What employers should do to ensure company culture makes employees feel valued and protected

Article by Christina Petersen, Chief People Officer, Worksome 

business collaboration, teams working togetherAs we approach the first anniversary of lockdown and remote working, work culture seems to be under greater strain than ever before.

With wider business pressures at the moment due to depleted profits, job losses and a lack of socialisation, culture may have fallen off the radar for some employers. However, there are also a number of employers who, as we saw in the hit BBC drama Industry, are oblivious or even unconcerned about a negative culture and the bad treatment of some of their employees.

Now is the time for employers to make a superhuman effort to promote a positive work culture, especially while everyone is still working from home, which is highly likely to continue in some capacity beyond the pandemic.

Fans of Industry will know the story of Harper, who was pressured into keeping quiet about the toxic work culture she was experiencing in order to secure a permanent job at the firm. The show is of course fiction – but it highlights how easily a negative culture can arise with big personalities and strong-minded individuals working alongside junior members of staff, or new joiners in a competitive industry. The learning here is that employers must have a rock-solid culture in place that celebrates new thinking, diversity and has a complete intolerance for abuse, before these problems begin to surface.

In Industry, the tragic story of Hari illustrates how a competitive work culture can erode an employee’s wellbeing and physical health. A strong work culture should never make employees feel as though success can only be achieved through self-sacrifice. Such a culture not only leaves employees vulnerable to mistreatment from senior staff but fails to get the best performance out of the employee.

Industry highlights the injustices that can arise in ultra-competitive industries like finance or media, and how detrimental that can be to employee wellbeing. As more of generation Z – who tend to prioritise fulfilment over a high pay cheque – move into the workplace, we must stop measuring culture only by metrics and ensure that everyone in the workplace has an equal chance to shine.

While there has been greater attention placed on worker’s wellbeing during the pandemic, with 46% of employers improving wellbeing efforts and welcome improvements on culture as a result, there is still much to be done to look after everyone in the workplace, especially in particularly high-pressure industries like finance or media.

However, there are a number of things that a business can do to ensure they have a positive work culture to ensure workers feel like a valued part of the workforce and are performing to the best of their ability.

Ensuring your workforce is aware of your company culture

A mission and culture survey from Glassdoor found that 77% of people look at a company’s culture before applying for a role. Because of how important a company’s culture is to employees and potential new employees, employers must do all that they can to make staff aware of their values and mission.

This means it should be communicated with workers at all times exactly where the company stands on matters that relate to employee behaviour and the core of the company mission. Having this clearly outlined in a way that employees agree with, will ensure consistency in behaviour in the workplace, helping to maintain positive policies.

Many workplaces now have a Code of Conduct within their policies. It is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that your workers read it and are aware of how to behave in the workplace – all things that help maintain the desired working culture. There may also be specific examples that you can give that set out the behaviour you expect from workers. This will give workers a physical guide of how to identify when behaviour falls in line with the company culture you are trying to set out, or when there are issues that veer far away from this. You should be able to find ways to address these issues immediately should they arise.

Promote fresh thinking and diversity 

With an increase in the use of freelancers and contractors across companies, partly due to the pandemic, it is important that they are not seen as a threat to a company’s culture and are recognised as a positive addition with fresh thinking for the workforce, which can only have a positive effect on culture.

Further, a business should consider that a percentage of the company workforce is kept as freelancers to ensure constant innovation, fresh ideas and also promote a positive culture to ensure a business doesn’t get into bad old habits. The phrase of “what we usually do”, highlights how easy it is for businesses to fall into stale old practices that are not necessarily good for productivity.

Diversity is also crucial for maintaining a positive work culture and really starts with preparing your organisation to be open to whatever will come. While diversity encompasses gender, race and age, it is very complex and is really also about experience and what each of us brings to the table. Employers should celebrate having very different profiles coming through the door, with different backgrounds, and different perspectives.

How to instil a more positive culture 

Work culture really does flow down from the top – so if an employer really does want to turn around a negative culture like in Industry, they should think first about their own behaviour, how they treat their subordinates and how they speak to them. Positive change will be embraced as quickly as negative.

On a more practical level, employers can show their workforce that culture is really important to them by offering training and refresher sessions and making them compulsory to show the company commitment.

It is the duty of an employer to create an environment where workers feel safe, valued and listened to. Any business or industry that promotes or ignores a damaging workplace culture should take a step back and consider – is this really contributing to our productivity and are we getting the best out of our employees?  If the answer is no, then it might be the time for a good hard look at your culture.

As we continue to navigate the uncertain waters of 2021, let us take this time to reflect, reorganise and, where necessary, rethink our workplace cultures. Companies are nothing without their people so let’s take every opportunity this year to show our people they are everything to us. And that starts with a positive working culture.

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