How to Keep Staff Happy

It's all about fostering the right culture.

Water balloon people


Free food, flexible hours, unlimited annual leave… it sounds like the job of our dreams, but it’s a reality for Elite SEM employees. What’s more, CEO and founder Ben Kirshner believes that all employers should subscribe to ethical entrepreneurship like he does, where employees’ happiness is paramount. After all, a happy workforce is good for business.

“We see our culture correlates to high revenue growth and high profit growth,” says Kirshner, whose digital marketing agency has won a string of accolades for their corporate culture, including Ad Age’s 2015 Small Agency of the Year Award for Best Agency Culture. “We don’t have the expense of turning people over,” Kirshner explains, estimating that with an average staff turnover rate of 20-30%, a company with 100 employees would be out of pocket from anything between $400,000-$800,000 due to recruitment and retraining costs. “Not to mention the clients they lose,” he says, adding, “There’s a huge cost to not having a good culture in my opinion.”

This theory is quickly being adopted in forward-thinking companies worldwide – from Melbourne-based toy giant Moose Toys (who offers a free trip to anywhere in the world for their ‘Employee of the Year’) to smaller start-ups like New York-based BarkBox, who allow their employees to bring their dogs into the office (with unlimited toys provided) as well as unlimited holiday leave. Whether it’s a big or small company, creating a challenge to the traditional corporate culture is always possible. But with all of those perks and a slippery slope to blurred boundaries, it’s hardly surprising that some organisations miss the mark with maintaining a fair and fun corporate culture. So, how do you get the balance right?

Here, Elite SEM’s CEO gives us his tips on how to foster the right office culture from the word go:


Pick your core values and live by them

“Pick four core values that you live and breathe by and don’t waver on them, they’re the constitution of your business,” urges Kirsher, whose own company’s core values are Striving for Greatness, Attitude of Gratitude and Circle of Education and Love What You Do.

“Our core values are so paramount that in our organisation we hire by them, we fire by them, we judge and track performance by them… “ he explains.


Hire slow and fire quick

Many organisations make the mistake of hiring someone based purely on their resume, believes Kirshner, who prefers to hire based on personality first, then skill. “I can train someone to do finance, I can train someone to SEO, I can’t train someone to be nice,” he argues. “We’re very picky about who we take on. We hire very slowly and we fire very quickly. If there’s a bad apple, we address it very quickly. We don’t let it fester.”


Make your employees accountable

At Elite SEM, employees are given the freedom and flexibility to work where they like and when they like. Heck, with unlimited time off, they can even work as little as they like. This works, says Kirshner, because all employees are still held accountable for what they produce.

“As long as you’re getting your work done and you’re accountable to your team, and your manager and your clients, everything’s fine,” he explains. “My organisation is a full meritocracy. Employees get paid for the value they create.” Because of this, Elite SEM employees are self-motivated and self-managed, resulting in a very flat organisation.

“It’s not for everyone… if you want a 9-5 and a salary – go for it,” says Kirshner. “It’s a different mentality here. There are plenty of other mediocre agencies out there that you can work for. We’re not one of them.”


For more inspiration, here are several other companies that are offering the kind of perks that’s leading the business world into a forward-thinking corporate culture.

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