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Company culture at a crossroads: 5 ways to move in the right direction

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Is company culture at a crossroads?

Yes — the culture we cultivated before the pandemic isn’t an exact fit for the way we work now.

Most companies can’t go on as they have because employees aren’t engaged. Just a third are involved, enthusiastic and forward-focused about their work and workplace, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report.

Almost 20% of employees are actively disengaged — they’re resentful, unhappy and potentially toxic.

As for the rest, they’re stuck in a near useless limbo: They’re disengaged — unattached and disinterested, often blaming the company for not doing more to meet their professional needs.

The cost of culture at a crossroads

It adds up: Gallup estimates that low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion dollars.

So HR and other leaders need to shape a place where employees want to be — whether you have a hybrid, remote or on-site arrangements.

“What can leaders do today to potentially save the world? Gallup has found one clear answer — change the way your people are managed,” says Gallup’s CEO Jon Clifton. “Organizations have nowhere to hide. They have to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, or they will find themselves struggling to attract and keep great employees and therefore customers.”

That starts with culture.

Here are five ways to tweak or revolutionize culture in your organization.

Clear the water

To change culture, you’ll want to determine what yours is — or, perhaps more importantly, how it’s perceived.

“An organization is defined by its culture. Culture is the water employees swim in every day and if it becomes muddled, it makes it really hard for employees to perform their best and want to stay in that murky water,” says Elizabeth Lintelman, Director of Career Services at Rasmussen University.

What’s important is to separate what your company wants its culture to be — your brand, so to speak — and how employees perceive the culture. So survey employees, asking them if your company’s vision and/or culture code is aligned with what they experience. Look for specifics, too: Prompt them to give examples of where culture does and doesn’t align, and perhaps give suggestions on how to achieve alignment.

Increase rewards, recognition

People don’t feel appreciated at work — and it’s a culture killer. Unfortunately, the rise of hybrid and remote work has contributed to this weakened sense of worthiness. Managers don’t fully see the effort that goes into results, so they’re less likely to recognize and reward employees along the way to reaching goals.

“Recognition is vastly underrated by organizations,” says Lintelman. “Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you’re not seen and/or underappreciated. Organizations should incentivize workers by providing both tangible rewards and social recognition on a frequent basis.”

Many organizations have adopted online recognition tools so managers and co-workers can give shout-outs for extra efforts and great work. But, people forget or fail to use these tools. So HR might want to bolster the recognition by regularly sending reminders, quick links and tips on how to genuinely recognize others. Even better, give them a small reward budget.

“Genuine appreciation and recognition builds connections between coworkers and enhances the employee experience and creates a culture that people want to be a part of,” says Lintelman.

Help employees manage stress

About 45% of employees experience stress for the bulk of a work day, the Gallup poll found. Researchers didn’t distinguish what the stress was related to — work, life, finances, family, etc. — but they found most employees are under some level of duress.

What’s more, leaders don’t realize how stressed employees are. A Deloitte study found the C-Suite underestimated the severity of employees’ struggles with every kind of well-being — mental, physical, financial and social.

And because the reasons for stress are varied, there isn’t much you can do to alleviate it. But, you can create a better culture by giving employees tools and outlets to handle it.

“For decades businesses believed their employees’ well-being was an individual responsibility and placed the onus on the individual to seek help rather than looking at the larger systemic issues in the workplace,” says Laura Putnam, a workplace well-being expert, speaker and author of Workplace Wellness That Works. “Today, businesses need to understand that employee well-being is a collective responsibility and requires a holistic approach and support from the CEO down.”

You likely offer well-being benefits and tools to access them. But do you offer help to actually use those? Give employees regular reminders on how to access, use and maximize your stress management-related benefits. Even better, ask employees who’ve had helpful experiences using your tools to manage stress to share their successes and perhaps guide others.

Foster friendships

Employees are attracted to and stay at places where they’re cared for and cared about. Company cultures that foster friendships keep employees engaged.

Friendships are most often found and formed organically. But they thrive in an environment where friends want to be together, are focused on common goals and can help each other succeed.

“Establishing a culture of friendship within a team is critical,” Putnam says. “Teams can implement rituals, such as a moment of silence or expressions of gratitude at the start of meetings. These kinds of team care rituals can go a long way in building both friendships as well as psychological safety.”

If you start bigger initiatives — such as moments of gratitude — in larger group meetings, smaller teams will likely follow suit, helping build a culture of friendships.

Don’t overthink location

For most employees work location isn’t the engagement be-all, end-all. Gallup found employees’ involvement and enthusiasm matter more in their workplace experience than where they sit when they work. Employees generally care more about the other people, tasks, team dynamics and meaning at work than the work location.

“Leaders need to ask if poor remote work performance or poor hybrid work performance is a location problem or a management problem,” the Gallup researchers noted. “No location can fix poor management, and the office alone has no magic to create a great organizational culture.”

So you’ll want to regularly check the pulse of engagement. You might find that remaining flexible will create the most positive culture. Sometimes, employees will be engaged when they have hybrid and/or remote opportunities. And sometimes, working on-site next to friends and colleagues is the key to engagement.

“Employers need to turn their attention to their internal culture, employee development and standout benefits (not just monetary) to incentivize engagement and retention. Give employees the desire to want to return to the office, not a mandate,” says Lintelman.

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