Why Your Company Culture Isn’t What You Think It Is

Written by:

Mark Donohue, CEO of LifeGuides

It is common these days for businesses and start-ups to tout their employee-friendly “company culture,” but what does this really mean?

When company culture makes headlines, they tend to focus on superficial aspects of the workplace, like Silicon Valley’s arcades, playgrounds, and other amenities, or the increase in open-plan, collaborative workspaces. While perks like office cocktail lounges and mini golf courses might be fun, it takes deeper cultural change to improve employee well-being in the long term.

A look at statistics on employee happiness and engagement reveals that companies aren’t doing nearly enough for their employees. According to a 2018 Gallup survey:

  • Only 34% of employees in the U.S. described themselves as “engaged.”

  • 53% of workers describe themselves as “disengaged,” meaning they don’t feel connected to their workplace and are prepared to leave for other opportunities.

  • 13% are “actively disengaged,” reporting what Gallup calls “miserable work experiences.”

  • The Conference Board survey found that most employees expressed high satisfaction with their coworkers, interest in the work, working environment, and even supervisors. But the factors that ranked low in satisfaction—things like work-life balance, leave time and flexibility, communication, performance recognition, and opportunities for growth—are concerning.

These low scores point to a disconnect between what employers offer, and what employees want. Evidently, compassion, encouragement, and empowerment are important elements missing in so many workplaces in America. To keep employees happy and engaged, leading organizations must strive to create an authentic Culture of CaringTM, one that genuinely listens to and addresses what employees care about most.

Building a Culture of Caring in the Workplace

So what is a culture of caring, and how can you cultivate one at your company?

The concept of an organizational culture of caring is based on the philosophy of human caring, a theory first explored by Jean Watson, Ph.D., as a guide for the nursing profession. Watson’s core principles included “kindness and equanimity,” “authentic presence,” and “openness to unexpected life events.”

To see how these principles are put into practice, one can look to companies known for their positive working environments and low rates of turnover. More often than not, the core value that they share is a company culture in which people are a priority, not an afterthought.

At outdoor clothing company Patagonia, for example, CEO Dean Carter attributes widespread employee satisfaction to a proactive approach to worker well-being. The company seeks regular feedback on employee mood, which allows managers to connect with those who might be unhappy, listen to their concerns, and address them. Carter has also spoken about the positive impact of the company’s on-site childcare, its commitment to a greater cause, and its support of elders in the workplace.

Other companies with high rates of employee happiness show a similar pattern of care for personnel. Expedia Group, which was rated by Glassdoor.com as 2016’s best place to work in the UK, names “openness” as one of its core principles and has implemented a unique system in which employees at all levels can get their ideas heard. And at U.S.-based B Corporations Toms and Athleta, high rates of worker satisfaction can be attributed to the companies’ flexibility, in which support and understanding regarding employees’ work-life balance is a given.

These practices are all part of a larger culture—one in which companies value employees’ contributions, needs, and lives outside the office. As demonstrated by these success stories, showing your employees you truly care about them is one of the best things you can do to better the world and better your company.

The Importance of an Authentic Company Culture

Building a culture of caring does more than just benefit each employee individually. If you choose to invest in employee happiness, studies show that your organization is likely to thrive in other ways as well.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Warwick in England published a study that found a positive correlation between human happiness and productivity. Specifically, those who described themselves as happy were 12% more productive. As Dr. Daniel Sgroi, one of the study’s authors, explained, “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”

Likewise, a 2016 study by the Society for Human Resource Management found clear links between employee satisfaction and engagement on the job. In particular, trust between employees and management, a positive relationship with one’s supervisor, and a feeling of safety in the workplace were all factors that boosted worker engagement.

How to Start Improving Your Culture

Let’s face it: most organizations could stand to improve their company culture. And it doesn’t take much to get started—there are concrete steps you can take right now to boost employee happiness, engagement, and loyalty. Here’s where to begin:

Seek employee feedback and listen to their concerns.

This first step is an important one. If you truly want to create a culture of caring, you need to take the temperature of your organization. Are employees unsatisfied or disengaged? What parts of the company culture do they see as deficient or unsupportive? What do they need to thrive in the workplace? You might implement a system like Patagonia’s, in which supervisors are regularly communicating with employees about their well-being and addressing concerns as they arise.

Allow employees to align individual purpose with the company’s larger mission.

If employees can align their individual purpose with a company’s larger mission, they will begin to see their daily work activities as leading to something bigger than themselves. Enabling this alignment begins with companies clearly communicating their raison d’être, and it should be reinforced over time to magnify its important to the company’s culture.

Give your team opportunities for growth and expression.

This step will look different depending on the company, but giving your team the tools and space for personal and professional growth has been shown to increase satisfaction and motivation. The happiest and most productive employees do not feel like cogs in a machine. To facilitate this culture, enterprises need to exercise transparency, flexibility, and a commitment to employees’ personal betterment.

Support employee work-life balance.

As we’ve seen in the results of the surveys above, unsatisfied employees often struggle with work-life balance. One of the best ways a company can improve employee loyalty is to be more flexible and accommodating. This can mean providing on-site child care or longer maternity/paternity leave, offering options for remote work or more flexible leave time, or perhaps improving your company’s benefits package. Company policy should take into account the ups and downs of life, and employees’ personal challenges should be met with understanding, not rigidity.

Focus on relationships.

A culture of caring truly begins with one-on-one relationships between and among employees and supervisors. Harvard Business Review defines “caring” work environments as “warm, collaborative, and welcoming places where people help and support one another. Employees are united by loyalty; leaders emphasize sincerity, teamwork, and positive relationships.”

To make this caring workplace a reality, bosses need to cultivate supportive relationships with their employees. On the professional side, this can include providing mentoring and opportunities for advancement, learning, and professional development. On the personal side, bosses should listen to employee concerns or challenges and provide support where needed. A service like LifeGuides can help foster a culture of caring by pairing employees with a mentor who has had the same experience. Going this extra mile for employees will lay the foundation for those positive relationships, improving your company from the inside out.

It’s time to change company culture for the better, and that begins with people. These simple steps today to begin building a stronger, more supportive, and ultimately more successful company. As one key element of your company’s Culture of Caring, offering emotional and empathetic support is a simple, easy way to start. Find a time to talk with our VP to learn how you can implement this support quickly and effectively: Schedule Your Demo