Why the 5 words your employees use to describe your workplace culture matter


The 2019 ‘Webby’ awards were recently announced. The leading international honor recognizing “excellence on the internet”—including websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile content—is probably more famous for its acceptance speeches than for the award itself. By rule, winners are limited to five words or less in their addresses.

Some of the most interesting? Just look at what you can say about your organization in a 5-words-or-less acceptance speech:

  • "Houston, we have a Webby." — NASA
  • "Love is stronger than cancer." — SurvivorNet
  • "Earth isn't flat. Facts matter." — Field Museum
  • "Meow meow meow hiss meow." — Wieden+Kennedy
  • "How to win: teach." — Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
  • "Russia couldn’t hack this vote." — McClatchy News

These mini acceptance speeches certainly demonstrate the power of words and the importance of choosing them carefully and thoughtfully. It also got us thinking about its significance, when it comes to describing a company’s workplace culture and employment environment.


How would your employees describe your workplace culture in 5 words?

New call-to-actionIf you spend any time on Glassdoor, Indeed, or other company review sites, you’ll notice employees (and ex-employees too) using certain words over and over again when describing the best workplaces. It is pretty clear that individuals want to join and work best in companies, the cultures of which exhibit these attributes:

  • are Respectful, Friendly, and Fair
  • demonstrate Trust and Integrity
  • are Adaptable and Open Minded
  • empower Decision Making
  • are Transparent and embrace Change
  • value Teamwork and Communication
  • are Busy, Challenging and Result- Oriented
  • emphasize Responsibility
  • are Inclusive and Diverse
  • provide Learning Opportunities
  • are Family-Friendly and Flexible
  • offer Meaning and Purpose

On the other hand, words and phrases that are most used by employees to describe poor or dysfunctional workplace cultures include: stressful (#1), rigid, demanding, inconsistent, disengaged, micro-managing, unethical, biased, toxic, unsupportive, discriminatory, boring, poor communication, hyper-competitive, office gossip, undisciplined, poorly managed, no leadership.

How employees express themselves in rating their workplaces can provide valuable data for employers. Positive words and phrases can pinpoint the attributes that are working within your employment climate, are most meaningful to employees, and best define you as an employer of choice.

Even ‘not-so-good’ reviews of your employment culture can offer valuable insights and help you identify what is needed to change your culture for the better. They can identify with precision the areas causing employee dissatisfaction. With this knowledge, you can act to improve your employer reputation, by responding effectively and implementing changes to strengthen your overall value proposition to current workers and job candidates alike.


Want to improve company performance?

Choose these words to describe your culture.

Research shows there are six words that represent the cultural attributes people look for most in an employer. These are purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. Further, it’s been shown that employers who improve even slightly in each of these six areas realize talent-related improvements:

  • 53% are more likely to have highly-engaged employees
  • 29% are more likely to have innovative and high-performing employees
  • 22% are less likely to have experienced layoffs in the previous year
  • 25% are more likely to have teams growing in size in the previous year, instead of stagnating or decreasing

These are attributes that should be emphasized in your employee value proposition, in all employer branding efforts and in internal HR messaging. Just make sure you use your employees’ own words to express them. The way your people describe your company’s culture and work experience should form the foundation for your brand and all your internal retention efforts, as well as your external recruiting efforts.

So, the next time you happen to hear an employee talk about your organization, or see an employee’s review of your company on a website, pay attention to the words used. That type of information could provide you the best clue to improve your success in attracting and retaining the best talent.

Do you know what it takes to drive better engagement with your candidates and employees? Talk with the experts at Newton Talent and learn how we can help you build and implement the right strategy for your company. Connect with us today.



Written by Patty Silbert

President of Newton Talent since 2018, Patty Silbert has over 30 years of experience developing the innovative solutions that help HR professionals just like you meet their most pressing recruitment challenges and their companies achieve their talent acquisition goals. She is a regular writer and speaker on the subjects of recruitment strategy, employment branding, HR technology, and leadership.