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Decoding Corporate Culture

This is the first in a series of posts from Rocketrip on issues in HR management and workplace culture.

Rocketrip’s a powerful tool for reducing corporate travel costs, but our incentive-based solution can have an even greater effect on a company’s culture. When employees are motivated to be partners in cost savings, they feel an increased sense of ownership and begin to treat the company’s money like their own. Though T&E expenses are significant – coming in behind only payroll and rent for many organizations – we here at Rocketrip really do think of our product as being about more than travel management.

That’s why we try our best to understand our clients’ unique corporate cultures – an admittedly vague but undeniably important term that encompasses everything from how employees spend on the road, to how they think of their individual contributions impacting the overall organization. In other words, we’re obsessed with answering the question, “what makes a workplace work?”

The New Normal

The question has special relevance in the world of Silicon Valley. Tech firms have succeeded at creating a worker’s paradise very different from what Karl Marx imagined, one filled with on-site gyms and foosball tables, gourmet chefs and free massages. It’s a world where, in the words of The Economist, “a company’s chief resource is its employees’ brains,” and where “workers [are] fabulously paid… [and] showered with perks as well.”

On the whole, it’s hard to see this new paradigm as anything but an improvement. Beyond lavish perks and pay, modern corporate culture is premised on the idea that “work” can and should be more than a “job.”

In theory, the typical 24 hour day is evenly divided between three activities: working, sleeping, and everything else. In practice, things are more complicated. Americans work too much, sleep too little, and as evidenced by the proliferation of office nap pods, sometimes do both activities at the same time. For better or worse, we’re defined by work, but it’s not easy to define what work means. Whereas a job is something you do for money, work is something different, both more meaningful and more consuming, connected not just to financial goals, but also to a holistic sense of well being and purpose.

Sigmund Freud, like Marx, is a seminal German-speaking intellectual whose reputation has fallen as of late, but he was on to something when he observed that the recipe for happiness is simple. “Love and work, work and love,” Freud wrote. “That’s all there is.”  While it may be unrealistic to suggest that everyone should pick a career based on what they love to do, there does seem to be an increasing awareness that our working lives and personal lives are inseparable: our sense of fulfillment depends on the work we do, and the quality of the work we do depends on whether we feel fulfilled.

HR Trial and Error

If happy employees are better employees, it follows that companies should devote great care to managing their human resources. Easier said than done. Corporate culture is impossible to quantify, let alone optimize, and even the best-intentioned policies designed to increase employee well being can have unintended consequences.

Take Google’s famous 20% policy, in which employees are free to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most be most beneficial. The policy has been credited with iconic products such as Gmail, and lauded as a way to empower employees to be more creative, innovative, and engaged. Yet the 20% policy was reportedly phased out, in part because it had come to resemble a 120% policy as employees felt obligated to take on side projects in addition to their normal work.

The moral of the story isn’t that Google is a bad place to work. Whatever its failings as a comedy, The Internship succeeds unequivocally as a cinematic ode to glory of Mountain View, and even discounting the good times had by Messrs. Vaughn and Wilson, it’s not hard to find innovative HR policies at Google, including, to pick a not-entirely random example, allowing employees to keep a portion of the money they save on their business travel.

Room for Improvement

Rather, the legacy of the 20% policy shows that creating an employee-centric corporate culture is extraordinarily difficult. The above-mentioned article in The Economist cites a 2015 survey by TINYPulse that found many tech workers feel “alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated.” Of the 5,000 tech workers surveyed, only 19% said they were happy in their jobs. Even fewer, 17%, said they felt valued, and less than a third said they understood their company’s vision. The problem is hardly unique to tech firms, though it’s perhaps surprising to see such widespread employee dissatisfaction in an industry known for lavish perks and ostensibly laid-back office environments.

Over the coming weeks, Rocketrip will dig deeper into the question of what makes a great corporate culture. Not only will we highlight the best perks and best places to work, we’ll identify some best-practices for developing a corporate culture that works for your company and your employees. It’s a huge topic, of which travel is only one small part, so we’d love to get additional perspectives. Get in touch to let us know what you think, or failing that, to schedule a demo using the link below.


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