Job candidates ask about it more than any other topic. Fortune magazine calls it the greatest competitive tool of America’s best employers. Analyst Josh Bersin calls it the hottest topic in business today.

I’m talking about workplace culture, and companies that ignore it pay a heavy price. At JBK, we see firsthand the impact that culture has on an organization’s ability to attract top talent. Some companies provide a collaborative, team-based environment that allows for interaction and great outcomes. Others have such intense cultures that we have to drag candidates kicking and screaming to interview for a great opportunity. I know that a client is in trouble when candidates refuse even to explore an opportunity by telling us, “I’ve heard too much about this company.”

As the baby boomers retire and the job market strengthens, workplace culture is becoming even more important. Employers can no longer to afford to treat their people with disrespect based on the mentality that, “if you don’t like it here, leave and find another job.” This holds especially true for employers seeking talent among the Millennials, who are now on the verge of becoming the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Millennials put such a high value on workplace culture that nearly 80 percent look for an employer’s people and culture fit before looking at career potential, according to CollegeFeed.

Culture starts at the top, and leaders of highly successful companies understand its importance. Google CEO Larry Page wants the company to feel like a family. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a recent Fast Company interview, credits the company’s hiring and orientation practices for Apple’s ability to maintain its culture as it grows. A study conducted by Stanford University and reported in strategy+business found that an organization’s culture tends to reflect the personality of its CEO and has a significant impact on performance.

If you’re wondering about the culture of a potential employer, take a look at the company’s leaders in addition to asking around about the company. If you are a leader and would like to improve your organization’s culture, start by asking yourself some basic questions:

How can I make my workplace more inviting and accommodating for employees?

  • How do I continue to evolve my corporate environment to attract the best and the brightest?
  • How am I currently showing respect and appreciation for my employees?
  • Do our employees know that I care about them? How?
  • Have we created a culture of camaraderie and involvement?

The answers can guide you toward the first steps in building a workplace culture that appeals to the world’s top talent.

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