Building a Positive Workplace Culture: Best Practices for Success

The games industry is not famous for its company culture. The issues of crunch, diversity and equality raise their heads all too often, with whistleblowers, media threads and social media all telling almost identical stories about poor working practices, toxic office environments and awful examples of ‘management’.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Surely working in videogames can – and should – be fun? We asked Purpose HR, the Edinburgh-based HR specialist, which works with companies across the tech, engineering and life sciences sectors how games companies should approach building a company culture which works:

Scotland has a pioneering and award-winning games industry, as home to the fourth largest games cluster in the UK, and is continuing to attract inward investment and create jobs. This can be credited to a growing critical mass of experienced games developers; and the benefits of renowned universities preparing skilled graduates for the industry, including TIGA accredited Abertay University in Dundee.

Whilst the games industry may have historically faced criticism for an alleged ‘crunch culture’ of long working hours, demanding deadlines and employee burn-out in a competitive landscape, things are changing for the better.

Newer generations of workers bring different attitudes with them, with mental health and wellbeing top of mind today, and they’ve come to expect workplaces that treat them not as just resources, but as humans. Forward thinking employers are recognising the increasing competition in the market for top talent and the benefits of investing in employee experience and culture to develop a differentiated employer value proposition to attract, develop and retain their teams.

So how can games companies build a culture that attracts talented people, offers them a place to grow and flourish and looks after them well?

First and foremost, the industry must recognise people as being its most important asset. Investing in strong HR practices plays a fundamental part in a business’s ability to engender a high-performance culture where both business and individual goals can be achieved.

Purpose HR are proud to be working with several companies in this sector who are doing things differently and who can inspire others to do so too.

I believe the groundwork for a positive culture starts with building a workplace community that thrives on providing accountability, open communication and meaningful compensation. By simply allowing staff ownership of their work and being considerate of their feedback, they can feel genuinely happy and empowered at work. Investing in HR makes sense to us even as such a young company. We have the support we need to manage our staff and support their long-term growth. This provides the structure to ensure that our quality of life is maintained and is the backbone for a happy, creative company.

Jade Law, CEO/Art Director, Wardog Collective (part of Tank Studios)

Getting the basics right from the start is key. That’s why we spend time helping organisations understand and evolve their business culture. It’s important to identify the behaviours, people and processes that are encouraging or inhibiting organisational innovation and to integrate positive practices into your everyday operations.

Based on our experience supporting technology-led businesses with the people and organisational challenges of growth, we have put together some best practices.

User-friendly contracts, policies & processes

Working with tech startups, we frequently identify a lack of clear and consistent HR policies and processes as a source of concern or insecurity.

Providing clarity of expectations for employees is key for any successful business. Outline these in clear and concise employment contracts, policies and a detailed employee handbook. These should reflect your organisational culture and are key for assimilating new hires into the culture, goals and expectations of the organisation.

Sharing and communicating this information with your employees at as early a stage as possible is essential to avoid confusion and to head off any potential issues. By taking the time to do this, you can ensure your employees understand what is expected of them and their rights and obligations from the outset.
Protecting your business, meeting your legal obligations and having a clear understanding of your responsibilities as an employer is key.

Purpose HR. Building A Positive Workplace Culture. Rainbow and cookie.

Employee-centric leadership

When leaders foster a culture where employees feel truly valued, involved in decisions and supported to achieve their full potential, employees give more of their ideas and effort to the business. This translates into higher productivity, better customer service and stronger financial results.
People-centric organisations outperform their competitors because they care about their employees, are proactive about their employees’ growth and development, take their ideas seriously and fully utilise their strengths.

Placing a high value on employees creates a culture where team members feel excited about their work and energised to contribute their best.

Great leadership is about providing a strong support system for your team, fostering positive relationships, supporting employee growth, providing challenges, and balancing employee and company needs.

Value innovation and allow failure

Creativity involves trial and error, and it’s vital for employees to feel like it’s okay to take risks in their creative work.

If you punish employees for failing after risk taking, they won’t feel safe enough to let their creativity take the reins in their work when another new opportunity arises. Instead, you’ll have employees that live in a culture of fear and feel stifled in their creative duties.

It is so important to value innovation and foster a positive approach to new ideas and creation while accepting risk. So how can leaders do this?

Lead by example and share stories about past failures, ensuring your team understands the importance of trying new solutions at the risk of getting things wrong sometimes. Follow-up on failures and discuss as a team how you will manage things in future. Foster a culture of transparency and encourage people to talk about their failures and how they found their way out. This enforces the feeling of being safe to try and fail.

Failure should be encouraged and accepted, and any negative emotions associated with failure should be avoided. Even a bad word from a manager can discourage further innovation. Of course, managers and teams should have contingency plans for failure, but also having an honest and open, blame-free culture helps to build this.

Prioritise mental health & wellbeing

Genuinely caring about employees and having positive mental health at the heart of your people management strategy is essential for a happy workforce, increased productivity and sustained growth.
Consider if your business culture actively supports positive wellbeing: do you have a wellbeing officer? Are members of your team trained in mental health first aid? Have managers had training on how to support any team members who are struggling and do they know what signs to pick up on?  Providing training for managers, as well as putting in place active structures to support wellbeing, can have a huge impact on productivity and team efficiency.   

Implement a Mental Health Policy to give employees and management a framework to encourage proper treatment and remove any stigma surrounding mental health.

Importantly, management should role model the behaviours that lead to a healthy working culture. Founders can also lead from the front and talk openly about these issues. Most importantly, look after and prioritise your own mental wellbeing. Take care of yourself remembering that you are a key asset to your business and so need to focus on and invest in your own self-care in order to be productive and successful.

Encourage a culture of openness where people don’t bottle things up and can speak about any problems, concerns or worries.

Time for change. Purpose HR - Building A Positive Workplace Culture

Ensure diversity in your hiring practices

A diverse team brings a unique set of opinions and perspectives to your company. In fact, companies with diverse workforces typically outperform their competitors and have higher employee engagement.

The games industry is falling behind when it comes to diversity in the workforce. To continue to grow and innovate, it is hugely important that games companies diversify their teams. The #Raisethegame pledge is helping to address this with the aim of improving diversity, equality and inclusivity across the UK gaming industry.

To recruit as fairly and widely as possible write your job adverts carefully using language which attracts more diverse candidates. Ensure your workplace policies are more appealing to diverse candidates, for example by offering flexible work options. Consider using personality assessments in your recruitment process to measure criteria such as personality traits, motivations and skills. Look at using a wide selection of websites and online job boards to advertise vacancies to a more diverse pool of candidates.

Creative Dundee Collaborative Commissions

Deliver praise & recognition

Ensure your team is recognised for their hard work. A fair pay structure is, of course, a given but renumeration is not the key to ensuring workplace happiness.

Benefits that improve quality of life, work-life balance and demonstrate that your company cares about employees, such as flexible working, health and wellness programs, child care, and generous holiday allowance, go much further.

Should any overtime be necessary to meet pressing deadlines, this should be recorded and compensated for through pay or TOIL (Time Off In Lieu).

Recognise great work and share successes and achievements. There are high expectations of team members in the games industry and this needs to be balanced back with appreciation and flexibility on both sides.

Build trust through open communication

Trusting your employees and giving them responsibility shows that you’re confident in their abilities. Trust means micromanaging less, but also creating accountability to ensure things are getting done.

Keep staff up to date and in the know where you can about how the business is doing. It will increase their trust in you and keep their loyalty to the business.

Invest in training and development

Learning and growth opportunities are vital for today’s workforce.

Remember that your staff are your greatest asset when they perform at their optimum, but they are your greatest cost if they don’t have the skills, knowledge or confidence to do what you need them to.

Consider creating a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for each employee. This provides clear direction on how to increase their skills and advance their careers in line with the company goals.

Investing in training and development not only helps you make your workforce more effective and knowledgeable, but also improves employee satisfaction and loyalty, in turn reducing staff turnover.

Creative Business Skills

Final words

It’s time for games companies to take positive action and address the culture problems so historically prevalent in the sector.

Culture can’t change overnight – it takes time and effort to turn new behaviours into positive habits. Start with the right foundations: invest in strong HR practice, set your cultural values and make sure your team understand them and are aligned with them.

Building a people-centric, inclusive, diverse and supportive culture that recognises and addresses the industry challenges, attracts talented people and makes them want to stay with you is crucial for the sustained growth and success of your business.

Purpose HR are passionate about creating and supporting diverse and inclusive workplace cultures for our clients. We understand the challenges of fast growing, technology-led businesses and our team provide a full range of operational and strategic HR support, tailored to your specific business size, headcount and needs. More information about our bespoke HR solutions, client base and skilled team can be found on our website.

If you would like to discuss how we could support your business, please contact us at info@purposehr.co.uk

Our thanks to Linda Stein, Lisa Thomson and the Purpose HR team for such a great piece – SGN.

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