Improving workplace culture is an ongoing priority for most organizations. But company culture can be an ever-moving target, and the modern workforce evolves every day. Not getting culture right can lead to time and resources spent on initiatives that don’t have an impact or improve the employee experience.
Brand new research from the 2020 Global Culture Report* shows 5 new insights about workplace culture that most organizations miss but need to know about.
1) Everyday experiences matter
Companies want to improve their employee experience, but often focus on developing programs that target key milestones in the employee lifecycle (onboarding, leadership development, retirement, etc.) Companies wait until employees reach a certain phase–like getting promoted–and then include them in a special program to interact with them. Most employee experience initiatives tend to be generic, top down, and not meaningful to individual employees.
The reality is that employees think of their employee experience as their everyday experience. All the small conversations, interactions, things they see and hear every single day make up their employee experience. This means the trash they see in the parking lot on the walk into work, the bad conversation they had with a grumpy colleague Monday morning, a computer that once again doesn’t work, or not talking with their leader for an entire week all can contribute to a negative employee experience. Conversely, things like a great one-on-one meeting with their leader, supportive colleagues asking about their weekend and swapping fun stories, receiving a note of thanks from a team member, and being invited to participate in a new special project can all lead to a positive employee experience.
When employees have great everyday experiences, they feel more positive about other areas of company culture: connecting to a purpose, feeling a sense of opportunity, finding success, feeling appreciated, having strong wellbeing, and being positive about leadership. They are also more engaged and more likely do more great work, be innovative, provide excellent customer service, and be more productive.
What companies should do: Start thinking of your employee experience as their everyday experience. Improve aspects of workplace culture that impact your peoples’ daily lives–their interactions with leaders and team members, the opportunity to learn and grow, feeling appreciated and valued, and so on.
2) The impact of peak employee experiences lasts longer than valley experiences
There’s a common idea that it takes five positive interactions or statements to counteract one negative one. Our research found that great moments in an employee’s experience actually last longer than negative moments.
In an employee’s everyday experience throughout their career with a company, there are bound to be a few extraordinary moments and a few really poor moments. We call these peak experiences or valley experiences.
Peak experiences are those moments that outshine the others. Finishing up a big, impactful, months or years-long project. Receiving recognition for great work. Innovating and coming up with something that improved your company. Having a great meeting with a senior leader. Wowing a customer and they write a note to your CEO. Your team throwing you a wedding or baby shower. These moments are memorable and inspirational.
Valley experiences are similarly memorable and impactful, but in a negative way. Someone ridiculing or criticizing your work harshly. Your leader yelling at you in front of your team. Not receiving a resource you urgently need for a project. Layoffs in your department.
Both peak and valley experiences come with stronger emotions than everyday positive and negative experiences. They have a powerful impact on your overall employee experience and the narrative about working at your organization. But the effects of peak and valley experience are different.
Peak experiences last longer, affecting the employee after the moment, and influencing their perspective on their work life before the moment occurred. The impact of peak experiences lasts 2 weeks longer than valley experiences. By providing multiple peak experiences in an employee’s work life, you can help mitigate the negative and valley experience they have and improve their view of their overall employee experience.
What companies should do: Rather than focusing on fixing all the negative experiences in an employee’s time with you, focus on creating great peak experiences. Instead of trying to improve the challenging promotions and raise process at your organization, for example, help leaders create great formal recognition moments or provide formal networking and mentorship opportunities for your people. Not only might it be easier, it will have a greater impact on the overall employee experience.
3) Employee burnout now affects all types of organizations (not just healthcare)
The concept of employee burnout was once reserved for healthcare workers working demanding jobs for too many hours. Now, burnout has been classified by the World Health organization as an official diagnosis related to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” for any type of worker.
Employees are more burned out now than ever, and research shows it’s not the type of job (blue collar, white collar, healthcare, non-healthcare) or age (Millennial vs Boomer). What is causing so many employees to feel burned out? Working in a chronically bad company culture.
Previous empirical research has found that things like a lack of appreciation, conflicts with coworkers, role ambiguity, and job stress are all strong predictors of burnout. Nowadays the latest research in employee burnout shows that typical challenges in workplace culture, over time, will cause all employees to burn out, no matter what role an individual has, how much work they have, or how old they are:
· Not feeling appreciated increases odds of burnout by 45%.
· Lack of trust in leader increases odds of burnout by 29%.
· Not feeling a sense of purpose at work increases odds of burnout by 22%.
· Decreased sense of belonging at works leads to an increased sense of burnout by 56%.
· Feeling the company prioritizes the bottom line over people leads to an 18% increased sense of burnout.
What companies should do: In order to prevent employee burnout, build a strong company culture where people feel connected. Train leaders to instill a sense of purpose, success, and wellbeing in their people. Provide opportunities to grow, develop, and give recognition and feel appreciated. Create a company culture where employees thrive, and you’ll never have to worry about burnout.
4) There is a crisis in traditional leadership.
We are seeing an increasing disconnect between traditional leadership styles and the evolving, modern workforce. The modern workforce is highly diverse, mobile, digital, and agile. Eschewing the typical 9-5 work schedule, more and more employees are finding work/life integration and work remotely. They want to work from anywhere, at any time, on any device, and expect more autonomy and flexibility in their roles.
Because of this, traditional, hierarchical leadership styles and structures no longer work. Think about it–the rules, processes, and demands that were created for factories in the 1900’s no longer apply more than a century later. Employees aren’t just clocking in for a paycheck and then going home. The lines between work and life have blurred and employee expectations have changed, yet management styles have not.
Traditional leadership is failing. In fact, Millennials and Gen Zers outright reject traditional leadership practices, and go to work for companies with less structure and rigidity in their processes. And companies that continue to use traditional leadership practices see a negative impact on their employee experience, culture, and even their bottom-line:
What companies should do: Great leaders don’t micro-manage their people, they inspire and influence them to do great work. Have leaders focus less on org charts and titles, and more on connecting their employees to a purpose, accomplishment, and one another. Train them to be mentors and coaches and use one-to-one meetings as meaningful moments of connection.
5) Great cultures aren’t just inclusive and diverse–they are psychological safe.
Diversity and inclusion efforts have helped shape the modern workforce. But too often diversity and inclusion are about numbers and percentages, rather than culture. A truly inclusive culture is one where all employees feel they can be their authentic selves, take risks, and speak up. The best workplace cultures are psychologically safe.
Psychological safety is “being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.” Employees who feel safe at work feel free to express ideas and opinions, take risks and innovate, and are empowered to make a difference at work. They can work autonomously and feel more ownership and responsibility for the company’s success. Employees in a psychologically safe culture aren’t afraid to be ridiculed, criticized, or ostracized when they speak up or make a suggestion. They are supported by their leaders, teams, and the organization.
When employees feel psychologically safe at work, there is a:
• 347% increase in the probability of highly engaged employees
• 277% increase in the probability of a highly rated employee experience
• 154% increase in the incidence of great work
• 33% decrease in the incidence of moderate to severe burnout
What companies should do: Leaders play a huge role in creating psychologically safe cultures. Leaders must foster transparency and openness on their teams. They should know the jobs of each team member and instill meaning and purpose into each individual’s role. Honest reviews as a team after every major project, as well as meaningful peer one-to-ones contribute to a team culture that is psychologically safe, where all team members feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.
*All research, unless otherwise cited, is from the 2020 O.C. Tanner Global Culture Study.
Check out the 2020 Global Culture Report for more brand-new research and insights into workplace culture.
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