The words ‘toxic’ has been catapulted into the mainstream over the past few years. So much so that it was 2018’s word of the year, showing how it’s truly infiltrated its way into our vernacular. While in its truest form it may relate to substances, it is now commonly associated with culture, an area that’s been plaguing employers up and down the country for years.
There’s no doubt workplace culture is important. We spend so much time at work that we need something to get us out of bed, and company culture is a significant part of this. The issue is that many employers don’t understand how deep culture runs and how much of an influence and impact it has on employee satisfaction and loyalty. This has led to the rise of ‘toxic’ work cultures, while other more commercial aspects of the business (i.e. sales, sales, sales) take priority. But to be truly successful in today’s highly competitive marketplace, businesses need to give culture the respect and attention it deserves or suffer the costly consequences of low employee engagement and high turnover.
With industries where the vast majority of the workforces work in non-desk roles (i.e. retail store associates, hotel staff, waiters/waitresses, bartenders, facilities management staff, customer support), employees tend to work long hours (sometimes up to 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours per shift). When you add in the always-on nature of digital and mobile devices, and the expectations they have created for employees to be available 24/7, mental health is getting more and more attention. With mental health problems estimated to cost organizations £42 billion a year, it’s no wonder that UK UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is now putting pressure on employers to take better care of their employees, and in turn, help them find the right balance and stay mentally healthy.
While many factors influence employees’ mental health (workload, pressure, commute), how an employee feels about work, and the culture surrounding them plays an equally important role. To understand this more, we surveyed US and UK employees to understand what culture means to them, as well as culture’s role in improving employee loyalty and retention, in order to do exactly what UK Health Secretary is pushing for – to help companies take better care of their employees (and their mental health).
So why not take a look at what employees really value to help drive a positive and inclusive environment?
Culture is not brewed on perks
When talking about workplace culture, fun almost always comes up because, let’s face it, if you’re having fun, then you’re more likely to be happier and do a better job. As such, numerous employers have latched onto this and have introduced superficial perks, such as drinks trollies, ping pong tables, video gaming rooms, free meals and more.
As part of our recent research into the role of culture on employee loyalty, we asked the UK respondents to specify the most important attribute of a strong workplace culture. Interestingly, the answers were quite the opposite of the aforementioned superficial perks. Instead, the following attributes ranked highest – respect and fairness (45 percent), trust and integrity (24 percent) and teamwork (8 percent). The reality is that these types of perks may seem fun ‘in the moment’ and for a short period of time. They don’t do anything to foster a culture or environment of fairness, transparency, trust, and respect.
There’s also the millennial challenge to consider. With employees in this age bracket making up such a significant proportion of the workforce, employers (whether they like it or not) need to be aware of what matters to this diverse group. Millennials care more about finding a sense of personal fulfillment and purpose in their work (not just another paycheck). And they set the bar exceptionally high in terms of their expectations for experiences – be it as a customer or as an employee. This is where building a culture that’s founded on the principles and values of trust, integrity, respect, and fairness can go a long way to keep employees feeling mentally strong and healthy, while also helping them feel the sense of fulfillment and purpose they so crave and want.
Don’t lose the loyalty battle
Our research into workplace culture also flagged up another interesting finding about just how far employees will go to be part of a good culture. Over half (58 percent) said they’d take a job at a competing company if it had a better culture. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener was that 48 percent of the UK respondents were willing to work a 60-hour week rather than work for a company that doesn’t value culture. That’s one in four employees who said they’d sacrifice culture for shorter hours and another quarter were on the fence. These findings paint a fairly bleak picture of employee satisfaction and loyalty.
Attracting talent is expensive and time-consuming for all involved, and it’s within everyone’s interests for candidates to stick around. To enable this, culture evidently needs addressing before it’s too late – as employees will go to great lengths to feel part of the gang.
Don’t underestimate the power of job security
Amidst all the industry talk about culture and engagement, sometimes the basics of job security and benefits get lost behind other more important attributes. But that doesn’t mean they are any less important or should be prioritized any less. The data from our study supports this, with job security ranking as the clear winner (68 percent rated it as having a high impact) when we asked the global respondents to specify how much of an impact various factors have on their job satisfaction. In today’s zero-hours, gig economy culture, the fact that employees want a stable job is an interesting one. It’s perhaps not surprising given the economic and job instability resulting from Brexit.
What this shows is that again, perks matter less – as do training and development opportunities. Whilst these are obviously critical to a fully rounded employee experience, employers, HR teams and recruiters should pay close attention to these findings. Safety at work isn’t just about feeling safe to give feedback or be their authentic selves at work. Job safety, as our study reveals, can also help employees feel wanted, appreciated and ultimately, contribute positively to their mental health.
Be the change you wish to see…
Every employer knows you can’t change your workplace culture in a day, a week, or even a month. But you can put the building blocks in place to start changing perceptions for the better.
Culture can make or break a brand – Uber, Volkswagen, Wells Fargo – all of these have suffered reputationally and financially for issues, which ultimately boiled down to poor and toxic cultures, showing the biggest and best don’t always get everything right. Culture is what you make of it, but one thing is for sure – employees want to work for companies that invest in them – and not just financially. In a time when arguably employers demand more from their staff than ever before, giving a little back doesn’t hurt.
About the author: As the Founder of Speakap, Patrick Van Der Mijl is responsible for driving the business strategy, while also overseeing the global product vision and development plans. He plays a vital role in scaling the company and delivering product innovation that enables retail, hospitality, entertainment, manufacturing, and logistics organizations to reach, engage and empower their non-desk workforces in a way that’s smart, relevant and fun. Van Der Mijl started the company alongside co-founder and Managing Director, Erwin Van Der Vlist while working part-time at a supermarket in the Netherlands during his time at university.