It's easy for startup founders to get wrapped up in understanding your customers, developing the perfect product and obsessing over growth. But many startup founders sometimes forget that they're actually building a company.
Most startups fail due to work culture mis-steps. It's common for startups to not get it right from the beginning and there are 5 things startup founders often don't understand about workplace culture.
Every startup has expectations for its employees, yet many fall flat. In order to get ahead, you need to understand both sides of the coin when it comes to building a great culture for your startup.
Here are five things that startups misunderstand about their employees and their culture.
Myth No.1: Startups think that "work" means being at the office all day.
In fact, work is really just one part of life — your life as a whole — and you should be treating it accordingly. If you're working from 9 to 5 every day, you're going to find it hard to get away from your desk once the clock strikes 5 and let loose. The best approach is to have flexible hours, so you can go home at the end of the day if you want to — or leave early if you need to get something done before your regular sleeping hours.
Myth No.2: Work culture is a destination, the place where you and your colleagues spend your days.
In fact, the culture is something that happens everywhere — in the conference room, in the kitchen or even on the toilet.
It's important to keep in mind what you're trying to accomplish when you choose your company culture. You want to create a work environment that supports your mission, but you also want to maintain some control over what happens at your desk. It's easy to get sucked into a situation where your employees are doing things that conflict with your goals — such as working long hours or having long meetings.
Myth No.3: Being a "cool startup" means having a pool table and free beer on tap
Startups need to shift their view of work culture from a perk for employees to the key to their success. A great work culture is more than just a pool table and free beer. Often, it starts at the top with the leadership team and their vision for the company. A great work culture fosters an environment that allows employees to live their core values and be their authentic selves.
Sure, having snacks in the kitchen is great, but it's not going to give your employees any sense of worth in their work or fulfillment in their life. It just tells them that you care about them — as long as they like chips and soda.
Positive work culture not all rainbows and unicorns. It's about giving employees room to make mistakes, learn from them and grow professionally.
Myth No.4: Thinking of work culture as your mission statement.
Often, when startups are trying to create a work culture, they think of it as developing a mission statement. They want to make sure that everyone understands their company's purpose and that its employees believe in the same goals. That's a great start, but it doesn't go far enough.
Positive work culture is more than just having everyone on the same page. It's about creating an environment where people are happy to come to work every day. Work culture affects everything from employee engagement to employee retention, and it can make or break a new startup in the long run.
Myth No.5: Thinking your culture is better than what it really is.
When you're in the middle of working at your startup, you can't see the forest for the trees. You don't know what people really think about your company or how they feel about working there. You may be very happy with your workplace, but that doesn't necessarily mean that others are.
It's easy to think you have a great culture if you spend all your time with people who love working for you. But how would employees who've left describe it?
You could ask them, of course — or you could simply provide an environment where people feel comfortable telling you what they really think. If your employees aren't willing to do that, it's probably because you haven't worked hard enough to establish a culture of trust which is a key to improve employee engagement.
Myth No.6: Thinking of work culture as a checklist
Startup leaders sometimes make the mistake of thinking they have to create a super-fun environment to keep employees happy. Fun is important but what employees really want is to be engaged in their work and feel like their contribution matters.
Having a good work culture isn't about checking off boxes; it's about making hundreds of small decisions every day that contribute to your company's identity in big ways. It may be possible to create an amazing culture with just the right mix of perks and policies — but it's much easier if you start with the right mindset of understanding your employee needs and let everything else flow naturally from there.
Bonus: Explore our wide range of team building activities that are not just super fun but help in building a great culture by fostering trust, collaboration and team bonding.
Myth No.7: Building great work culture is all about hiring cultural fit
It's hiring for cultural contributions. It's about finding people who will contribute to the culture you want to build.
Hiring for cultural fit is lazy, reductive, and exclusionary. It leads to homogeneity of thought and action, which can be a death knell for a startup that needs to be nimble enough to pivot quickly.
Building a strong culture takes time, energy, and intentionality. It's an active process, not a passive one. You need to be able to build a culture that allows for growth and adaptability. If you're not willing to adapt to new employees and new ideas, then you may as well write off your startup now.
Takeaway: Work culture is more than just perks and benefits. It's a lesson that applies to everyone, not just startups—culture is more important than you think. It's not something you can create on a whim, and it won't evolve without conscious effort. As tempting as it might be to take shortcuts in the beginning, creating and maintaining the right company culture for your startup is critical for its success. The good news? You don't have to do it all at once. Just start somewhere, and keep building from there.