By | Donald Sull | Charles Sull | sloanreview.mit.edu
In April 2021, nearly 4 million Americans quit their jobs — the highest monthly number ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 Employee retention is on the mind of every chief human resources officer, but culture is on the minds of the employees that companies are trying to retain. In a recent study, nearly two-thirds of employees listed corporate culture among the most important reasons they stay with their current employer — or start looking for another job.2 Another study found culture is the single best predictor of employee satisfaction, ahead of compensation and work-life balance.3
Our multiyear research into corporate culture using Glassdoor data reveals that cultures vary widely in quality in the eyes of their employees. When people create a review on Glassdoor, they rate their employer’s culture and values on a scale of 1 to 5. We analyzed the average culture score for companies in the Culture 500 — a sample of large organizations, mostly based in the United States. The typical company has an average culture rating of 3.6, but scores ranged widely — from 2.1 to 4.8 on a 5-point scale.
What distinguishes a good corporate culture from a bad one in the eyes of employees? This is a trickier question than it might appear at first glance. Most leaders agree in principle that culture matters but have widely divergent views about which elements of culture are most important. In an earlier study, we identified more than 60 distinct values that companies listed among their official “core values.”4 Most often, an organization’s official core values signal top executives’ cultural aspirations, rather than reflecting the elements of corporate culture that matter most to employees.
Which elements of corporate life shape how employees rate culture? To address this question, we analyzed the language workers used to describe their employers. When they complete a Glassdoor review, employees not only rate corporate culture on a 5-point scale, but also describe — in their own words — the pros and cons of working at their organization