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Work Hard, Play Hard: A Good Company Culture Is Essential for Growth

A good company culture is key in creating happiness, increasing productivity, and making people want to come to work every day.

Articles by Ryan Lehrkinder

By Ryan Lehrkinder
Talent Acquisition Intern, Betterment  |  Published: August 17, 2015

‘Work hard, play hard’ doesn’t have to be a myth.

Engaging in activities outside of work is essential for building a team of hard-working people who want to make a company succeed.

Employees, including interns, are most productive and do their best work when they’re given the autonomy to do their jobs.

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From my very first interview to work at Betterment, I could feel just how much the employees mattered. It wasn’t a concept that was necessarily foreign to me, but it wasn’t what I had grown to believe was the norm.

I started interning with Team Happiness, which is responsible for HR and company culture, in June. Until then, I had always believed that working hard at a job meant staying late, eating lunch at my desk, and responding to emails immediately. The reality, though, is that running employees into the ground with little reward and no leisure is a sure way to make them miserable and, as a result, unproductive. A good company culture is key; it’s key in creating happiness, increasing productivity, and making people want to come to work every day.

Work Hard, Play Hard

This summer, I learned that ‘work hard, play hard’ isn’t a myth. Not only is it a reality here, but engaging in activities outside of work is essential for building a team of hard-working people who want to be working and who want to make a company succeed.  

To welcome interns to the company, Team Happiness organized intern events. We visited (and hacked) the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We hosted a game night and invited interns from other startups to play Settlers of Catan. We ‘Escaped the Room’ as a team. We played laser tag.

These off-site opportunities weren’t merely ways for us to leave early or get out of working; they allowed each of us to get to know each other and our mentors. Building these types of relationships and trust outside of the office helps us work better together.

In addition to organizing intern events, Betterment places people into what we call ‘bands,’ which are groups of employees of all different levels across all departments. Bands get together on a monthly basis for lunch, happy hour, or any other activity they would like. The idea is that, as we grow, everyone will always have a small team of people they can turn to for mentorship and activities, which helps increase inclusiveness and communication.

Autonomy Drives Productivity

At Betterment, there is no such thing as busy work, even for interns. Managers don’t arbitrarily assign monotonous tasks to their reports. Instead, mentors work with interns to create a plan for the summer so that their tasks align with expectations. My work felt impactful.

Over the summer, I built from scratch the Betterment Yearbook. It’s a compilation of data about our current employees, such as where they attended college and graduate school, as well as where they worked prior to joining Betterment.

I presented it to the company—all 108 employees. Sharing my work was meaningful because I was able to see how it was actually useful for the business (the Betterment hiring team is already using it to map out a campus recruiting plan). I also valued being able to improve my public speaking skills and I was happy that Betterment gave me the freedom to present.

I’ve spoken with many of the other summer interns who share my sentiment.

“The Betterment intern program offers really unique opportunities to hone and develop skills that will be useful at every stage of your career,” Julia Bindler, a front-end engineer intern, recently told me. “Presenting in front of the whole company, for example, was an intimidating but extremely valuable learning experience. It’s something that I’ll now feel more confident doing in the future.”

This article is part of a three-piece series. See the full series here.

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