As companies quickly adapt due to the widespread effects of COVID-19, so do the concerns of HR leaders, with a notable shift from past anxieties about talent shortages to a renewed emphasis on talent development and engagement during this time of major disruption.
Workplace cultures, whether they were healthy prior to the current global pandemic or were in need of an overhaul, have been dramatically impacted as physical distancing and workforce reductions became an overnight reality.
An organization's culture is the common thread driving employees’ decisions, productivity, engagement, and feelings about where they fit within the organization. For a workforce feeling the blow of major, unprecedented change and uncertainty, the importance of a healthy workplace culture cannot be overemphasized.
But what does “workplace culture” entail? What does a healthy workplace look like? What are the risks of having an unhealthy work environment? And how can you build a healthy culture during a global pandemic?
Healthy workplace culture: the ins and outs
Systems of beliefs, collective assumptions, goals, and intentions all work together to create workplace cultures. In the pre-COVID-19 workplace, this culture was generally shaped (for better or worse) by leadership and organizational influence, and impacted (for better or worse) by employees' attitudes, values, and engagement.
In our current world, this shaping and impacting is largely done without the benefit of physical interaction and in-person communication and bonding. This makes it harder for intentional cultural initiatives to be driven by leadership and received by employees.
During times like these, we need our employees to stay engaged, innovative, collaborative, and committed. Leaders must dial up the volume on positive culture initiatives such as inclusion and belonging, personal and professional development, and individual and team well-being to make sure the impacts and intent reach across the chasm of remote work and stressed out employees.
What are the risks of an unhealthy culture?
Companies with an unhealthy workplace culture not only risk losing talented team members, but stressful and unsupportive work environments breed disengagement and diminish productivity and innovation.
And with the level of visibility we have into organizational culture these days through online review sites such as Glassdoor, the effects of an unhealthy culture can extend outside the walls to clients, customers and potential recruits.
How to build a healthy workplace culture
With 94% of executives and 88% of employees placing a link between a positive workplace culture and business success, creating a healthy workplace environment is essential. You can help build a healthy culture in your organization, even during times of change, by following these tips:
Establish core values
What does your company believe in? What values is leadership committed to? What attitudes and behaviors are critical to your success? In general, these values are at the core of your business and do not easily change, but during times of disruption, you may want to adjust or add to your values to amplify your commitment to your people and customers.
Spread the word
Shout it from the rooftops! It’s essential to make sure all communications and decisions support and uphold those values. From large-scale messaging and meetings to smaller, daily learning bites and communications, your defined values should be felt. A picture is worth a thousand words: If inclusivity is a core value, make sure your imagery reflects all cultures, abilities, generations, backgrounds, etc. If innovation is a priority, make sure your leaders know how to empower and value a diversity of ideas and creativity in meetings and project work.
Identify your least engaged employees and aim to reach them with clear and consistent messaging around your culture intentions. Make them feel seen and make it clear that you are committed to their success and well-being.
Foster engagement and communication
Honest communication in and among teams is essential for keeping employees engaged, and positive engagement is a vital aspect of a healthy workplace culture. A few ways to facilitate engagement among remote teams include having virtual coffee meetings or lunches, publicly recognizing individual efforts and successes, offering opportunities for continued education and skill building, and adjusting that prior open-door policy to an open-cellphone policy. Make it clear to your leaders and managers that they must be even more responsive than usual during this time.
You cannot have a positive workplace culture until all people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, identities, and beliefs feel equally supported and valued regardless of their differences. Because of this, robust diversity and inclusion initiatives go hand in hand with healthy workplace cultures. A positive working environment is by nature one that values belonging and inclusion. And again, turn up the volume on these initiatives to make sure everyone feels their effects even in a virtual environment.
Set clear goals
With 83% of executives and 84% of employees ranking it as their top factor for success, employee engagement is essential for a thriving business and a healthy workplace culture. A large part of that engagement comes from motivating team members to pursue collective and personal goals. Leaders can spark engagement within their team by offering opportunities to measure performance, encouraging healthy competition, and by having clear promotion policies.
Healthy workplace cultures inspire employees to take pride in their company which translates into a sense of ownership and loyalty. And when team members feel both invested in and appreciated by the company they work for, they’re more likely to bring their best selves, including their brightest ideas and hopes for the future, to work. Even when work is in their home office or living room.
We will return to our offices. We will fill job vacancies. We will get back to something close to "normal". And our workplace cultures will follow us (for better or worse) when that happens so let's take great care during this time to nurture a healthy culture for success both now and in the future.