Something's afoot in the American workplace. The past few months have brought stories that reveal growing dissatisfaction with the way businesses are run. The New York Time's expos of Amazon's "purposeful Darwinism" may be the most memorable, but it's just one part of the bigger picture. Everything from Obama's recent executive order about paid sick leave (reported here in the Fiscal Times) to this USA Today article on the battle over minimum wage demonstrates employees' growing desire to get more for the hours they put in.

Corporate culture can seem abstract, but its impact on your bottom line is very real. Read on to see why.

When Corporate Culture Goes Bad

Corporate culture may be an afterthought for entrepreneurs whose survival is dependent on the cold, hard facts of their business. However, every workplace has a culture--even those that have never put an ounce of thought into what it should be. Articulated or not, that culture determines what the company does, how it does it, and where the employees fit in.

Think back to a job that made you miserable. Maybe you hated it because the boss was incompetent or no one valued your input. Whatever the reason, did the pay ever make it worthwhile? Did you work hard or did you take as many mental health days as you could? How many workhours did you spend scrolling job postings?

As an employee, checked-out behavior may seem par for the course, but as an owner, you have to think about the cost to your business of an unhealthy culture and low employee morale. Consider just some of the problems poor employee morale and engagement can create:

  • High turnover rates. Gallup's State of the American Workplace study [PDF] shows that workplaces low on employee engagement have a 25 percent higher turnover rate (for high-turnover industries) and a 65 percent higher turnover rate (for low-turnover industries) than high-engagement workplaces.
  • Missed workdays.Unplanned absences cost businesses thousands, but according to Gallup's study, organizations with high levels of employee engagement have 37 percent less absenteeism.
  • Low productivity. Unhappy workers seldom go the extra mile for you or your customers. For example, a UNC study [PDF] states that organizations with highly engaged employees had an average three-year revenue growth of 20.1 percent, as compared to the average 8.9 percent.

Demanding long hours, minimizing leave, and requiring near-total commitment only exacerbate these problems. Worse, that kind of culture can open you up to litigation.

Healthy Climate = Healthy Profits

Long story short? You want your employees to care about their work, and to do that, you have to figure out what inspires them. Motivations differ from person to person, but most want their work to be challenging and meaningful. They want to work for a company that recognizes their strengths, values their contributions, and cares about their wellbeing.

Surprisingly, the efforts you take to create a healthy corporate culture are also good for your bottom line. That Gallup study also shows that high engagement translates into:

  • 48 percent fewer safety incidents.
  • 41 percent fewer quality incidents.
  • 28 percent less theft.
  • 22 percent more profitability.

I am the last person who wants to pat everyone on the head and give them a trophy just for showing up--just ask my employees--but that's not what this is. Building a strong culture is about making sure your business promotes good work without risking the company's bank account, and that's something any smart business owner should care about.