Workplace outsiders—they’re funny, relatable, and one of the most common comedic troupes in American television and movies. These characters are found in all sorts of films and TV shows, even ones that don’t predominantly focus on office life. 

There was an episode of Friends in which Phoebe goes to work at a telemarketing company, but her polite, kind-hearted demeanor makes it difficult for her to be a pushy salesperson. A more recent example can be found in the show American Auto, in which Jack, a character who started out working in the plant, is moved up to an office position that he isn’t technically qualified for. 

The set up for both these episodes of television, which aired twenty years apart, are very different, as are the respective characters involved. That said, they share one key similarity—at the end of the day, it was the workplace outsider that was able to make a meaningful difference. They brought new perspectives and new priorities into an otherwise stagnated work environment, and therefore were agents of positive change. The character of Jack for example, ends up thriving in his new position. He uses his skills and knowledge of what it’s like working on the ground floor of the company, to bridge the gap between low-level employees and their higher-ups. 

These are examples of hiring for culture add instead of culture fit. Many depictions of this theme in movies and television are played for laughs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned from such portrayals. 

Let’s take a look at how hiring for ‘culture add’ can be beneficial to your company, and then analyze one of the more thoughtful examples of this theme in recent media.

What’s the difference between culture fit and culture add?

On the surface, evaluating new hires on whether or not they would be a good ‘fit’ for the company may not sound like a bad thing. It makes sense that employers would want to find workers who have relevant experience, possess the required education, and who have worked in a similar office environment in the past. 

That problem is, focusing on how well an employee will fit into your pre-existing workplace culture is a sure-fire way to encourage bias. It will also ensure that the office environment remains the same—which is often not a good thing. 

According to Forbes writer David Rock, “DEI professionals are usually weary of the term [culture fit] because it implies keeping people out of your organization for vague, non-data-linked ‘He/she seems like us!’ reasons. ‘Cultural fit’ very rarely signals inclusion.” 

*I couldn’t find a good example, but I thought we could put a cartoon in with a group of workers (perhaps all men who look exactly the same) looking at a resume and one saying “But are we sure they would really fit in here?” or something… 

Culture add, on the other hand, is the idea that it is more beneficial to look for new hires who will add something to your workplace culture, rather than simply fit in with the one you’ve already established. But this isn’t just a theory—it’s a proven fact. Companies that have a more diverse workplace culture bring in more money. 

A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review wrote about a McKinsey report, which found that companies who represented the top quartile for ethnic/racial diversity amongst management were “35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.” 

Another important finding came from the investment group Credit Suisse, who conducted a global analysis of 2,400 companies. In their assessment, they found that “organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.” 

As the article from HBR goes on to say, diverse workplaces have been shown to be more innovative, more fact-focused, and generally just ‘smarter’. 

The numbers are in — and culture fit is out. 

Want to learn about ‘Culture Add’ and how to create a DEI initiative for your own company? Check out our ebook here! (link to DEI ebook). 

Culture Add As Seen In…

The Intern 

The Intern (2015)

Plot: In the 2015 Nancy Meyers film, The Intern, Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old retired man, Ben, who accepts a job as an intern at a start-up run by a young woman, played by Anne Hathaway. Ben is hired through a program that was specifically created to bring senior citizens, along with knowledge they possess from decades of work experience, into the fold of a younger, less established company. 

At first, Hathaway’s character, Jules, is wary of the project as a whole, and is convinced that her septuagenarian intern won’t be of any use for her. But over time, Ben proves that he is more than just a capable employee—he is also loyal, hardworking, and a very savvy businessman. 

Examples of Culture Add: At the beginning of the movie, Ben’s presence in the stereotypically ridiculous start-up office is simply comedic. He doesn’t know how to properly operate his computer, and his briefcase is packed with a calculator, spare glasses, and pens, as opposed to a smartphone or any other electronic devices. 

As the movie progresses, however, it becomes clear that Ben is one of the most observant people in the office. He anticipates his bosses needs, takes care of problems nobody else seems to notice, all while providing support in multiple forms to his colleagues/new friends. 

Time and time again, Ben’s wisdom of both the business world, and life in general, is proven to be the solution to what might have otherwise been a major problem. Most importantly, he helps Jules, the founder who is at risk of being sidelined by her investors because of her lack of CEO experience, navigate the unforgiving waters of running one’s own company. 

What is to be learned: The reasons that Ben is not technically a good ‘fit’ for this company are also the reasons he is the perfect addition to the workplace. 

For example… 

  • He isn’t tech savvy, but that also means he isn’t tech obsessed. Because he isn’t staring at his computer/phone all day, he is much more aware of what is going on in the office. This awareness allows him to notice that Jules’ driver is drinking on the job, and he stops her from getting in the car with him. 
  • Because of Ben’s advanced age, he isn’t using the internship as a stepping stone to get further in his career. This means he is loyal to the company, dedicated to the work, and happy to do tasks that wouldn’t necessarily look good on a future resume — like going on coffee runs or organizing a messy part of the office. 
  • Lastly, Ben is a slow-moving, detail-oriented worker—which makes him stand out in such a fast-paced environment. But it’s also the reason he catches problems with the marketing numbers that none of the younger MBAs noticed. 

To sum up — he’s the oldest person in the office, and that’s a good thing. He doesn’t fit in with everyone else, and that only serves to benefit the company, oftentimes in ways nobody could have anticipated.