Today’s employees are re-evaluating everything: the companies they work for, the bosses they report to, and even the nature of the work they do. It’s led to unprecedented quit rates and huge turnover in organizations. There are many reasons people are quitting, but a lot has to do with workplace culture. In this week’s blog, I share suggestions to improve culture in the workplace to help retain the employees you have today and attract new talent in the future.
What is workplace culture?
According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), “an organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization . . . [and] consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced . . . ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.” In other words, workplace culture encompasses the unwritten rules or norms for being an employee in a particular organization.
Why is workplace culture so important, especially right now?
There is a workplace revolution happening right before our very eyes. Employees choose positivity over toxicity, open versus closed communication, and connection versus silos. They’ve re-evaluated what’s important in life—and challenged the long-held notion that work and life should be two totally separate domains.
And, as we’re seeing with the Great Resignation—or Great Reshuffle—employees will leave their jobs if they don’t feel the culture supports their priorities.
Chief People Officer of LinkedIn, Teuila Hanson, recently wrote, “Company culture is swiftly evolving, and to keep up, organizations must innovate and think progressively. We have this singular opportunity to create the culture and circumstances that will allow each employee to do their best work and to lead their best life.”
What are some ideas for how to strengthen company culture?
While there are lots of factors that influence workplace culture, I think that focusing on these items can make a significant improvement:
Empathy, the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings, wasn’t talked about much in the workplace before. But the effects of the pandemic on our physical and mental health have made workplace empathy essential. A recent Forbes article calls empathy the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work.
Compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. In the past, companies tried not to get too involved in employees’ lives—mainly because it was seen as a legal risk—but things have changed. Now we understand that providing compassion and following up with assistance is the right way to ensure that an employee can thrive at work and at home. It’s quite a shift, but one that the successful companies of the future will embrace.
Social connectedness is a core pillar of well-being, and something we used to get by going into an office and seeing coworkers each day. Today, keeping up workplace connections is a challenge, and companies now need to build in dedicated time for that to happen. It’s not frivolous to schedule “virtual water cooler chats” or “yoga Mondays”—on the contrary, it’s essential for employees to feel they know coworkers in another dimension. The same goes for video meetings. While I know we all need a break sometimes, I’m a firm proponent of “cameras on.” I love seeing the occasional cat or child on a lap—it’s so important for us to see the human side of one another.
Companies who create a culture of well-being have greater retention, higher productivity, and better employee engagement.
- Physical wellness can be supported through healthcare benefits, condition management programs, wellness challenges, group fitness classes, and more.
- Mental health resources might include Employee Assistance Programs, access to tele-mental health, mental health days, and stress-busting meditation and mindfulness apps. It’s also critical to create a culture where openly talking about mental health is encouraged, and leaders and managers model good mental health behaviors themselves.
- Financial wellness is a third aspect of well-being that helps employees reduce financial stress through education and guidance.
In addition to diversity and inclusion, “belonging” and “authenticity” are critical components of a good organizational culture. Employees want to be seen, heard, and valued for being their authentic selves. Organizations that embrace a culture of openness and acceptance thrive. Here at WebMD Health Services, we like to say that you should be “authentically you” and feel safe bringing your whole self to work—no matter your background, experience, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Employees want to connect their work to something that feels meaningful, whether that means their personal values, the company’s mission, or something else. And they want to know which values, or set of behaviors, the organization feels are essential to exhibit and live by. This is especially important to younger generations who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Healthy corporate cultures these days must include flexibility. The pandemic has shown we can be productive outside of the office, and employees are demanding the autonomy to work remotely, at least some of the time. If they aren’t given the flexibility they need, they’ll leave for another employer who will offer it.
According to Gallup, workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment, and makes employees feel valued for their work. In addition, it boosts individual employee engagement, thereby increasing loyalty and retention.1 Both manager-to-direct-report and peer-to-peer recognition can positively impact corporate culture. There are many ways to recognize employees—from formal recognition platforms to simple handwritten notes. The important thing is to make it a regular part of the culture.
Organizations who maintain a regular cadence of communication with employees tend to have stronger cultures. Our experience with the pandemic is a great example—companies who regularly communicated and were transparent with employees built trust and loyalty versus those who kept employees in the dark and ultimately experienced high turnover. Leadership communication is particularly important for keeping employees engaged and connected to the organization’s mission.
A human approach.
Sadly, we’ve only just come to realize what it means for workplace culture and our own mental health to be thought of as human first, worker second. As we mentioned before, we’ve spent a lot of time creating silos for work and life, which means that some managers have no idea what’s going on with their employees outside of work. This is changing. Weekly check-ins or one-on-ones are becoming standard operating procedure. Forums where coworkers and direct reports connect on a deeper level—through Employee Resource Groups and other affinity organizations—are more prevalent. It will take time to break down these barriers, but treating employees as human beings will become requisite for a healthy workplace culture.
We hope this post has provided food for thought about how your organization can improve company culture as you navigate this critical inflection point in the world of work. And trust me when I say, I know it’s impossible to tackle improving an overall culture all at once. So my advice? Focus on your organization’s near-term culture goals and expand from there. If you’d like some help creating a healthy workplace culture, visit our website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.