In recent years, company culture has become somewhat of a buzz phrase. Thanks to unconventional and progressive leaders like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, people have started to think about company culture differently. This becomes especially true as millennials saturate the workforce, because they bring with them a new set of priorities in terms of what they expect from employers.

It used to be that professionals wanted to find a company with good benefits that they could sign on, advance, and eventually retire with. But now that the need for lifelong job security has somewhat fallen by the wayside, professionals are seeking a new set of benefits from their employers. Most often, this includes things like flexible hours and time off, shared values, professional growth and leadership opportunities, and opportunities to give back. Overall, professionals today expect their employers to invest in them as individuals as well as employees within a larger organization, and that requires a company culture that fits into their lives more holistically.

Defining Company Culture

There's a tendency among business owners to think that the occasional catered lunch or surprise half day equates to a great company culture, but that's way off the mark. There are several definitions of company culture, otherwise referred to as corporate culture, but the general consensus is that it's the beliefs , behaviors, values, norms, systems, etc. of an organization that determine how a company's employees and management conduct business and work with one another. One of my favorite articles that makes sense of that definition goes on to suggest that company culture exists before employees are even a part of the organization, and that having a well-developed company culture in place is what helps businesses find employees who fit best their values.

Unfortunately, many businesses skip over the process of defining and developing their company culture, only choosing to address it once it becomes a problem. What's important to keep in mind is that a well-defined company culture serves as a shining beacon of light for employees to tether themselves to. It bridges the gap between management and employees and gives organization the positive, reinforcing assurance of values they need to rally around. If company culture is something your organization is struggling with, here are 5 easy and actionable ways you can take steps towards improvement.

1. Create a Pathway for Feedback

One of the most common perpetrators of a healthy work environment is lack of opportunity to give the employer feedback. If employees don't have a channel, pathway, or system in place to voice complaints, then they often vent to one another. This breeds a culture of pent-up dissatisfaction, which makes for a toxic workplace.

Creating a pathway for feedback can be as simple as putting a suggestion box in the break room or administering anonymous surveys. For companies with the budget for it, using a sophisticated company culture software, such as OfficeVibe or TINYPulse, is a great way to accumulate honest employee feedback in an efficient, automated manner.

2. Implement a Recognition Program

Underappreciated employees can very quickly turn into a high employee turnover rate, which, as any employer knows, is an expensive problem to have. Manager validation and recognition among peers is something professionals, especially those in their 20s and 30s, use to measure their performance and personal growth. Not having any feedback can be more problematic than negative feedback, which is why it's helpful to have a recognition program.

Recognition programs are easy to implement and extremely cost-effective for what they pay in positivity and employee satisfaction. Some companies choose to have an employee of the month board or give high performing employees a shout-out at company meetings. Others with more resources may choose to implement an inter-office recognition and rewards program, such as Bonusly.

3. Create Opportunity for Collaboration

Few people want to work for a company that doesn't give employees chances to exercise autonomy or collaborate with one another. This can be especially problematic when there are different, strictly defined departments within a company. You don't want communication between employees to only happen when they need something from one another, because by nature that's not a great relationship.

Instead, try creating opportunities for people across different departments to collaborate. Companies could opt for some kind of out-of-office team building or training, or select a few people from each department to serve on a company culture panel together. It'll help foster communication and build a community for employees to be part of.

4. Find Ways to Be Flexible

An all too common complaint from employees is a lack of flexibility in schedule and/or office rules. If you're an employer who counts the 40 hour work week down to the minute or insists everyone wear a suit through July and August, then you're probably driving off top talent. Professionals gravitate towards companies that offer workplace flexibility, because it shows employers trust and value them.

Fortunately, finding ways to be flexible can come at little to no cost to you as an employer while also having great pay-offs in terms of company culture. You could, for example, adopt more relaxed attire and hours to accommodate the summer months. Other common practices include opportunities to work remote, allowing employees to determine their own schedule, or offering extra PTO days. Employees who feel their employers recognize and understand the needs and demands of their personal life are often the hardest working.

5. Support a Cause

Sometimes the biggest thing missing in company culture is a connection to something meaningful and charitable. This is particularly true among younger professionals, who now rank having shared values with their employers as a top factor in who they choose to work for.

Creating opportunities for employees to give back alongside the company can have an uplifting and positive impact on overall company culture. Maybe it's an on-the-clock day spent volunteering somewhere as a company, or an internal fundraiser that requires collaboration across departments. Whatever your company is capable of, acts of giving are a great way to improve company culture.