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December 19, 2019
Kate Marshall

Our top 5 picks for the healthiest, most productive work cultures

What is work culture?

Conventional wisdom about what a healthy, productive work culture looks like has shifted significantly in recent times with a greater focus on employee happiness. This isn’t only because happy employees are healthier employees, and vice versa, but also because they’re more productive. 

The idea of creating a high-pressure, cut-throat company culture to keep your company profits climbing is a mindset that leads towards extinction—and it burns out talented employees along the way.

And we know by now that burnout doesn’t make people more productive

A 2015 Social Market Foundation research study found that happy employees were 20 percent more productive than their unhappy counterparts. But these aren’t isolated findings—many more researchers are revealing similar results when they look at the correlation between happiness and productivity. 

With that well established, the real question is, what can you do to create the healthiest, most productive work culture at your business? An excellent first step is to draw inspiration from the companies that are currently hitting it out of the park.

Zappos: a shoe-in for positive work culture

While for years Google would have sat at the top of this list, significant changes to its work culture and relationship with employees have meant that it’s gotten the boot—putting Zappos in the top slot.

This online retailer puts its money where its mouth is, offering employees $2,000 to quit after the first week of training if they decided the job isn’t for them. 

They do this because having happy employees is worth that much to the company. Of course, to ensure they’re getting the right candidates onto the training floor, the company starts with a cultural fit interview, which carries half of the weight for whether or not a person is hired.

Zappos gives employees raises based on them passing skill tests and showing increased capabilities, not a person’s ability to play office politics. With a clearly established company culture, the company dedicates a portion of its budget to promote this culture, including funds for team building activities.

Zappos’ heavy reliance on an excellent cultural fit for its employees has paved the way for leadership in the realm of how to keep employees happy and productive.

Takeaways: Once you’ve established your company culture, work hard to hire and keep employees who both engage with it and support it. Also, don’t forget to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to financially supporting your company culture.

TaxJar puts money in the pot for peer-to-peer appreciation

TaxJar, an all-in-one sales tax software, is made up of an entirely remote team, which adds complexity to establishing a healthy work culture. 

Case study

Read about how TaxJar uses Zestful's Peer to Peer Program to increase meaningful employee recognition.

There are considerable benefits to certain daily work activities and team-building opportunities that exist for a brick-and-mortar business. However, all that means is that businesses who rely on a remote workforce have to be extra aware and forward-thinking when it comes to creating and implementing a positive, productive work culture.

Part of TaxJar’s solution is using Zestful’s Peer to Peer program. This allows TaxJar employees to encourage and reward each other rather than hoping management notices (or having to report positive behavior to management in the hope that they’ll take action).

Such peer-to-peer reward programs put trust and power into employees’ hands, allowing them to directly support and inspire the positive work culture at TaxJar. 

Takeaways: Peer-to-peer reward programs are a great way to empower your employees by not only giving them the chance to earn rewards but by giving them the ability to also honor inspirational coworkers.

Squarespace: keeping organization flat

Regularly voted one of the best places to work in New York City, Squarespace’s success with its company culture has a lot to do with keeping the organization flat and open. 

By minimizing the amount of management between staff and executives, the company has created a culture relying on direct lines of communication and creativity.

Of course, the company’s extensive perks and benefits also do a thing or two for employee happiness. These perks range from catered meals and relaxation spaces to guest lecturers and flexible vacations.

By combining strong perks with a work culture in which employees know their voices are being heard at the executive layer rather than tuned out, Squarespace has certainly found its stride.

Takeaways: You don’t have to spend a lot on perks and benefits packages—though that’s also important if your company can afford it. Many perks that keep employees happily engaged are relatively cheap, and most people who care about their work simply want to know that they’re being heard. As a result, make sure to open up those communication channels for any useful feedback.


Read which tools and processes we recommend for sourcing valuable employee feedback.

The HOTH: Hittem Over The Head with wellness

The HOTH, which stands for Hittem Over The Head, recognizes that employee wellness is essential to productivity. 

According to Forbes, “When an employee is healthy and feeling their best mentally and physically, they’ll feel happier in the workplace”.

So, HOTH teamed up with Zestful to implement a wellness stipend that employees actually make use of. Part of what makes the program so successful and lends itself to creating a productive work culture is that management isn’t being overbearing with what constitutes a “wellness activity”. 

It’s not like members can only use their stipend to pump iron—they could just as easily use it to check out a barre class, download a meditation app, or go rock climbing.

By recognizing that employees have different needs and desires when it comes to supporting their wellness, flexibility and support is the best policy for getting employees to engage with the program and the company culture it supports.

Takeaway: Wellness programs are a fantastic way to support employees’ health and happiness both at work and outside of it. Employees’ work world and home world do not exist independently of each other—they are intrinsically connected and impact productivity.

Happy tweets from employees at Twitter

The perk packages at Twitter are phenomenal, but it seems that it’s the overall work culture that allows the company to retain top talent that could also easily find work with Facebook, Google, Apple, or other popular tech startups offering similar perks packages.

According to Fortune, “Rooftop meetings and friendly colleagues helped to make Twitter’s employees the happiest in the country”.

What really keeps Twitter employees raving about the company is doing work they love—work that matters—with other top talent on the team.

What Twitter has managed to do is create a motivational and supportive team-oriented culture in which employees recognize that the company’s mission statement as meaningful and think positively of the company as one that acts with integrity.

Takeaway: Give your employees something meaningful to work toward. Employees are giving hundreds and thousands of hours of their lives to your business. Give them the confidence that those hours—hours they will never get back—are about more than just money.

Final thoughts on how to create a positive work culture

There are many paths toward creating one of the most healthy and productive work cultures in the market. However, you’ll want to understand the fundamentals that need to be established in order to get there if you hope to find success in your organization. 

The first step is clearly articulating and communicating what your business’s work culture is. 

Gray areas make it harder to decide if a potential hire is going to be a good fit at the company—so there should be no fuzzy lines. Additionally, unclear standards make it impossible to consistently reward employees in meaningful ways.

The best thing you can do is take inspiration from The HOTH, Twitter, Zappos, Squarespace, and Taxjar to design a company culture that will keep your employees happy and productive.

Tell us—what aspects of company work cultures have you found most empowering and engaging? Let us know on Twitter!

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

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