How Healthy Cultures Actually Attract, Empower, and Value Employees
Updated: Sep 2
HIGH TRUST CULTURES
Many leaders fall prey to the trap that reaction to employee needs is an excellent way to address concerns or handle organizational growth. However, these leaders forget that reaction is often the last line of defense before turnover takes an organization by storm. Open-door policies may not be good enough because employees will not take the first step when they don't feel safe doing so. Scotch tape, town halls, and pizza parties will not sustain a culture through difficult times. Honestly, they won't even be enough in successful seasons, either.
Perhaps the greatest signifier of healthy trust cultures comes from moving toward proactive leadership rather than reactive leadership. Traditionally, leaders have always valued anticipation and business awareness when adjusting strategy, understanding trends in the marketplace, and planning for the future. These traits don't always come along for the ride when applied to the people within the organization.
The findings of Donald Sull, Charles Sull, William Cipolli, and Caio Brighenti reveal some throughlines in employees' concerns regarding the workplace. They break down the following five attributes contributing to negative attitudes at work: disrespectful, noninclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive. Ron Carucci and Ludmila N. Praslova add, "People may be leaving companies (in some cases “rage quitting”) because of more than just feeling burned out or wanting more flexible work arrangements. Many may be leaving because their conscience has been wounded and their innate sense of justice violated."
So what leads to this point? How does moral injury contribute to our sense of worth in the workplace? How are some cultures handling culture care better than others?
EMPATHY ISN'T ENOUGH.
As we begin to exit the pandemic and analyze the five traits mentioned above, it's essential to recognize the rise and, in some ways, fall of empathy in the workplace. Empathy is the buzzword of all buzzwords, but it rarely leads to anything more than feeling. Recently, we brought up the difference between empathy and compassion, but it feels necessary to revisit the importance of compassion here.
After all, most of the traits utilized as descriptions of toxic cultures illuminate the divide between employees' empathy and the organization's lack of an empathetic response. Respondents described disrespectful cultures as having a "lack of consideration, courtesy, and dignity for others." Noninclusivity, abusive, and unethical behaviors utilize relational language and lack compassion. Cutthroat cultures operate on backstabbing over win-win opportunities.
What gets rewarded gets repeated. It's easy to go with the flow. It's easy to let the culture's norms that foster toxic behaviors ravage the organization. In the end, these employees likely adopt them to survive or justifiably move on to another organization, becoming the next turnover statistic for someone like myself to ponder.
Healthy cultures engage employees on a holistic level. They go beyond empathy to compassion. Compassion ties our feelings to actions that bring change or bring a lift to the organization. Reactionary leaders consistently find themselves bogged down with problems, but if all we do is seek to understand the problem, we don't ever get out of the mud and into a better, more productive future. Healthy cultures operate using this elevated problem-solving to ensure that change happens.
NO MORE WATERCOOLERS
One of the more complex shifts in the workplace is the growth of the remote worker and online work as a whole. I am sitting in a coffee shop hundreds of miles away from InitiativeOne's headquarters as I write these words. I've spent time there, but I primarily work remotely. With this in mind, many find that forming traditional workplace friendships with colleagues is markedly different from just 2-3 years ago. If it happens at all, watercooler talk occurs primarily via Zoom.
However, Zoom meetings tend to siphon the life out of conversations. Meetings are far more geared to work and less responsible for personal life that builds connections between teams. This divide was evident before. However, jumping onto a call at the last second, and ending meetings with one click eliminate the opportunity for the small talk that is essential to team building.
These are new aspects of the meeting environment. These seemingly small connections are the soil for group resilience, but their roots become thin and weak when left unnurtured. Take a few minutes to talk about something other than work at the beginning of your next Zoom or in-person meeting. It will help the meeting, and you will be more productive over time.
As cultures become more siloed off into specific work responsibilities and office culture diminishes or shifts to meet the realities of the day, leaders must make an effort toward team unity and wellbeing on a holistic level. Checking in on your people beyond projects shows their value goes far beyond the tasks they complete and elevates the organization's morale. As Theodore Roosevelt stated, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." The reality is that these cultures will sustain momentum by creating freedom for employees to be their best.