Life You Love Laboratory: The Recipe to a Great Workplace Culture

Category: Build a Life You Love

The Recipe to a Great Workplace Culture


by Laura Eich



Perhaps both the buzziest and most overused words associated with the American workplace in the last decade have been “workplace culture.” Many articles have been written, just like this one, to talk about the importance of having an attractive or fun or innovative or caring or impressive workplace culture. We have all heard about the amazing perks of certain workplaces, like napping pods, ping pong tables, no more cubicles, indoor/outdoor living, funny décor, the list goes on. But what I don’t think we often consider is WHAT THE HECK IS WORKPLACE CULTURE?! What are the elements that make-up culture? And just like you need salt, fat, acid, and heat for a great food recipe, what are the recipe necessities of GREAT workplace culture?




I hail from the Midwest and there are certain words and phrases that I and many other Midwesterners use, that quickly convey our Midwestiness to strangers. The word “ope,” when you have made a mistake, is a dead giveaway. And it’s pop, not soda. Language is a startlingly forceful piece of a workplace’s culture, whether you have been intentional about developing defined language in your organization or not. Some workplaces, like Zappo’s, use language to reinforce their cultural expectations. If you listen to a Zapponian speak, you know exactly where they work, and you start to get a real feel for what they care about (people), just from the way they speak (usually excitedly) and the words they use (which are often fun and quirky).

At BIGGBY COFFEE, we take our language development seriously; so much so that we have had to create a glossary of terms as part of our employee handbook. For example, when the leadership team was defining our Purpose, we spent almost a year, hosting open meetings where anyone in the company could come work with the leadership team to decide exactly the right words to express our company Purpose. We landed on: BIGGBY COFFEE will support you in building a life you love. It didn’t take a full year to establish that phrase, but we then spent additional time defining exactly what we mean by that phrase. Language evolves, like any living thing, and while BIGGBY has welcomed plenty of new pieces of terminology into our BIGGBY glossary, our Purpose hasn’t changed due to the level of intention put behind its creation.




Admittedly, I am both deeply sentimental and obnoxiously nostalgic, so traditions are my jam. But they are also a primary element of workplace culture. I bet you have more traditions engrained in your culture than you even realize. The way you bring people on board, the staff events throughout the year, the unwritten expectations of living in your office space, systems of appreciation, passing the torch, meeting norms, how job changes are announced usually all include one or many traditions.

Traditions have the power to cement a person’s sense of belonging within an organization. If you have ever found yourself experiencing something new like attending a music festival, showing up to a community event, or tailgating at a football game and had the thought “how have I never done this before,” you just experienced a moment of discovering your belonging through a tradition. And traditions within your organization have the same power. We once had a staff meeting where we launched the meeting with a group meditation. I remember a new employee coming up to me after the fact, and their eyes were wide with wonder as they shared their utter disbelief with me. They couldn’t have imagined working at a corporate office that would offer meditation as a starting point for a company meeting. That person felt like they had found their place in this world, all from one staff meeting tradition that only lasts about 3 minutes. Traditions offer an opportunity to have shared experiences, to strengthen relationships through authentic moments and memories.




Does anybody enjoy having a strict dress code? Probably not. But do they appreciate understanding the cultural expectation of their attire? Totally. Nobody wants to be Elle Woods at her first party at Harvard.

For example, I was well informed, in preparation for my first day at BIGGBY, that dress was casual and you should feel free to come as you please. American cultural norms of professional dress overrode that instruction, so I showed up for my first day at the BIGGBY COFFEE Home Office in nice dress pants, pointy heels, and the most casual dress shirt I owned, which was still, after all, a dressy shirt. While I was thankful, because I would rather be over than under-dressed, I felt a little silly. And jealous. Their jeans, Converse sneakers, and BIGGBY t-shirts looked so much more comfortable.

On that day, I learned something about the BIGGBY Culture. While they care very much that you are a professional person in words, attitude, and behavior, they don’t care that you dress in what the world has declared to be professional attire in the day-to-day workspace. Those concepts live separately at BIGGBY COFFEE. Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of folks who choose to dress to the nines, but that is the special thing about Home Office Culture. We hope that you will come as you are, from jeans and t-shirts to suits and tie. We also have moments where a specific form of dress is expected, like when a Home Office team member works in one of our locations. They will sport a higher level of buttoned-up-ness out of respect for that store owner. Or, when we are trying to celebrate our sense of team on the one day every year, where we all wear our matching BIGGBY jerseys. You look around at the crowd, all sporting the same orange jersey, and feel that sense of belonging, that sense of team. Or at our annual awards celebration night, where gowns and suits reinforce the atmosphere of an extraordinary celebration. There are no good or bad dress expectations, there is only an understanding that people who enter your business will see attire communicating an important cultural norm.




There are two different locations for a specific quick-service restaurant concept in my town. Theoretically, I should walk into either of them and feel the same energy and atmosphere, but more often than not, I feel a big difference between the two. One location is quiet, subdued, and polite. The second, I walk in and am met with the team laughing and joking around. The employees are also moving with a sense of urgency to complete orders. Even though the quieter location is a bit closer, I choose the other location because that is the kind of environment of attitude that I prefer to interact with.

Workplaces have attitudinal environments. They are a huge, usually unwritten, or undefined piece of the culture. If someone were coming into our office and I had to boil down the attitudinal expectation of Home Office Culture, it would be that we work hard and love harder. What that means is, we expect a relentless work effort with a focus on continuous improvement. And we do that all with a high expectation for interpersonal care of your fellow human. These attitudes are written right into our Core Values of Love Unconditionally, Be Better, Have Courage, Live Consciously, and Kick-ass. The truth is that is not the right environment for everyone. I once had an employee approach me to ask “do I really have to be this friendly with everyone? Can’t I just get the work done and be left alone?” It was a reasonable question, but the truth was because we have such a strong attitudinal expectation of interpersonal care in our workplace, it is hard to exist as someone who would prefer to work in solitude and quiet. We eventually parted ways with zero hard feelings. I had absolute confidence that he was moving on to build a life he loves in a work environment that was simply a better fit for him.

To me, these are the primary elements of workplace culture. It’s not enough to simply know them, however. You have the power to affect change, where change is needed. Do your traditions build relationships and create opportunities for special moments and memories? Are your attire and language perfectly communicating your mission and purpose? Are you proud of the attitude that your customers encounter when they enter your workspace?

If you answered any of these as less than definitively yes, it’s time to go to work! Changes are much easier to make when you are clear what you are going to work on.