By Jonathan Hanwit
Over the course of history, factors like politics, geography and economics have shaped the personalities of regions throughout the world – leaving each one with its own distinct and unmistakable flavor. Germans, for example, are systematic, organized and efficient – whereas the neighboring Italians, just two countries over, are famous for passion, love of life and general la dolce vida-ness.
Companies are remarkably similar in this way: They have distinct cultures that make them unique. Many of the roots of company culture come in the places you’d probably expect – things like industry and geography. A software engineer in Palo Alto, California, for example, craves and creates a different company atmosphere than a mill worker in Biloxi, Mississippi. Such considerations are more or less the foundation of a company – and they aren’t easily changed or moved.
However, there are other factors that go into creating a company’s culture – and these things are possible to adjust in order to meet the changing needs of the world and workforce. A recent PwC study found that a whopping 88 percent of young professionals and grad students say that they examine prospective employers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) position and track-record when making a career choice. As sustainability and corporate responsibility become ever more important parts of doing business, it behooves strategically-minded organizations to take notice of this shift and evolve their culture to meet the needs of today’s workforce.
What follows are seven ideas relating to healthy workforce culture, starting from big-picture thinking down to the nuts and bolts of developing a rich, engaged workforce. Whether your organization was started yesterday or has a long, storied history of corporate responsibility, any of them could apply and help elevate your culture.
Outside of the cold, hard metrics behind an engaged work culture, there’s also some anecdotal evidence that is pretty hard to argue with. Passion spurs teams to reach for greatness – and you can usually “feel” that in a way that’s larger than facts or data. If you take a moment to think of a truly innovative, game-changing product from the past decade, I’d bet that you also have a pretty good idea about the culture of the company that created that product. Company culture is infectious like that. It draws you in, makes you want to be a part of it and (ultimately) motivates purchasing decisions – a pretty big reason to invest in an engaged culture.
Speaking from experience, our passion for travel and new experiences led thinkPARALLAX to create our own employee engagement travel program, called Parallaxploration, where we send employees around the world to find inspiration. Our goal from the start was simple – we wanted to invest in our culture by doing something unique for the people that we rely on to create amazing work. The results of Parallaxploration have been incredibly positive. Employees return from their trips engaged, refreshed, and ready and willing to create amazing work.
But along the way, a few less expected things happened: First, it led to a ton of unexpected press – which is like stumbling into a goldmine for a small agency like ours. Additionally, we’ve seen a spike in the number of people who want to work here. Since the launch of Parallaxploration, we get three to four times as many applicants for every new position we post. Oftentimes, those applicants could work at other agencies, doing similar types of work for similar pay – but they are drawn to thinkPARALLAX by our culture.
As the business climate changes and organizations realize that intrinsic value holds more weight that monetary gain alone, organizations need to develop an integrated corporate responsibility strategy that aligns business goals with a deeper, larger purpose. Not only will this help steer the direction of the organization, but it also impassions employees in their work. Working toward a bigger, more impactful goal is deeply rewarding, and passion impacts employees across the board – transforming individuals, teams and entire organizations.
However, in our experience, the reality of business practice often flies in the face of such a sunny, feel-good leadership quote. Company culture often isn’t a high-priority budget item for the majority of companies. Granted, this idea represents a shift in attitude that ultimately has to come from the top (we’re looking at you C-level execs), but we’d argue that when this many thought leaders agree on something, it’s probably sound advice. Put your employees and the community at the center of your business, and it will transform your business in a surprising, unforeseen ways.
The key to creating a successful wellness program lies in making it more than just a program – and turning it into something that is all encompassing. Everyone has heard the stories of Google’s gourmet snacks, flexible work hours, free rides and massage credits. The list continues with other organizations and, as research shows, it can even lead to increased productivity.
While the benefits on paper can be a selling point, it’s the interactions created by many of these programs that truly give such programs value. Wellness programs cause engagement between employees – which benefits culture. An intramural volleyball league, fun run or ride-sharing program all add to the cultural connectivity that is part of developing a complete wellness program (which leads to an engaged workforce).
It’s a new phrase, but it encapsulates an old idea: doing something for the benefit of someone else – such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating and volunteering. Prosocial behavior positively affects the people participating in it and, in turn, the whole workplace. While it’s not normally touted as a pillar of employee engagement, a 2011 Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey revealed that millennials who participate in workplace volunteer activities are nearly twice as likely to be very satisfied with their employer and career path.
It’s a clear piece of the engagement puzzle and the benefits of such a program (discussed at length in this Huffington Post article) are:
This can be hard for management to put into practice, but it’s an essential part of building a culture of engaged employees. So, set your micro-managing tendencies aside and empower your people.
A “fun” atmosphere can be defined in a multitude of ways, but ultimately a company’s culture will define what fun should look like. For thinkPARALLAX, it means doing yoga as a group once a week at lunch and surfing when the waves are good. For the fitness clothing company down the street, it means going on a daily run during lunch. In any case, the seriousness of the work is offset by camaraderie and banter. And this allows for more interaction and a vibrant, engaged culture.
Image credit: Pixabay
Jonathan Hanwit is a partner and CEO at thinkPARALLAX, a creative communications agency working at the intersection of business strategy, corporate responsibility, and communication