Candidates are seeking workplaces where they can intertwine their beliefs with those of the company, and work together on a common vision of purpose and success. As leaders grapple with how to recruit top candidates and retain employees, they must rethink how they’re shaping and building a culture that unites people around a common cause. Great culture should provide continuous alignment to the vision, purpose, and goals of the organization.
Today’s employees have high expectations of their employers, and it goes far beyond just a paycheck. In fact, a recent LinkedIn survey found that people would rather put up with lower pay (65%) and forego a fancy title (26%) than deal with a bad workplace environment.
The survey also showed that employees care about whether companies foster environments where employees can be themselves (47%) and have a positive impact on society (46%). Today’s workforce wants to know that they’re making a difference within their companies. While work cultures are unique to every organization, the foundation of what enables a culture to thrive is the extent to which employees are empowered to be engaged, feel valued, and be heard. This is where leadership comes in.
Are leaders effectively driving culture?
According to a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 85% of CEOs and CFOs believe an unhealthy culture leads to unethical behavior. What’s more, that same survey found that nine out of 10 CFOs believe improving company culture would increase their company’s business value and performance.
Although leaders admit that unhealthy company culture can impact engagement, a disconnect remains. Leaders may believe they’re putting in the work to build and improve, but the reality is that employees don’t agree. Nearly half of employees (45%) say leadership is minimally or not at all committed to improving culture. This discrepancy can lead to harrowing business repercussions, such as voluntary turnover that can cost organizations up to two times an employee’s annual salary.
One way leaders can demonstrate to employees that they’re taking action is to put some of the power to impact culture back into employees’ hands. For example, allowing employees to speak up when they don’t agree with a company’s actions or to take on new projects that they’re passionate about can help to establish an empowered culture. Building a culture of recognition — where acknowledgment and appreciation is given frequently and in real-time — also enhances an organization’s resilience. What gets recognized gets repeated, and leaders that leverage recognition as an everyday tool for building a strong culture will outperform organizations that fall flat on culture.
How can leaders build cultures of empowerment?
A recent report from Achievers and the Workforce Institute examining job crafting identified three ways in which individuals can improve their own employee experience, as well as how employers can help foster strong cultures that support those efforts:
- Improving role fit. Employees should be encouraged to focus on the work they’re most passionate about and where they feel they provide the most value. If an employee enjoys speaking with clients, for example, increasing tasks that enable face-to-face interactions can make their job more engaging. Employers must ask for feedback and support employees looking to branch out in these ways.
- Establishing connections in the workplace. Employee experience is greatly affected by day-to-day relationships, and that’s why it’s important to give employees opportunities to strengthen those relationships through workplace celebrations, the establishment of social gathering spots around the office space, team building activities, and interactive wellness challenges – just to name a few. Perhaps most importantly, employers can encourage frequent recognition and feedback at all levels of the company. Frequent recognition at every level builds trust and open communication across an organization. Employers can also ask for feedback about employees’ workplace connections and provide guidance or advice on improving relationships — encouraging employees to go on a “coffee chat” with a colleague they don’t know well, pointing to groups that gather around a sport or social activity, or simply recommending that every employee work from a shared workspace within the office now and then.
- Connecting roles to the purpose. Do employees know if their contributions to the business are meaningful? Employers must develop a culture that reinforces the important role each employee plays within their organization. Encourage employees to examine or reconsider how their role ties back to the greater organization but remember that it’s the company’s responsibility to make this connection crystal clear.
For those looking to create a workplace culture of employee empowerment and engagement, companies must first reexamine their cultures to ensure they are attracting and retaining the type of talent that will drive business success. Leaders should honestly reflect on the extent to which they’re listening to employees, driving cultural values themselves, and recognizing employee performance — all of which are critical to empowering a diverse workforce.
At a time when companies are making headlines for culture failures or scandals, employers must evaluate whether their own organizational culture is empowering employees to live by shared values – or to compromise them.