It’s the Culture, Stupid

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I don’t know much about the massage industry, but it occurs to me it must be riding high these days. (Note to self: ask broker to look into publicly-held massage businesses.) Everywhere I look, companies are providing employees with on-site massages, or covering massage therapy in their insurance, or both. Those goofy-looking massage chairs lurk in the corners of nearly every conference I attend.

Yoga sessions are big, too, and makers of fitness trackers must be chortling all the way to the bank. Whenever my sister-in-law comes to visit, she dashes out for walks to ensure she reaches her daily step-limit, so she can win a prize from her employer. Last year, all that determined walking earned her an iPad. Not too shabby.

Wellness, including these and other types of stress-reduction, has been a trend in corporate America for some time now. Some of it is about healthcare cost reduction and some is about reducing burnout. How well these programs actually work is subject to debate. But I do sometimes wonder why employers seem to focus so much on the symptoms (stress and burnout) and so little on the “disease.”

According to a recent survey of HR leaders , conducted jointly by Kronos Incorporated  and Future Workplace®, 95 percent of participants say that employee burnout is “sabotaging workforce retention.” The roots of this scourge, the researchers say, can be found in some all-too-familiar workplace bugaboos. Top of the list, with 41 percent of HR leaders naming it as the biggest cause of employee burnout, is unfair compensation. Next come: an unreasonable workload and too much overtime or after-hours work, tied at 32 percent.

Overwork and a lack of pay equity are familiar demons, haunting the corporate world for decades. They ought to be relatively easy to address—well, at least pay equity ought to—but somehow they rarely are. Another factor, poor management, is next on the list, at 30 percent. A bit tougher to address, yes, but that’s not what caught my attention in this survey.

What caught my attention is what followed: two concerns that seem so very obvious, and yet are so rarely addressed head-on. Twenty-nine percent of HR leaders said a key factor in burnout is employees seeing no clear connection between their role and the corporate strategy, and 26 percent cited “a negative workplace culture.”

Or, to put it bluntly, “It’s the culture, stupid!”

It doesn’t take rocket science (or management consulting) to appreciate that an employee who understands the role his or her work plays in the success of the business, or the fulfillment of the organization’s mission, is going to be a happier, more dedicated employee. And make no mistake, every employee does have an important role to play—otherwise, why would their position exist?

And although “negative culture” can mean a lot of different things, including such culture-killers as bigotry or harassment, it seems to me an organization in which everyone understands the overall mission and strategy, as well as the role they play in these, is much more likely to have a positive culture.

Keeping the big picture front and center is not always easy. Nor is connecting it with employees’ specific jobs. Those managers we mentioned earlier—the ones that are too often mediocre or downright lousy—have a key role to play. But so does a culture of ongoing, organization-wide, open communication.

Open communication means that, as much as possible, employees are kept in the loop about organizational strategy and plans. Every new rule, every change in policy or direction, every expansion or belt-tightening measure, is explained in terms of its connection to the big picture. Employees have the opportunity to interact with leaders, ideally in informal settings but minimally by means of open question periods during meetings. Their own thoughts and ideas are welcomed, encouraged, and responded to.

Maybe you are lucky enough to work for such an organization. Chances are, you are not. Picture what it might feel like. Can you imagine how positive the culture might be? How employees might begin to see the connection between the work they do each day and the direction the organization is heading? How invested they might become in staying with the company, and putting their all into their work?

Can you, in short, imagine how such an organization might put a few massage therapists out of work? I certainly can. (Note to self: call broker and cancel last request.)

Trying for a “best company” list? Overwhelmed by that employee newsletter? Revising your website? I’m in the business of helping companies put together compelling and unique content for and about employees and customers. Why not let me give you a hand?

I blog about work-life, diversity, wellness and other aspects of great workplaces as often as I find the time (which means a couple times a month, if I’m lucky). Want to know when my next post comes out? Sign up here

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