In February this year, I was part of a UK business delegation visiting New York on a UKTI sponsored digital ‘mission’. Part of our work for our clients at Southerly is internal communications with a view to fostering employee engagement. We have a good handle on the importance of company culture, so I was fascinated when it became a bit of a recurring theme on the New York trip. Every hip, digital startup we visited was keen to share examples of its open company culture from their open-plan environment to the techniques they used to ensure that all employees felt their views were valued. In sharp contrast to this was a brief insight into the world of the publishing giant Condé Nast from one of its execs taking part in a panel discussion. If it was going to survive in the cutthroat world of the New York job market and attract the brightest and best, he admitted, Condé Nast had to look to its company culture. He summed up their efforts thus: “We’re moving downtown to an office with more open space and ping pong.”

Company culture affects employee engagement, which in turn can positively or adversely affect productivity depending on whether staff feel engaged or not. And when staff are engaged, good things happen for companies. Engage for Success, an organisation borne out of a government initiative from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, states that: “There is a firm correlation between employee engagement and high organisational productivity and performance, across all sectors of the economy. Analysis indicates that were the UK to move its engagement levels to the middle of the top quartile such as that for the Netherlands this would be associated with a £25.8bn increase in GDP.”

Jim Clifton Chairman and CEO of Gallup goes even further in the introduction to Gallup’s report on the state of global workplace engagement (2013): “Business leaders worldwide must raise the bar on employee engagement. Increasing workplace engagement is vital to achieving sustainable growth for companies, communities and countries – and for putting the global economy back on track to a more prosperous and peaceful future.”

Communication is key in fostering an open company culture and increasingly social media is playing a role in internal comms for large brands. Take Nokia – its Social Media Communications team was set up in 2008 with the aim of engaging employees. One of its most effective tools is its internal BlogHub where employees at all levels can post or comment in posts. It allows people across the company to see what others are working on and share ideas in a way that doesn’t limit internal communication to the traditional top-down model. Management can gather employee feedback and see what’s most important to their employees.

Not only should company schemes such as this be advertised as unique selling points for a company looking to attract and retain talent, social media itself can play a role in the recruitment process. At Southerly, it’s our strategy to share our ‘office life’ on our Facebook page, sharing pictures and videos of our volunteering work, office lunches out or stuff that we think is fun. Anyone researching us as a potential employer can find this and see what our company culture is all about – we recently hired a talented graphic designer who liked what she had seen on social and approached us for a job. Of course, if on meeting her she hadn’t been the right ‘fit’ we wouldn’t have employed her. A strong company culture will limit the amount of ‘bad hires’ you make. Qualifications, work experience and skills are all important, but if a person doesn’t embody any of your company values you could have problems further along the line.

Angela Everitt is a content marketing strategist at Southerly