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4 culture principles to tackle The Great Gloom

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The events of the last three years have shaken up the world of work. The cumulative effects have placed significant reconsiderations in employees’ heads – why they join and remain within a business.

The model of how, where, and when we work has changed drastically – and so have our culture principles.

Yet, many businesses remain slow in evolving their people strategies to keep up. This widening gap has resulted in global workplace phenomena: The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting that point to a rather bleak outlook.

More recently has come the introduction of The Great Gloom, following the latest figures showing that, since 2020, employee satisfaction has declined steadily, and between June 2022 to June 2023, has fallen 15x faster than over the previous two years combined. Now, employee happiness is even lower than pre-pandemic levels.

This is despite an incredibly unpredictable economy; 2023 data released from PwC demonstrates an emerging “talent exodus” with 23% of employees predicted to leave their role in the next 12 months, up 5% from 2022, due to workplace dissatisfaction.

Culture principles put to test

It seems now happiness at work is at the top of many people’s lists – and doesn’t show signs of shifting any time soon. Of course, The Great Gloom brings with it significant business risk.

Globally, Gallup estimates employee unhappiness is costing the economy upwards of $8.8 trillion. Unhappy, unproductive employees planning their exit route creates a huge expense. In an increasingly competitive market, it’s time for businesses to rethink their solution.

The overlooked puzzle piece

As we continue to emerge in our recovery from the pandemic, the changed landscape presents unique complexity that requires new approaches. Now, proactive and human-centric reassessments are needed to tackle the disengagement crisis.

Employees are seeking a deeper, more authentic connection to their organization. They want to feel they are contributing to a higher purpose beyond profits, and that this principle is shared mutually by their employer.

Our modernized working model has reshuffled previously high-ranking drivers of employee satisfaction and engagement. Of course, salary and compensation will continue in the lead for many, but now, teams also want to feel part of something – which is where the role of culture comes in.

We’re seeing it take precedence in employees’ priorities; job seekers name a company’s culture as a deciding factor for accepting a role, and 75% of Millennials prioritize culture over anything else. Culture has been shown as the catalyst for driving wider company success – employees who believe their workplace culture is positive are 3.8x more likely to be engaged.

Historically, we’ve often seen over-simplistic, tick-box approaches to instilling a strong and empowered culture. But in today’s market, we must go beyond printing the company’s mission on the office wall.

In a world where so much of the talent behind a brand is now dispersed and disconnected, culture is no longer something that needs to be seen – it’s something that needs to be felt.

However, building – and, importantly, maintaining – employee resonance with the business’ culture and purpose is a challenge many HR teams struggle to overcome. So, how can a cohesive, purpose-led culture be instilled to authentically restore this connection and tackle The Great Gloom?

Leveraging the power of values

Behind the fundamental framework of an organization’s culture are its values. Providing one source of truth, values outline key behavioral principles for employees to live in across their day-to-day roles.

Traditionally, we often see values gather dust within the company handbook or blend into the background of employees’ device desktops, when in fact they represent a crucial tool for building authentic culture around engagement and belonging.

A recent study has shown teams are 107% more engaged when their business provides clear details around the behaviors and actions required to personify core values. However, Gallup data suggests just 23% of employees actually feel able to apply their company’s values within their own role, and only 27% truly believe in these values.

So, how can businesses bridge this gap to both deliver on their brand promise and engage the people behind it? Here are four ways to put values into action.

1. Align

To begin in leveraging values as a culture catalyst, they need to first be consistently exemplified in all corners of internal processes and communications so they are effectively ‘played out’ across the business.

From company updates and team meetings to people policies, values must be repeated and reinforced to keep them front of mind for employees who will then, in turn, echo them. Inconsistency between stated values and actual operations confuses and damages perceptions of the organization’s cultural legitimacy.

2. Role model

For values to be lived in at all levels, this must originate from the top. Gaining genuine buy-in and commitment from senior leaders is essential for reinforcing their importance.

If values aren’t visible through senior role models, it’s unlikely employees will want to understand or resonate with their key principles. Whereas when they’re exemplified in actions and behaviors from the top down, teams will embrace and respect the cultural parameters of the business.

3. Contextualize

It’s important to highlight that some values will be more difficult to represent than others across individuals’ roles, which is why adding context for team managers is fundamental.

For employees to connect with each value, it must first be translated and adapted to their day-to-day (which, of course, ranges in huge diversity across the organization). This enables employees to understand their own power in personifying a core value and motivates them to take action in driving the overall business mission forward.

4. Recognize

As with most concepts, positive reinforcement is an essential driver of desired action. And underpinning value-driven behavior sets the role of recognition.

Celebrating examples of how employees embody core values – in both their role performance and wider contribution – and visibility of this, causes a ripple effect at every level. Managers can see the impact of their example, and employees are prompted to emulate the praised actions of their peers.

When individuals feel valued, they are more motivated, more productive and feel a stronger sense of purpose within their role.

Bridge the disconnect

The predicted risk of The Great Gloom is substantial. Our changed working world requires businesses to modernize their approaches to employee engagement – this needs to start with bridging the growing disconnect between businesses and their people through an effective and authentic culture.

What has historically been a backdrop in HR strategies now needs to take priority in reforming happy, human-centric workplaces that prioritize purpose. By continuing to overlook what employees now need from their organization, and the power of culture in facilitating this, businesses will only remain to face the next Great challenge.

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