5 Ways to Make Your Startup Culture More Loving

March 4, 2015

8:00 pm

When we talk about startup culture, we often talk about “fun” – that’s where ping pong, happy hours, and silly mascots come in. But fun can be superficial, especially when there aren’t strong values underpinning it. What type of culture will help startup employees survive the grind?

A 2014 study hints at the answer: a culture of love. Specifically, a culture of caring, affection, compassion, and tenderness, which the researchers dubbed “companionate love.”

“Imagine a pair of coworkers collaborating side by side, each day expressing caring and affection toward one another, safeguarding each other’s feelings, showing tenderness and compassion when things don’t go well, and supporting each other in work and non-work matters,” the study explains.

They surveyed over 3,200 employees in different industries about their company culture, and found that loving cultures were linked to more job satisfaction, commitment to the organization, and accountability for work performance.

They also looked closely at one particular setting, which is far from the startup world but shares some of the high stress and strong emotions: nursing homes. Here, the more loving cultures meant less burnout, fewer unplanned absences, more teamwork, and higher work satisfaction for employees; fewer emergency room trips and higher mood, satisfaction, and quality of life for patients; and more satisfaction with the facility and willingness to recommend it for patients’ families. In short: benefits for not only employees but customers as well.

Why should we care about these results? Because it means culture has an impact on the bottom line. Burnout sometimes drives employees to quit, which is notoriously expensive. Satisfied customers spread the word, creating extremely valuable marketing with zero cost. 

If that sounds appealing, here are some ways the researchers suggested to make your culture more loving:

  • Incorporate more touch when appropriate. High fives are already a part of startup culture, but you could also try a reassuring pat on the shoulder or a celebratory hug.
  • Let team members customize their workspace. Finally, some justification for Zappos’s crazy office! Let your team liven up their desks with streamers, stuffed animals, weird photos, you name it.
Zappos office

The Zappos office

  • Decorate the office. Lots of entrepreneurs already do this, looking to distinguish their startup office from the white-and-gray, personality-less-ness of their former corporate haunt. If you want to combine fun and inspiration, posters from Startup Vitamins are a good bet!
  • Celebrate! At Tech.Co, we love to promote celebration as a motivator, morale booster, and team builder. It can be as simple as a quick dance party or as complex as a weekend retreat. Here are some ideas on how to celebrate your startup’s wins.
  • Mix business with pleasure. Encouraging your team to share their outside interests and talk about their personal struggles at work recognizes that they’re human, not just machines that turn coffee into code.

On the whole, startups are probably much more “loving” than most big corporations, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. To be effective, this culture has to run deep – not just a fun celebration or hug here and there, but strong feelings of kindness and caring for each other. Startup life is stressful, but knowing you’re all in this together in an environment of support and love can get you through it.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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