Company culture has been increasingly put under the spotlight during the last decade or so, with this exacerbated in recent times after the coronavirus pandemic placed a grip on global freedoms.

Over the course of a three-part CasinoBeats special edition roundtable, a range of topics spanning work life balances, six-hour work days, the quality of life and career progression conundrum and the ‘anti-work’ movement.

Giorgi Tsutskirdze, Chief Commercial Officer at Spribe, Alina Dandörfer, Co-Founder and Director at Apparat Gaming, Cathryn McGinty, Chief People Officer at Glitnor Group, and Nana Shneider, Human Resources Director at Betbazar, offer their insights in part one.

CasinoBeats: Particularly in the last ten years or so, one of the main things that has separated successful legacy businesses and new start-ups from more old-fashioned employers is a strong focus on ‘company culture’. What exactly does this term represent to each of you individually and why is it so important in attracting the right kind of talent?

Nana Shneider: Company culture is absolutely vital to any business. Not only does it shape the acquisition process in terms of the type of team that you’re looking to put together, but it also polishes that team as they develop and grow within your organisation. In a nutshell, you might find the perfect candidate from a professional skills point of view, but if they don’t also reflect the values that are important to your business, it’s not going to be a good fit. It’s for precisely this reason that BETBAZAR places as much emphasis on an employee’s personality as we do their professionalism. We look for candidates who have a flexible approach to work and a willingness to learn as they go. We’re all highly professional here, but we also seek to cultivate friendly relationships between our employees and I believe this is vital to cultivating a successful company culture. At the end of the day, we work in a people-focused industry - and with the looming threat of many roles being replaced by programs like ChatGPT - the ability to share a common culture is what unifies us as a team and enables us to collaborate together.

Cathryn McGinty: Company culture is that central strand of DNA that should run through every aspect of your business. It’s in the tangible things like the communications you put out and the tone of voice you use in your messaging, but also in the intangible ones you can’t quite define. It’s an overall feeling and one that we’ve worked very hard to cultivate at Glitnor. We’ve recently had a fantastic ENPS score – well into the 50s – and some of the comments we had in our employee satisfaction survey were really heartening too. If you charted it out in a word map, the term that came up most frequently would be “people” and that’s something we’re definitely focused on. We put a lot of effort into engaging with our guys and making sure there’s open communication throughout the entire organisation. We genuinely don’t have much of a hierarchy and that’s something I really like about Glitnor – a lot of companies say it, but for us it really is true. Of course, we have enabling structures in place to support our growth aspirations, but at the end of the day we’re all here to work together and do a job and it doesn’t really matter what your job title is.  We also have a really strong business heritage from our founders and I think that’s been a major part of helping us acquire top tier talent such as our new CEO.

Giorgi Tsutskirdze: At SPRIBE it’s all about our team, which continues to successfully deliver on the most exciting yet challenging projects we take on. We have fostered a highly creative environment where everyone’s ideas are heard and valued. This is hugely important to us as any idea has the potential to change the game for SPRIBE and the wider iGaming industry, as we have seen with Aviator. Our culture has been constructed in a way that appeals to ambitious, free-thinking people that thrive on creativity and always want to move forwards. For us, this means taking games in our existing portfolio to the next level or coming up with new concepts, themes, mechanics and bonuses and bringing them to market. To do this, we allow each team member to perform at their best and we combine this with cutting-edge technologies to ensure the speed and agility of our products. Ultimately, we want players to have fun when engaging with our games and for that to happen, our team needs to have fun making them. 

Alina Dandörfer: Corporate culture is the mirror of a company. It reflects the established rules, decision making processes, manners and the official/unofficial communication channels. For me, corporate culture is therefore the consequence of decisions made in the past. Changing or even revoking these can be exhausting or even impossible. Just think of the beaten paths in a park – they acquire a raison d'être beyond the official channels, but once there, they’ll be used by all and are hard to remove. The way I see it, company culture is a set of rules – both official and unofficial – that are expected to be followed the moment you join a company. However, sometimes you don't really recognise the differences from the outside and what looks like the same set of rules works quite differently in one company than in another. This makes it all the more important in the application process and beyond to have understood one's own culture and to have communicated it properly to ensure the company and candidate really fit together. For the talents, it’s crucial to discover the hidden paths and unwritten rules of a corporate culture in order to neither be dazzled by the surface nor to get lost when searching for a future job.

CB: Whether it be helping your employees maintain a healthier work-life balance or ensuring they get the most benefit from their time in the office, can you tell us some of the ways in which your respective companies aim to provide an attractive culture and what values are important to you?

NS: At BETBAZAR we recognise that employees have a life outside of work and that the developments they make in a personal sphere are often equally as important as those they make in a professional one. For this reason, we’re incredibly open to flexible working hours. If an employee finds a class or activity that can help them learn a new skill or maintain a healthier lifestyle, we fully support that and are more than happy to provide them with an extra hour or two outside of the office so that they can pursue these interests. Of course, we also run our own activities and team building events outside of the office as well. I think in any social structure - be it a family or a group of individuals working together - we’re all led by example, so I think it’s very important that these events unite everyone in the company from the CEO down and allow us to get out and enjoy activities together. Last year, we had a great training day on a yacht that was fantastic for shaping the team and letting people try different roles. Personally, that was a big inspiration for me to take on more responsibility.

CM: I think at Glitnor it’s all about what we do differently. When you listen to our founders, they talk about the different approaches they’ve taken from a product and customer perspective and this entrepreneurial spirit also translates into how we treat our employees. Communication is something that’s on our radar at all times. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re always looking at ways to improve it and ensuring that we maintain this connectivity in a global workforce is a central arc of our comms strategy. We have this agile mentality where we’re not afraid to try something and if it doesn’t work out, we hold our hands up and move on. By creating an environment where people are empowered to give things a go and there’s no fear of getting it wrong, when we do fail, we fail fast and can immediately bounce back and continue developing a successful business. That goes hand-in-hand with the spirit I mentioned earlier and I think the guys running the business come with a great pedigree in this respect. There’s a fantastic backstory that sits behind us and that forms a major part of our culture.

GT: It’s mission-critical that the SPRIBE team has a happy work-life balance. To ensure this, we hold regular team-building events, have Happy Friday each week and even run internal poker tournaments to boost team spirit and keep people motivated. As well as having fun, we believe it’s important that every team member feels valued and respected, and that they are properly supported by senior management and team leaders. It’s also important for people to grow and develop, and that’s why we offer plenty of opportunities for learning and professional development. This helps to make employees feel like they have a future with SPRIBE and that their position within the company is safe and secure. 

AD: In a competition where it’s usually about having the most beautiful office, the largest fruit basket or the best yoga offer at the workplace, I have a perhaps very German-sounding response – effectiveness and efficacy! I sincerely believe that tangible effectiveness spreads everyone's wings and that there’s no better driver than seeing one's own ideas and work take off and begin to fly; especially when they result in a finished product which then successfully reaches the customer. Our goal at Apparat is to create an environment that is determined by responsible actions, trust, shared values and appreciation. Aligning employees behind a common goal, honestly addressing problems and challenges, being transparent with one another and learning from failure - these are all essential parts of our DNA.

CB: While a good company culture can be highly appealing to prospective employees, how important is it that the process also works the other way as well? When acquiring new talent, do you also look at character, personality and how the prospective employee might fit your values?

NS: Absolutely, and this a point that I keep coming back to. At BETBAZAR, we believe it’s incredibly important to consider the personality and outlook of an individual as well as their professional skills. We invest a lot in each employee so we’re not really interested in hiring a person for a month or two, but instead look at the long term and how we can really integrate that person into the values we represent. Having said that, we do try to be flexible in our outlook. We don’t only want people who fit the current company culture, but rather those who we feel can play an active role in shaping it too - and I think this is how it should work when acquiring new talent. We value professionalism very much, but we also look at the humane side of the employee; and while both of these things can be developed, either one on its own is probably not enough to work at BETBAZAR. Of course, we help with both aspects wherever we can. After an employee goes through their probation, they’re free to seek out any one-on-one courses that they think will aid their development and that’s something that we’re more than happy to invest in if it will ultimately be of benefit to our company’s culture.

CM: It’s massively important. Even if you find someone with the perfect skill set, if their personality isn’t a good fit as well, it’s not going to work for the company or the individual. Sometimes it doesn’t work with people that are used to working in a particular way and we’ve definitely seen that in the past. We’ve hired employees who’ve come over from a big corporate company where their work is very structured and they’ve simply not known how to deal with the added flexibility that we’ve given them. I think it’s just important to always be painting an accurate picture – and at Glitnor we definitely do a good job of that. I think there’s a clearly-defined vision for how we work. People can see that we’re currently a small business that’s still in the early phase of its life, but that there’s also a real ambition and foundation there for growth that’s driven by the entrepreneurial spirt of our founders. With this in mind, we’re always on the lookout for individuals that grasp this ethos, understand how we operate and have the adaptability to fit that way of working. I think that’s the key to being successful long term.

GT: Definitely. It’s important that we onboard people who are not just talented and creative, but also fit the SPRIBE culture, are passionate about what we do and are just as dedicated to achieving our ambitious goals as the rest of the team. Some of the key qualities we look for are openness, great communication skills, high levels of motivation, reliability, stability, the ability to think critically and use intuition and, as a globally-based business, language fluency. By aligning these traits with our company culture, we ensure employees are the right fit for SPRIBE and that SPRIBE is also the right fit for them. 

AD: Of course – our German test is legendary. No sense of humour is a prerequisite for employment! But seriously, we prioritise putting together a team which, skill set aside, contains a great deal of matching characters. We therefore try to involve the team in the screening process to review the candidate from different angles. Personally, my favourite part of an interview is when the candidate brings up their queries – not only because we as a company must stand up to that test, but more importantly, a candidate’s questions show their mindset, preferred way of working and character. Whatever they bring in their backpack, it should connect to the team and enrich it; although it doesn’t hurt if they show tolerance for us Germans, because sometimes we’re admittedly quite particular! 

CB: One of the most seismic shifts for all businesses in recent years has been working from home and how this model has either been replaced or incorporated into company culture post-pandemic. How has each of your companies dealt with this issue and in what ways do you feel your approach has benefited both your businesses and the quality of life of your employees?

NS: Even beyond the pandemic, the working from home model has been a major part of how BETBAZAR operates. As one of our main offices is based in Ukraine, the current situation there means many employees are still not able to make it into work, so we’ve obviously had to be quite flexible with our approach. It sounds simple, but the main thing we’ve tried to do is treat employees like adults, not kids. At the end of the day, we’re all professionals with a job to do, so there’s never been a very serious tracking system in place for working hours and we don’t monitor that sort of thing through technology. By trusting our employees and being open-minded in this way, throughout both the pandemic and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, we’ve never stopped working. Everyone has been independently doing their job full time while managing their schedule in a way that works for them. Of course, we’ve supported employees’ efforts by providing them with everything they need to work from home - be that computers, office equipment or power banks - and this has enabled us to keep the ball rolling during a very difficult time and continue developing the company all over the globe.

CM: I think the world of work was already in a state of change even before the pandemic happened – it just moved the dial faster and pushed things forward by about ten years or so. I feel as a business, we’ve definitely embraced this change and managed to strike up a good balance. While we want to ensure that we remain connected, we recognise that we’re a global business and not everyone is going to be in the same place at the same time. It’s therefore more about the quality of the interactions that people have, rather than the frequency. In Malta, we used to be in Villa Rosa and we only had a limited number of desks, so I think we recognised we were starting to lose a bit of who we were. We want people to actually look forward to the time that they spend together – and that’s the feeling we’re trying to create with the new office we’ve invested in. We want to build a space where people can meet, collaborate, build relationships and have some fun as well; and I think when you’re purely working from home, you miss out on that. As I said, I think the key is having the right balance. When there’s a hybrid system in place and you have that flexibility, you see people wanting to come in more.  

GT: We are super flexible when it comes to whether someone works from the office or from home. By taking a hybrid approach, each employee can decide which environment works best for them and pick and choose when they work from home and when they work from the office. Generally we see employees do both, with most people coming into the office if we are holding a team-building event or social activity such as Happy Friday. For us, the most important thing is that each member of the team is in an environment that allows them to reach their full potential, so as long as they can do that while still contributing to their team and the wider business, it doesn’t matter whether they are home-base, office-based or a mix of the two. This has always been true for us, both pre and post-pandemic.

AD: Working from home was our culture before the company was out of diapers – and as a three-year-old we have just outgrown our diapers. Starting the business in the first pandemic year, the founding team met online in glorious Monday evening calls from home to lay the foundation for Apparat. Beside the external circumstances, we as founders were and are located in two different places, neither of which is a mecca for iGaming talents. We knew from the start that we’d have to search for talent worldwide and that inevitably meant having a set up that would address these challenges. The answer is freedom with respect to the place and working time in balance with employee’s current life situation. If the travel bug hits some of our employees, we support them and try to facilitate a “workation”. At the end of the day, although we always aim to achieve the stereotype of German QualityTM, it’s the result that counts, not the place where it was achieved, so we do what we can to accommodate people.

CB: In a similar vein, we’ve seen Scandinavian companies introduce a six-hour working day and other businesses offer a scheme where employees choose the number of holiday days they’d like to take. Do you think incentives like these can have a positive benefit on employees’ physical and mental health without negatively impacting productivity or does a balance need to be struck?

NS: I think it mainly comes down to a question of culture. While a shortened working week might be productive in Scandinavia, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the same system will work in other countries where there’s a different work ethic in place. Generally, the best approach a company can take is to hire people that you don’t need to control in terms of working hours in the first place. When you look at some of the bigger companies where there are a lot of junior employees, of course you have to take into account their mentoring and development - and in this case, the amount of working hours does matter and you do need to keep track. However, at BETBAZAR we’re mostly made up of middle management and senior positions, so people already know how to work efficiently and I don’t think the actual hours have much of an impact for us either way. That said, when you introduce an initiative like a shorter working week or flexible holiday days, the real benefit you get is seeing how people adapt. After all, the way we react to changes and develop with them is what makes us successful, as our minds are being broadened and we’re learning new ways to work.

CM: A few companies have tried incentives like these, but I think it’s worth noting that many have failed as well. It’s a really tough thing to manage, because what you find with the holiday days in particular is that it can actually have the opposite effect of what you intended. There’s an added pressure there and people almost feel like they shouldn’t be taking the days they’re entitled to for fear of being seen negatively in comparison to their colleagues. Essentially, I think so-called “attractive” working schemes like these often cause more problems than they solve, so we’re not looking to embrace them ourselves. Instead, we take the simple view that there’s a job to be done and we trust our employees to do it. We don’t clock in or out and we don’t rigidly monitor working hours, we just encourage the right amount of flexibility so people can find a work-life balance that suits their individual needs. I think this is massively important, because sometimes when companies try to be prescriptive about things like that, it can actually be counter-productive. For that reason, I don’t think we need to start putting any set policies in place – we just need to enable and trust people to do what they need to do.

GT: Our employees work 40 hours a week with 30 vacation days, seven extra days off and seven sick days per year – employees can take these days as and when they want or need to. We understand working longer hours can lead to employees being less productive, but at the same time, it’s expensive to implement six-hour workdays with the benefits of investing in this taking a long time to return – in most cases, it can be hard to determine if there’s ultimately a financial advantage to taking this approach. A shorter workday is attractive to employees, making it easier to attract top talent and retain existing employees, but for many positions, it’s not feasible to condense a working day in this way. For example, for those working in business development, it’s the individual that’s in demand and they are always on the go. That’s why we’ve opted for a results-based culture and not a time-based one – so long as employees are hitting their goals, it doesn’t matter when and where those goals are achieved. 

AD: The short answer is, yes, I absolutely think so – and that’s also the bridge to the long part of my answer! Studies have shown that changing to a four-day week has had positive effects on employees’ well-being as well as benefits for the company. Employees were less stressed and had reduced levels of burnout. Likewise, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both improved. Leisure, family, and work become more compatible, thereby raising the equality as it became easier to balance work with family and social commitments. For the companies, key business metrics also showed signs of positive impact i.e. company revenue stayed broadly the same. The number of staff leaving decreased, while occupational health increased, leading to less absenteeism and more plannable manpower. That said, shorter working hours create challenges for the organisational structures as well as the work culture. Therefore, work processes have to be creatively optimised and office costs can be reduced. Over the years different models for four-day weeks have emerged, and it’s ultimately on the company to decide which one fits their purposes best.

CB There are a lot of memes about the Gen Z work ethic, but joking aside to do you think we’re starting to see a shift away from the “grind” or “hustle” culture that characterised a lot of millennials and pre-millennials to an attitude where quality of life is as important as career incentives? If so, how do you cater to this while offering a clear progression path to employees?

NS: As an HRD, your goal is always to help a person have a successful career while also maintaining their health and wellbeing. When a new employee joins BETBAZAR, we always have very clear goals for them in terms of the development of their career. We’re very interested in this development and want to keep this person working with us for the long-term by investing in both their training and education. I think the biggest thing to strive for is transparency over what an individual’s career path is and what steps they have to take to achieve their goals. When you can see the path to success, it’s less stressful because you’re not simply working endlessly without a clear understanding of where you’re going and what you’re reaching for. In terms of people’s wellbeing, it’s an equally important part of our work. I always take care to ask how a person is feeling and if I see something is wrong, I’ll take the initiative and ask whether they need some extra time off. We use wonderful software at BETBAZAR where any person is able to take any number of days they need for a vacation or just to reset. Our HR policy is very clear and everything is written down about how we act in a particular situation, so people don’t need to feel stressed about asking for time off to improve their wellbeing.

CM: I think for the younger generation, it’s almost a question of working smarter, not harder. When I started work, you did your 9-5 job and waited to move up the food chain. There was this sense that you needed to serve your time before you progressed, but now I don’t think we have these limitations in place and people are judged more on their ability. As an employer, this is very important to us. We’re not looking at whether people have done a job for five years, we’re looking at who’s ready to take the next step. We mainly promote from within and when we don’t, the first things we look for are ability and character – and you can see that in our new CEO, who’s only 37. It’s a question of recognising it’s not about age, but about whether people are talented and ambitious. Of course, we’ve got a multi-generational workforce here and the managers understand that. What works for an 18-year-old is not necessarily going to work for a 65-year-old, so you’ve got to make sure you find an individual approach that caters for each generation. However, irrespective of age, we recognise that everyone has two sides to their life and what goes on externally is just as important as what goes on internally. We like to celebrate the successes that people have outside of their job and we use internal social media and our Better Together channel as a means for employees to share what they’re doing. 

GT: I’d say that the possibility of becoming their best selves is a priority for those in the Generation Z demographic – and so too is flexibility and remote working. SPRIBE, with its creative work environment and hybrid working philosophy, offers a company culture that appeals to this group of people. Those that work at SPRIBE are excited to be a part of the company behind the number one crash game in the world and an organisation that continues to push boundaries and fundamentally change the industry. 

AD: Honestly, I think we should say thank you to Gen Z. By questioning the customary pattern of the economic system, the new generation rebels against the old. And they do us all a favour as they serve as a catalyst for innovation and modernisation. Interestingly, however, a study performed in Germany has shown that the supposed differences in values among “baby boomers” and Gen Z that are often highlighted in the media are only moderate. The three most important values (family, health and freedom) and virtues (honesty, reliability, helpfulness) are the same across generations. On that basis, we as employer must treat everyone as individuals rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

CB: I think it’s worth mentioning that one of the fastest growing subreddits in recent years has been the “antiwork” movement – essentially a large community of disillusioned employees who have grown tired of not having much of a life outside of work due to rigid hours and the rising cost of living. In what ways can having a good company culture help to re-engage this type of individual?

NS: I think a good company culture is helpful for this type of person as it can show them that even when they’re in the office, not everything has to be about work. We have a very diverse workforce at BETBAZAR with a wide range of life experiences. There are people in the team who are into cinematography or have tried their hands in other fields like yachting or bartending. People go to the theatre or to the cinema and then discuss these experiences with their peers – this is what we talk about when we’re on break, not just work. By sharing our experiences, we can aid each other’s personal development in a way that has nothing to do with our professional lives, and I think it’s important that people who are disengaged with office life see this as it can influence them in a positive way. For us this is another important aspect of the company culture, because the people who are interested in various spheres of life are often the ones who are the most successful professionally too. These are the type of people who can have a conversation with anyone about any topic - regardless of their culture and background - and I think this mentality is particularly present in our sales team, who are able to draw on their life experiences to support any kind of conversation.

CM: While I believe that many of the people expressing this kind of sentiment online have had bad experiences and the employers who’ve exploited them should be named and shamed, unfortunately movements like these tend to see a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon and that leads to an oversimplification of the problem. Maybe 50 years ago people were quite restricted in terms of what they could do and felt they were chained to their jobs, but these days there are plenty of opportunities out there for people, no matter where in life they’re starting from. There are now enough good employers around that people always have a choice, so as long as they have a clear idea of what they want to do, they can find a place where their efforts will be appreciated. Of course, an attractive culture can be a big part of helping a previously disillusioned employee feel welcomed and valued again, but I think you have to look at each case individually rather than simply saying “all work sucks”!

GT: This growing “antiwork” sentiment is precisely the reason why we aim to offer such a good work-life balance at SPRIBE. We also pay our employees higher than the market average, which is just one of the many ways that we show them that we value their contribution to the business and that we want them to be financially secure. SPRIBERs – as we like to call them – are top performers and are motivated by the opportunity to work for an organisation that sets the standard for all others to follow – we believe anything is possible, and this is highly effective at keeping all our team members engaged.

AD: I think this movement seems to have similar perspectives on work to Gen Z. That is to say, seeking to question and critique the role of work in our lives, advocating a shift toward meaningful, voluntary work rather than working tirelessly for the benefit of their employers. While I support voluntary social commitment, it’s the unromantic but equally undeniable truth that the purpose of a business is to make a profit – or at least not a loss. While everything must be subordinated to this, I think having a good company culture can help to re-engage those who are disillusioned. Seeing company culture as a product of official and unofficial processes, communication patterns and social manners to convince this type of individual that companies must open their doors and let them experience what it would mean to join and let them see the real working environment rather than slogans on the wall. Therefore, companies must cater to this goal by allowing profound insights and involving a diverse mix of employees during the application process, as well as being themselves. That’s what we do at Apparat!

CB: In terms of consistently developing and refining the culture of your respective companies, how much of this is decided at a higher level and how much input do regular employees have in shaping the environment they work in? Do you have a specific liaison for all things company culture-related and if so, how do they go about canvassing opinions and incorporating necessary changes?

NS: There’s a saying in many countries – and I think you have it in English too – that the fish starts to rot from the head down, so I think it’s very important that top management are the ones shaping the company culture and setting the standards for all other employees. Any questions or issues that we face in relation to company culture are discussed in a circle of top management and I think that’s important, because whatever is decided higher up tends to filter down through all levels of the business. We have to respect the people we work with and a big part of this is listening to their opinions and working  through situations to make improvements and solve problems together. This is how we become successful as a company and also how we become successful as professionals. By having people with a broad mindset who respect each other’s borders and are interested in investing in the development of the team, we can really create a positive working environment for everyone.

CM: I think in order for it to be a real company culture, it’s got to be in the DNA that runs through the entire business. That means it needs to be demonstrated in the actions of the board, the interactions in the office, the physical and social environment – literally every touchpoint of the employee lifecycle. It’s absolutely pointless for any board to write out a list saying “this is our culture and these are our values” if they don’t live it themselves, so we expect this influence to start from the top and filter down through every level of our business. Of course, culture evolves as people join or leave the company, but I think as long as we remain clear on our identity, our employer brand, our value proposition and what’s important to us, people will continue to buy into it and really believe in the strength of this inside-to-out approach. I think we already see this with the people we have internally – it’s an authentic culture and it gives us a real alignment across every single aspect of our business.

GT: The company culture is usually developed at the senior management level, but it’s important for all employees to have input in shaping the environment in which they work. Improving the company culture takes time and achieving long-term, sustainable change requires commitment from the very top down – which is something we have at SPRIBE. Our leaders set an example when it comes to communication, accountability and transparency. They strive to improve our culture and are ready to support and invest in initiatives that are important to the wider team. While the senior team puts the framework in place, the entire organisation contributes to the culture that sits within that framework.