as our workplace study revealed. When rating equal compensation and recognition, employees score these companies 37-42 percentage points higher than the national average.

Employees at these companies also report issues with favoritism and politicking far less often. On employee surveys, these companies score 38 percentage points higher when asking their people about these experiences.

Surprisingly, fair pay isn’t the factor that most impacts employees’ overall workplace satisfaction and intent to stay. Other, less tangible aspects of the workplace, such as pride and strong leadership, play a much larger role.

Employees say that being paid fairly for their work makes them twice as likely to think their workplace is great. But when employees are proud of their work, they are 20 times more likely to say it’s a great workplace.

3. Trustworthy Management

Employees at Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® find their people managers and leaders to be more trustworthy: According to our research, 83% of employees at the 100 Best Companies said management’s actions match its words, versus 42% of employees at the average workplace.

Trustworthy, credible and personable managers have a significant positive impact on:

  • Employee retention
  • Overall workplace satisfaction
  • Employees’ willingness to recommend their company
  • Motivation to give extra effort at work.

When employees say managers are honest and ethical, they’re 5 times more likely to want to work there for a long time, and 11 times more likely to think the workplace is great.

4. Innovation

When managers create a safe environment to express ideas and make suggestions, employees are 31 times (!) more likely to think their workplace is innovative. Workplaces that have innovative cultures inspire employee loyalty, confidence and willingness to give extra.

Employees at innovative companies are 4 times more likely to say they’re proud to tell others they work there, 9 times more likely to think their company is a great place to work, and 4 times more likely to give extra to get the job done.

5. Trust

We all know this: show people that you consider them trustworthy, and they’ll generally prove you right.

Many of the 100 Best Companies trust their employees to work flexible hours and from remote places. This flexibility makes employees more dedicated and engaged because they feel trusted to meet their business goals in a way that works for their life.

Many companies today even offer unlimited paid vacation and let employees work from anywhere; strong employee relationships prevent people from abusing the policy.

6. Caring

Every company says it values employees. The 100 Best Companies don’t say it; they show it.

This year, for example, we saw exceptional support for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DHL went beyond physical safety to ease employees’ minds during the pandemic. For example, the company sent motivational messages to employees through their package scanning devices. It also offered virtual yoga classes and facilitated meditation sessions.


Get more insights from the global authority on workplace culture

We also see maternity leave practices improving, and milk shipping benefits are becoming more common.

By thoughtfully investing time and effort into these six areas, you can show your people that you care about them, improve employee experience, and put your company on a path to creating a great company culture.

Claire Hastwell