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So You Want to Improve Your Company Culture? Look at Your Benefits. Your business's DNA matters to employees and customers.

By Kara Hoogensen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The small business owners I know spend a lot of time and energy figuring out how they're different from their competitors — better products, more dependable service, positive customer reviews, to name just a few.

Those external differentiators are important. But internal differentiators — your business's culture — matter just as much.

Culture exists whether you've been intentional about creating it or not. Think of it like your business's DNA. Implicitly, it's the sum of the thousands of daily interactions your employees have with each other and people outside your walls. Explicitly, it's your core values — what you stand for and what you expect.

Some small business owners find it difficult to define or support their culture. And some might say their company's culture is one thing, but employees find it's very different. That matters, especially to an ever-younger workforce: Seventy-seven percent of applicants consider culture before applying, and millennials care about culture more than they do about salary, according to a Glassdoor survey. In turn, the results of a Flexjobs survey reveal that a toxic culture leads to higher rates of quitting.

For your business to thrive and mature, its culture is worth your attention. One of the simplest things that can reinforce (or contradict) your culture is your benefits program. Does it support that DNA or work against it? You can find out and adjust so that your benefits solidify your culture and current and potential employees take notice. Here's how.

Find out what your employees think your culture is

Surveys, town halls, small-team meetings: Start by figuring out what the people who live your business's culture say about it. Conversation starters help, such as, "What are three words that come to mind when you think about what it's like to work here?" Use whatever means is best for you to gather candid, thoughtful insights.

Be open to feedback and change

It can be hard to hear critical feedback, particularly when it comes to your business. But common themes can help you better identify any disconnects and chart a path forward. For example, if you say that your culture supports working families but there's little flexibility in your time-off program, you'll probably hear about it.

Raise awareness, if it's missing

Let's say that you hear that your employees feel your culture doesn't support them when they're stressed out. But let's also assume that you offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) as part of your benefits package. The disconnect, then, isn't that you're not using benefits to support what you stand for, it's that you need to improve awareness of what you already have. For that, there are easy solutions — a regular benefits newsletter, for example.

Align implicit and explicit elements of your culture

Your culture is not only what you say, but also what you do. Never underestimate the power of being a model for the goals you want to achieve. You can have a list of explicit elements of your culture, but if those don't align with all the implicit pieces of the puzzle, the implicit will win out over time, and your business will suffer. If your purpose statement or mission hasn't been updated in a while, now's the time to put the people hours toward the task. If your policies and procedures could use an overhaul, the feedback you've received can help. The lessons you learn, time you spend leading, and example you set all work together.

Your company culture and benefits aren't static. And although you might not be able to do a benefits overhaul immediately to reinforce your culture, you can have a one-year plan — and a five-year plan, too. Consistently check in with employees to gauge what's working (and what's not). Acknowledge where you want to be, and resolve to check in periodically to see how you, the business, and your workforce has changed. It's a journey worth taking.

Learn from other businesses like yours at

This article is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation.

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Company®. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., member SIPC and/or independent broker/dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392. ©2022 Principal Financial Services, Inc.


Kara Hoogensen

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Senior vice president and head of Workplace Benefits for Principal®

Kara Hoogensen is a senior vice president and head of Workplace Benefits for Benefits and Protection with Principal Financial Group®. She is responsible for group benefits, as well as the strategy and innovation function and claims operations within Benefits and Protection.


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