The words "Be Conscious" spelled out next to a dead tree branch
PHOTO: Vie Studio on Pexels

Startup company Bolt made headlines last September when it announced an experimental switch to a four-day work week in a bid to increase employee well-being and productivity. As part of the announcement, the San Francisco-based company introduced, a hub that highlights company efforts to improve employee experience and internal culture — something it calls "conscious culture."

Bolt made the four-day work week experiment permanent in January, news that was overshadowed after founder Ryan Breslow unleashed a Twitter attack on Silicon Valley's establishment and subsequently stepped down as CEO. Depending on individual perspective, that news either undercut or spotlighted Bolt's efforts to build a different kind of company culture.

While it's generally accepted that a healthy workplace culture can make employees happier and more engaged in their roles, Bolt's concept of a conscious company isn't as widespread. So what is a conscious company, and what is the impact of fostering a conscious culture in the digital workplace?

What Is a Conscious Company?

A conscious company balances business execution with a recognition of its effects on humans. While some companies prioritize their bottom line over employee well-being, a conscious company's aim is to empower its workforce, across all levels of the organization.

"A conscious company stands for corporate social responsibility," said Daria Maltseva, head of product at London-based KeyUA.

Part of that social responsibility, she said, includes uplifting local communities and collaborating with other companies that have similar goals and values.

Conscious companies practice sustainability, said Joe Coletta, founder and CEO of Lisle, Ill.-based 180 Engineering. They emphasize diversity, credibility, fairness and social issues within their operations as well as with partnering organizations. Essentially, he said, conscious companies are aware of the social context of what’s happening around them and strive to identify ways to make a positive impact.

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Reasons Why Companies Embrace a Conscious Culture

Companies toying with the idea of creating a conscious culture, or their own variation of the model, should consider the ethical and business motivations for doing so. Organizations that make an effort to have a positive impact on the communities they serve tend to reap a specific set of benefits.

For one, customers frequently align themselves with companies that do good and mirror their values. As a result, conscious companies may notice an increase in brand loyalty from consumers.

“Today’s consumers are increasingly deliberate when it comes to the companies they choose to support,” Coletta said. This comes as a result of increased awareness about the role of businesses in ethics violations and global crises around the world. Consumers are increasingly likely to seek out and retain services from conscious companies — and demand accountability.

In addition to loyalty, having a conscious culture can help with:

  • Mission Alignment: Companies with a strong vision and purpose motivate employees, keep everyone driving toward the same goals, and unite internal stakeholders around such a vision.
  • Employee retention and attraction: Conscious companies exemplify positive ethics that can improve employee retention but also drive interest from new candidates who share the same values.
  • Foster closer partnerships: Conscious companies pay attention to who they do business with and demand a similar level of ethics from external stakeholders. Sharing a passion for empowering employees and communities can help forge stronger bonds between partner companies.

Related Article: Why Every Company Needs Some Good News

Considerations Before Adopting a Conscious Culture

While the benefits of a conscious culture like Bolt's can be significant, there are pitfalls to consider before promoting the idea. Among them, leaders should contemplate three aspects:

Profit Motives

When companies pivot to a conscious mindset, consumers may question the motive for the change, particularly if it isn't aligned with the product or services they offer. Any effort to publicize a conscious approach that isn't authentic is likely to fail.

“The higher costs and confusion with profit motives creates problems in the whole process,” said Maltseva.

Strategy and Planning

Building a conscious company and shifting to a conscious culture isn’t as easy as implementing a four-day workweek. It requires a great deal of strategy and planning from senior management, Coletta said. In some cases, the move to a conscious workplace can even incur additional costs.

“Using sustainable solutions and working with companies that are doing the same can result in higher production and business costs,” he said.

Increased Expectations

A publicized or communicated conscious culture also creates promises that companies will be expected to fulfill. Consumers are increasingly aware of the social issues around them, and they formulate their own ideas about how those issues should be addressed. Failure to live up to those promises can damage their reputation.

"Consumers and competitors are constantly scrutinizing your messaging and company policies and actions," said Ely Khakshouri, founder and CEO of Retrospec, a Los Angeles-based maker of bicycles and other outdoor-oriented gear. "That means if you’re outspoken, they’ll expect you to take a stance on major issues both in your industry and beyond." 

Promoting a balanced company culture can be good for all the parties involved: the company, its employees and the communities it serves. But becoming a conscious company requires a shift in focus and, oftentimes, in operations. Organizations need to have a clear understanding of how they want to contribute and have a plan for doing so.