These days, employees leave one job and take another for a host of reasons. One reason that should never come up is a company’s toxic culture. In the hunt for talent, businesses can’t afford to lose valued workers because the work environment is dysfunctional, fear-based or insufficiently appreciative of their contributions.
Moreover, culture is rapidly emerging as a key differentiator when it comes to recruitment and retention. The best employees demand and deserve competitive salaries and benefits, but “they also want things that money can’t buy, such as an office environment that makes them happy and comfortable,” writes HR expert Rosemary Bryant, “whether that office environment fosters creativity, is laid back and relaxed, or makes work fun.”
Just as a great business leader determines the cultural quality of the company he or she leads, so ineffective leaders are responsible for a work environment that employees find uncomfortable (or often, intolerable) to work in. These individuals must first recognize the shortcoming in their leadership approach and then begin the hard work of changing their culture in order to keep their most valued employees.
Here are suggestions for achieving this critically important goal.
Understand what constitutes a thriving culture. Of course, “culture” can be a nebulous, catchall term meaning different things to different people. But, generally speaking, a strong culture is defined by these elements:
A workplace where people can ask questions and voice disagreements or concerns without any negative consequences
Flexibility in work schedules, recognizing the value of a good work/life balance
Ongoing employee coaching and development
An environment in which employees understand how their individual contributions affect the company’s financial performance
With these elements in place, employees are far less likely to leave and risk not finding a similarly vibrant environment elsewhere.
Cultivate transparency. One common complaint among employees is that they lack any access to how decisions are made by their employers. No one’s demanding “top-to-bottom” transparency on all key strategic and financial decisions, but sharing specific financials and outlining how a decision was reached to launch a new initiative, for example, “promotes a culture where everyone is treated like an adult who has something to contribute,” notes Mary Martinez at GoCo. A transparent workplace “will engender feelings of worth and value among all your employees.”
Foster a spirit of collaboration. Work environments where people feel like it’s “every man for himself” will hasten burn-out and a severe drop in morale. Look for opportunities to get people in one department to work more closely with colleagues in other departments—or any type of large-scale project that requires employees to work as a focused team.
In that same respect, consider taking employees off-site for occasional team-building exercises where the emphasis is on friendly competition and opportunities to get better acquainted with others on the team.
Encourage employee training and development. This facet of a healthy culture is rapidly becoming a “must-have” among HR recruiters and those wanting to promote retention. Your best employees have a strong desire to improve themselves. It’s up to you and your business to encourage this desire by sponsoring and/or subsidizing work-related seminars, on-site visits by industry experts, classes at a nearby community college, etc. Employees who feel they’re acquiring new skills and knowledge are far less motivated to look around for a new position.
Recognize and reward outstanding achievements. Everyone likes to be recognized for their hard work. Such recognition can take the form of a simple “thank you” message from the CEO or more formal programs that salute individual effort in the form of a bonus, a day off, a special parking place and so on. These incentives frequently spur greater engagement in one’s everyday job.
Maintain a customer-focused approach to business. Your best employees work hard to provide good products and services to your customers. Invite their feedback and suggestions on ways to keep improving the quality of customer service from these “front-line” people. The business will benefit overall and, once again, you’ll see greater engagement among your workforce.
Want to retain your rock-star employees? Make sure they are treated respectfully and offered every opportunity to grow and become even better at what they do.