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Academic Insight: Workplace Culture Encourages Employee Retention

Shontarius D. Aikens, Ph.D.,

I want you to imagine or visualize your favorite place in the world. A place where you feel connected, energized, engaged, or that has a special purpose and meaning in your life. For some of you, this place may be on a beach, at the lake, on the golf course, or perhaps it could be in the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of your home. If it is a place that you truly enjoy being at, then your desire is to stay there as long as possible.

Now, let’s come back to reality. Roughly a third of a person’s day is spent at their place of employment. For some employees, their work environment can provide similar feelings of purpose, meaning, and engagement. For others, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve had conversations with several of my friends who have indicated that the pandemic has caused them to re-assess their purpose and life goals. As a result, they are contemplating leaving their current organization in pursuit of a better opportunity. Even prior to the pandemic, companies in various industries have often indicated a shortage of talent. Given the current labor shortage, hiring talented individuals would become even more competitive. If organizations are having difficulty bringing in new employees, what would happen if organizations started losing their existing employees? This should be concerning to organizations.

So, what can organizations do? One solution is to focus on employee retention by improving the organization’s workplace culture. According to a 2015 Gallup study on Well-Being and Employee Engagement, employees who are engaged at their work and have high well-being are 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization over a 12-month period. Since creating a workplace culture where employees can thrive, be engaged and feel valued would result in them staying at their current organization, managers should make this is a priority given the current labor shortage. Below are three things to consider and possible action steps.

Understanding the Existing Workplace Culture

Workplace culture begins in a top-down approach with senior leadership and management. And it is recommended that top management have a true understanding of the existing workplace culture to the point that they can define it and articulate it. In addition, it is important to answer two workplace culture questions:

  • Is the culture Strong or Weak?: A strong culture exists when there are 1) high levels of agreement among employees about what is valued and 2) high levels of intensity about these values. If both items are low, then the culture could be characterized as weak.
  • Are cultural components Observable or Unobservable?: Pay particular attention to aspects of the workplace culture that are observable (can be seen or witnessed) and aspects of the culture that are unobservable (components that lie beneath the surface of an organization and are not as easily seen or witnessed).

A tool that can be used to analyze an existing workplace culture would be the Cultural Web tool developed by Gerry Johnson. If one is looking for a resource that explains the process of re-assessing or re-defining the values of an organization, I highly recommend Patrick Lencioni’s book The Ideal Team Player.

Gathering Employee Feedback

One tool that can be utilized to gather employee feedback on the workplace culture is the Stop-Keep-Start (SKS) reflection method. During a large group or town hall session including employees, a facilitator presents three questions to employees:

  • What is one thing that our organization should Stop doing?
  • What is one thing that our organization should Keep doing?
  • What is one thing that our organization should Start doing?

Attendees would answer the questions anonymously on either a postit note or a notecard. The results would be collected and discussed in the large group setting for further clarification and understanding. In addition to creating an atmosphere of communication, transparency and openness, the additional benefit of this is receiving direct feedback from employees on how they perceive the existing workplace culture.

The Important Role of Managers

Not only do managers play a key role in influencing and implementing the workplace culture, but they also play a key role in employee retention. Why? Because it is well known and documented that employees don’t leave organizations; they leave managers. Managers should meet with their supervisees via 1 on 1 meetings on a regular and frequent basis to celebrate their achievements, discuss their challenges and ideas for future development.

Conclusion

Laurel J. Richie, former president of the WNBA (2011-2015), said the following:

“I want people coming in every day thinking this is a place where they can bring their very best, and I believe that if they feel that way, they will actually do it. I just don’t believe in terrorizing, intimidating, testing, catching people off guard. I don’t play games. Life’s too short and we’ve got too much to do. I want people focusing on the work, not how to navigate politics. It’s my job to create an environment where they can bring their best selves, and good things will happen as a result.”

The success of the WNBA during Richie’s tenure is well documented, and it is a great example of how a focus on workplace culture can result in an organization’s success and growth during critical times. It is my hope that the information and resources provided in this article will help your organization address the relevant and critical need for employee retention through an intentional focus on improving the workplace culture.

What do you think?

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