Despite economic growth and low unemployment, many U.S. workers remain unsatisfied with their jobs. A recent Gallup study measuring quality of work found that 60 percent of Americans are in "bad" or "mediocre" jobs, based on characteristics beyond pay that affect their job satisfaction, including a sense of purpose, schedule flexibility and advancement opportunities. 

Startups often lead the way in challenging the status quo of corporate culture. These small groups of tight-knit, innovative workers and iconoclastic leaders are uniquely primed to paint a workday of a different color, whether through competitive benefits or refreshing tactics for employee engagement.

As a founder or leader, you can shape culture at your company, whether starting from scratch or entering a company that could use a change. Thoughtful engagement with employees and positive examples from leadership can show your company cares about what employees value, and improve satisfaction -- and, therefore, your company's performance.

A strong company culture won't spring out of a few HR-driven happy hours, a company Halloween party or even a dog-friendly office policy. But efforts to genuinely open the lines of communication and connect employees, with each other and with company leaders, could. Take inspiration from these creative company leaders, who've found ways draw on what they and their employees care about to boost employee engagement and performance -- and, vitally, have fun at work.

Start a rock band or unique team activity.

Karry Kleeman, CRO at SaaS company LogicGate, formerly of Mobius Management Systems and Spring CM, has started an employee rock band at each company. At LogicGate, Kleeman says, the company provides rehearsal space and equipment, allows the band -- called Logic and the Goats -- to rehearse during work hours, and deploys them to perform at company functions. Around 10 of the company's 87 full-time employees participate officially, but others jump in informally, grabbing tambourines or maracas when the band performs.

Kleeman says leaders need a mindset change to engage employees more creatively. "Ditch the notion that company happy hours, and lunch and learns are great examples of strong company culture," he says. "Go deeper than that and encourage and empower employees to bring their full selves to work."

Ask employees to set the tone for company culture.

At the photo-printing company Fracture, a culture committee comprised of representatives from all departments is tasked with developing initiatives and events that reinforce the company's values. It's more than a party-planning committee. Although the committee has been responsible for events including game days and "spirit days," it also led the way to more PTO for employees.

"The main benefit of their advocacy and ultimately the success they had in adding more PTO," says Fracture's CEO and co-founder Abhi Lokesh, "comes from the sense of ownership they derive from feeling listened to and heard."

Host an "internal conference" to bring employees together.

More than 60 percent of developer platform DigitalOcean's 500-plus employees work remotely, but its management team knows the importance of bringing workers together for face time. The company hosts an annual "Shark Week," which head of brand and communications Vivek Wagle describes as "structured like an internal conference providing team time, workshops, team activities, shared meals, and an entire week of quality time together."

The event balances dedicated work time with fun, this year leaving a full day free for employees to enjoy the event's location: Disney World. Wagle cites the formation of cross-functional teams as a direct benefit from last year, because the event brings together otherwise siloed teams.

Give employees money to invest in the community.

As the team at Salesforce consulting firm MST Solutions grew to 300 in Arizona and India -- landing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies twice since its 2012 launch -- founder Thiru Thangarathinam realized he needed to build culture intentionally, says a company representative. Part of that came to mean encouraging employees to support community programs -- or develop their own.

Employees have access to a stipend to support the effort. They can work solo, but are encouraged to form teams around their cause, an opportunity to develop leadership skills.

Pair junior employees with executives to develop new initiatives.

Through a Slack channel app, mortgage startup Better connects participants among its 1,000 employees based on those they interact with least through the messaging app. This allows everyone from interns to sales executives to C-level executives to connect and collaborate.

"Our CEO and founder Vishal Garg is constantly challenging us to break the status quo," said head of PR Tanya Hayre. Maintaining its startup spirit as it's tripled in size in the last year, Hayre says Better's employees at all levels are encouraged to "find what is broken about the home-buying process, and let's figure out how to fix it."