As someone responsible for employee well-being and recruitment, it’ll likely fall to you to promote a healthy company culture. This article will cover its importance, health signs, and how to change it.
If all the world understood the importance of a healthy employee culture, job churn and dissatisfaction would drop to nearly nothing overnight. Sadly, this isn’t the case as employee disengagement affects almost 70% of all employees according to a 2017 Gallup Poll. But why is there such a disconnect?
To answer this question, we need to start our journey by answering an important question.
What is employee culture?
Employee culture is the sum of activities and beliefs employees have towards their companies. This includes how and why employees communicate with one another, with managers, and even what is said about the company during their off-hours.
Why does it matter?
You and I both know organisational culture permeates every interaction and communication within a company. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. According to a 2016 Deloitte report, only 28% of executives said they understood the workplace culture at their own businesses.
The problem is culture is typically rooted in actions, attitudes, and social conventions. Managing the culture is either put off or left to HR as a result. What this means for you is leadership buy-in won’t be easy.
I’d start by making a business case based on three key areas a healthy employee culture positively affects an organisation: productivity, hiring & retention, and ultimately, the bottom line.
Strongest drivers of employee productivity are intrinsic
When it comes to productivity, research indicates extrinsic rewards are not the biggest motivators. Peer motivation (20%), adding to society (18%), encouragement and recognition (13%), and making a difference (10%) are all bigger motivators than money or benefits (7%).
And guess what, company culture touches on all these motivators. To build, and more importantly, maintain a high-performing team will require a culture focused on collaboration, team-work, and continuous improvement.
Employees want to work in supportive environments
Employee turnover and retention are both directly impacted by a company’s culture. Case and point, a 2012 study by Columbia University implies companies without an established culture have a turnover rate of 48.4%. This number drops to 13.9% for companies surveyed who had an established company culture.
The reason behind the jump in numbers is because job passion without acknowledgement peters out. And once it’s gone, it’s gone and the employee will soon follow by quitting.
Strong correlation between a healthy corporate culture company profits
Dissatisfied employees can be a cost on a company as they typically take more days off and are more likely to leave when under stress. What few realise is exactly how much the cost can be.
An estimate by the Engagement Institute has employee disengagement costing the U.S economy between $450 and $500 billion a year. At the organisational scale it isn’t any better. A McLean & Company study estimates one disengaged employee costs up to $3,400 per year for every $10,000 of salary.
Compare those findings to companies which focus on employee engagement. By generally trying harder and being less likely to leave, highly committed employees provide a high ROI. Profits for companies with highly committed teams grow three times faster than their competitors.
What does a healthy employee culture look like?
No two companies are the same when it comes to their cultures. Even ones with similar sizes, occupying the same niches. However, there are universal signs which indicate the health of a company’s culture.
These indicators are:
Ratio of retention and unwanted turnover
Ideally, what you want is a high level of retention and a low level of unwanted turnover. If, however, you are having trouble holding onto your star talent, then you have a problem. Constantly having to train new hires is a huge expense and unsustainable in the long-run.
Level of collaboration
What you want is a team eager to take on new projects/work, even outside their regular duties. If they are this open to collaboration, then it means they not only trust their co-workers, but in what the company does. Conversely, a team which spends its time bickering about what is and isn’t in their job purview is exactly what you don’t want.
Adaptation to changes
How well does your team handle small changes to a routine? How about wide-spanning organisational level changes? If changes at any level are constantly met with a wave of delayed deliverables, missed deadlines, and finger-pointing, then you have a serious problem.
Some delays due to process changes are inevitable. But a healthy culture creates a buffer lessening the negative results and increasing the speed of adoption.
Work performance and stress
Some industries are inherently high-stress and demanding. However, if your company has a strong culture it can redirect work pressure into something productive so performance isn’t affected. Even having a designated leave team, well-defined communication channels and mediation strategies can go a long way.
How would you say your team looks at the start of the day? What about when they are heading home/signing off?
Amount of talented people wanting to join your team
Your company culture affects more than the people currently working for you. If your culture is toxic, word will get it out and it will affect your hiring and onboarding.
Three ways to effect a positive change on employee culture
Regardless of your position, changing the culture of an entire organisation is no easy feat. Even if you got buy-in from all parties involved, it is a long-term project. You can get the ball rolling however. Here are three ways you can start pushing the employee culture at your company towards a healthier direction.
Visualise the problem
Simply saying something is a problem likely won’t get you anywhere. Even if the situation is dire, it’s easier for most people to shelf the discussion and deal with more immediate, tangible issues. This is where data comes in. You need to make a business case as to why the problem needs to be addressed ASAP. A few ways for you to collect your data are:
Surveys are great because you can easily collect a lot of data. Just make sure to be as objective as possible with your questions. Avoid any leading questions and make sure your system for survey taking is as anonymous as possible. A tool like SurveyMonkey would be a great asset with this.
Performing stress tests are a great way to find any process weaknesses in your organisation. The idea is to interview an individual or team, get their feedback on how long certain deliverables take, and then see what the tightest turnaround looks like.
This exercise reveals communication and estimation gaps in a controlled environment. The only downside is management’s help will be needed to set these up.
This is a catch-all for your hire-rate vs unwanted turnover, how quickly onboarding is done, attendance, etc. Because many positions are now remote, you will also want to look at metrics related to digital communications. Things like how often business emails are opened, seen, responded to, and by whom is all information you can use.
Investing in an email client will be helpful here as you’ll have a unified email to sort your various communications and email tracking. These features will make collecting and organising your information more manageable.
Doing interviews takes more time than surveys and subjects may not want to openly voice criticism against the company. However, they provide an opportunity to drill deeper if someone says something interesting. Even if you are sending out surveys, it’s still a good idea to add interviews to your research gathering.
Once you have the information you need, it’s time to present your findings to key stakeholders. These are usually people with power to make organisational level changes, like C-suite and/or senior members of HR.
Remember, the individuals you are presenting to are busy so you want to present a plan with as little friction to change as possible. The best way to do this is by showing data from different sources to show you’ve done your homework.
You also want to end with a formal business proposal of what the next steps should be and what they’ll involve so they can measure expected returns against possible costs.
Create a culture of investment
Another approach is aligning business interests with improvising the company’s culture.
Make it easy for employees to show empathy
Some competition between teams and team members if healthy. However, if it’s at an extreme level, no one will trust anyone. The way to prevent this is by increasing the visibility of each employee within the company.
This can involve team members talking about barriers during interdepartmental meetings to rewarding cross-collaborative project successes. The trick is instituting something so everyone understands how valuable each person’s work is to the organisation as a whole.
Launch a peer recognition program
Everyone wants their efforts to matter. And there’s no better way of achieving this than by allowing employees to nominate each other’s work for recognition.
Add visibility and objective targets when it comes to career advancement
A universal frustration is the feeling your career is going nowhere. A way to counter this is by making it clear to your workforce what they need to progress within your organisation. Doing this gives tangible goals for your more ambitious talent.
Lead through example
Time and again, research implicates bad managers for valuable talent jumping ship. By being a living example of the company values, you show others it’s possible to embody them in your day-to-day activities.
How effective this tactic is in pushing for a healthier employee culture depends on your role and seniority. But, even if you yourself don’t have much power, you’re likely to find and inspire others who want change through your actions.
Restructuring the employee culture of a company requires a lot of work, time, and effort across many departments and stakeholders. What you can do is kick-start the process. Create a comprehensive report of where the current employee culture is at.
Doing so will help in finding the gaps and the financial impact on the company. Being an advocate of greater employee engagement will open new avenues and opportunities for collaboration. And finally, leading by example shows those around you a healthy culture doesn’t have to be some far-off dream. All it takes is for people to be the change they want to see.
Remember, the actual task of improving the overall culture won’t and can’t entirely fall on your shoulders. Your responsibility is only to show everyone else another way of doing things is possible, one where everyone can benefit.
About the Author
Isaac is a Content Marketer for Mailbird. He regularly writes on topics involving business, content marketing and email technology. When he isn’t writing, Isaac can be found discussing the latest films and books online.