Is your approach to building a great workplace culture out of date? If so, chances are it’s not working very well. Culture is changing at the speed of technology and society. That’s why, in 2020, companies are discovering new ways to address culture issues and create workplaces that help people thrive. Here are five of the hottest culture trends impacting your organization:
Culture Trend #1: Burnout is very real.
Just this year, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an official syndrome related to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Report found that 79% of employees are suffering from some sort of burnout at work; 40% of those report moderate to severe burnout.
Burnout takes an enormous toll on employees and organizations. Burnout results in 120,000 deaths per year and $190 billion in healthcare spending1. In addition to an increase in the risk of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, and high cholesterol, employees who feel burned out are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.2 Companies see 376% less engagement, 87% more turnover, and 22% decreased work output when employees feel burned out.3
Burnout affects everyone, regardless of age, role, industry, or tenure. It’s not just doctors and nurses who are burning out—employees in all industries, Millennials and Boomers, blue collar and white-collar workers are doing more with less and feeling an increasing amount of stress.
What does burnout look like?
Burnout is the result of chronic culture deficiencies. In other words, bad workplace cultures are contributing to higher rates of burnout. Cultures with a lack of a clear purpose, few opportunities to grow, lackluster leadership, poor wellbeing, and no appreciation or connection will inevitably lead to employees burning out. The question is not if, but when. Poor workplace cultures lead to a 157% increase in moderate to severe burnout.
What companies can do: More vacation days and on-site massages aren’t going to prevent employee burnout. But having a great workplace culture can. Provide employees with a meaningful purpose that inspires them. Show how their work makes a difference by recognizing their accomplishments and sharing stories of success. Train leaders to build trust and have positive interactions with their people. Provide a sense of belonging, growth, and connection in your teams. Put employee wellbeing before your bottom line. By focusing on creating positive everyday experiences for employees, companies can create cultures that help mitigate, and even prevent, employee burnout.
1 “The Hidden Costs of Stressed-Out Workers”, Jeffrey Pfeffer, The Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2019.
2 Employee Burnout, Part 1: 5 Main Causes”, Ben Wigert and Sangeeta Agrawal, Gallup, July 12, 2018.
3 2020 Global Culture Report, O.C. Tanner Institute
Culture Trend #2: Employees are rejecting traditional management practices.
Part of why employees are feeling more burned out (and why companies struggle with their workplace cultures) is because traditional leadership practices are becoming outdated. In fact, members of today’s modern workforce, especially Millennials and Gen Zers, are rejecting old-school leadership outright.
Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, mobile, and deskless. Employees want to be inspired, not told what to do. They want autonomy and empowerment to do great work. They don’t want to have to ask for permission, they don’t care about org charts, and they definitely don’t want to sit at a desk from 9-5 every day.
Companies must redefine leadership in order to succeed in today’s environment. Leadership is coaching and mentoring rather than micromanaging. Advocating for people instead of being gatekeepers to their success. Inspiring great work instead of trying to do it themselves.
What worked in manufacturing factories in the 1900’s no longer applies today. Take a look at the impact of traditional leadership vs a more modern way of leading:
What companies can do: Reinvent leadership. Encourage leaders to connect their people to 3 things: a purpose, accomplishment, and one another. When leaders clearly articulate how each employee’s work impacts the organization and customers, employees are 2x more motivated to do their best work. Formally recognizing small and big accomplishments bumps engagement up 83%. And building teams where employees care about, support, and celebrate each other results in employees who are 41% more likely to stay, 88% more likely to feel a sense of wellbeing, and 2X more likely to feel they fit in and belong at the organization. When leaders stop using antiquated leadership practices and adopt a more modern approach to leadership, they can help build workplace cultures that prevent employee burnout.
Culture Trend #3: Your employee experience is actually the everyday experience.
The term “employee experience” is trending for organizations right now, but what does it entail? Too many organizations think of the “employee experience” from a macro point-of-view. They implement top-down, one-size-fits-all programs that only target and touch employees during key milestones in the employee lifecycle:
But the employee experience is more than the employee lifecycle. In fact, the lifecycle stems from an organizational, rather than an employee, point-of-view. The actual employee experience is every conversation, every assignment, every touch point, every success, failure and interaction an employee has. Every. Single. Day. When employees think of the “employee experience,” they don’t think of company benefits and perks. They think about the conversation they had with a leader, the interactions with peers, the emails they read and messages they hear, their workspaces, and the tools they use. 92% of employees describe their employee experience as their “everyday experience.” Unfortunately, only 42% would rate that experience as positive.
Employees have thousands of interactions with your organization every day. It’s time for companies to rethink how they interact with their people. Instead of a few programs that help employees be engaged and happy at a few key moments in their career, focus instead on creating positive everyday micro-experiences. Not every interaction will be positive, but the peak moments (those very memorable positive experiences) will outweigh the negative ones.
What companies can do: Focus on the everyday employee experience—the micro-experiences that connect employees to their work, their team, and your organization. Start with the 6 essential elements of workplace culture: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. Improve the interactions employees have with leaders and team members. Create peak moments that help frame the narrative employees share about their time at work. Change the story. Most important of all, design your employee experience from the employee’s point of view instead of a top-down approach. Not only will this new perspective improve your employee experience, it will also start building a workplace culture where employees thrive.
Culture Trend #4: One-to-ones are the new performance management.
Organizations are attempting to retool their performance management initiatives by getting rid of annual reviews, but they haven’t yet found a good replacement. Our research shows that the more touchpoints to talk about employee performance the better, but what do employees really want? Honest, real time feedback, mentorship, and advice on how to grow.
Enter one-to-one and peer-to-peer conversations.
One-to-ones are not new, but they are rarely done well (or even done at all). Leaders may believe one-to-ones are important and even schedule them. But 1 in every 5 are canceled. Only 56% of employees have regular one-to-ones with their leaders, and 1 in 3 employees dread meeting with their leader. It’s safe to say one-to-one meetings haven’t been very effective.
Yet one-to-ones are a missed opportunity for connection. Having monthly one-to-one meetings decreases the odds of burnout by 39%, and doing them every 2 weeks reduces burnout by 84%.
Similarly, peer-to-peer conversations are meetings team members have with each other. They could be used to brainstorm new ideas, give feedback on a project, learn new skills, or help a team member expand their network. Peer-to-peers that are informal and honest, yet positive, help build camaraderie and connection between peers while also helping the employee grow. Development doesn’t just have to be the leader’s responsibility; the team can help one another learn and improve.
Peer-to-peers and one-to-ones together are powerful tools in any company’s performance management toolbox. They provide regular, ongoing sources of feedback, development, and mentorship for employees. When done on a frequent basis and in a meaningful way, peer-to-peers and one-to-ones supply encouragement, support, appreciation, and connection for your people.
What companies can do: Hold leaders accountable for one-to-one meetings. Every leader should be doing them on a regular basis. Provide tools to help leaders schedule and track one-to-ones, write talking points and take notes, and give recognition. Train leaders to hold one-to-ones that are co-created with their employees and not too formal or structured. Have your teams start using peer-to-peers, ensuring they are from a place of positive intent and not overly critical. They are most effective when teams feel psychologically safe to be honest with each other. For either type of meeting, be sure there is plenty of mentorship, coaching, feedback, and recognition.
Culture Trend #5: Culture building efforts are becoming more intentional
Up until now, companies have struggled to dramatically improve workplace culture. The problem is that most organizations try to do too much: implement too many programs, and too many competing technologies, in support of too many uncoordinated, siloed initiatives, to improve workplace culture. They have several employee recognition programs, a one-off leadership development initiative, a separate health and wellbeing program, a host of employee communications initiatives, etc., but none of these have a similar strategy or are aligned to the same goal.
Organizations are realizing that workplace culture must be intentionally created. The best workplaces don’t just happen by accident. Culture is defined by what the organization intentionally chooses to do, how it behaves, and how it interacts with its people. Every positive or negative micro-experience employees have, day-to-day, month-by-month, year in and year out, add up to your culture. Great cultures don’t just happen, they are purposefully designed.
How then, can you design culture with intention?
Our Culture by Design approach begins with understanding where you are. We begin with a culture assessment to understand a workplace culture’s unique strengths, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. How do employees really feel about the organization? What is their employee experience currently like? Is there risk for burnout? Then we help clients plan, activate, and optimize solutions that are in line with very specific, measurable culture goals.
What companies can do: Thoughtfully design, with intention, the workplace culture you want. Start by breaking down workplace culture and focus on the parts you can influence. Do a culture assessment and look at the six essential elements of workplace culture: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. Which are most important to your people? How can you improve and create peak moments in each area? Then develop a strategy and align programs focused on those everyday employee experiences.
Remember to create peak moments around the best parts of your organization’s culture before attempting to tackle negative areas. Focus on building positive everyday employee experiences and interactions. Work to connect your people to a purpose, accomplishment, and one another. Educate and inspire leaders, and teams, to work towards your culture goals. If it seems overwhelming, find a reputable partner with a proven approach who can help you with consulting, solutions, and apps to help you build a thriving workplace culture.
Although improving workplace culture seems daunting, when you follow the steps to create a culture by design, you’ll find it doesn’t have to be as challenging as you think.
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