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  • Sheri Bender

10 Tips to Improve Workplace Culture and Employee Engagement in the New Year

Updated: Apr 10

Sheri Bender, Pulse HR Solutions, LLC

Four people collaborating on a project in an office
Teams CAN work successfully

We made it to the end of another year. Many people are busy making New Year’s Resolutions and reflecting on the happenings of the past 12 months. For the world of HR and Leadership, this past year has been filled with disruptions, catchphrases, unique recruiting challenges, and even layoffs. On the personal side of things, many have may have explored new career opportunities, taken a break from the working world, been tasked with caring for aging parents or young people, or focused on their own professional development. If nothing else, the trend for 2022 has been flexibility and survival.

If there’s one thing you can count on in life—it’s change! Companies are being disrupted daily by technology, social media, demographic shifts, economic forces, and more. As leaders in organizations large and small—we are tasked with navigating these changes effectively so we can continue to grow our businesses and drive positive outcomes for our communities.

As we look forward to a fresh start in the new year, I have 10 solid tips that Executives, Leaders, and Business Owners looking to improve Workplace Culture and Employee Engagement can implement that WILL improve their results. How do I know this? I have dedicated my career to human resources in various industries, and the last 5 years of my career have been spent in HR consulting and leadership training.

30% of deals fail to meet financial objectives due to culture issues.

Why is that? In the wake of a transaction, employees are wondering, How is my day-to-day work impacted? Will my pay be affected? Will my role or title change? When a deal is announced, these are the first unknowns clarified for executives so that they can focus on strategy and execution. The rest of the organization is left to wonder. This lack of clarity results in costly derailments of business outcomes, such as productivity loss, flight of key talent, delayed synergies and, ultimately, customer disruption.

What is the cost of a bad company culture?

According to the 2022 SHRM Global Culture Research Report globally, 45% of workers have thought about leaving their current organization. This was slightly higher at 51% in the US. The results are similar for workers who are actively looking for a new job. Over 1 in 5 employees (22%) who rate their culture as good have actively looked for a new job in the past six months, and that number grows to 43% of workers who rate their culture as average and almost 2 out of 3 employees (64%) who rate their workplace culture as poor.

The statistics are clear, an average or a good culture isn’t even good enough. This leads to the question: What is driving employees to leave? People management also matters. Strong supervisors make their employees feel inspired and motivated at work and weak supervisors lead to employee dissatisfaction. 62% of employees who are actively looking for a new opportunity said they have observed their direct supervisor fail to hold co-workers accountable for poor workplace behavior. This lack of leadership is very frustrating for employees and could contribute to employee dissatisfaction and turnover.

Making matters worse, over half of workers (54%) who are looking for a new job believe their supervisor doesn’t know how to lead a team. No matter how strong your culture is, if you don't have strong leaders in place, it can be detrimental to progress.

In short, here are the 10 tips to improve Workplace Culture and Employee Engagement:

1. Build Solid Relationships with Your Team

2. Value What Each Person Brings to The Organization (DEI)

3. Invest in Development – Not just ‘them’, for yourself too

4. Find Your Secret Recipe-What Is It that Your Company Does Really Well?

5. Adapt Agile Leadership (Flexibility is here to stay)

6. Be Consistent and Hold People Accountable

7. Strive for a Collaborative Environment

8. Set Goals to Strengthen Purpose and Transparency

9. Celebrate and Recognize Excellence

10. Commit to Support and Communicate (Everyone)

Build Solid Relationships with Your Team

Building relationships takes time and effort but is key to better serving customers and meeting organizational goals. As you develop your strategy to improve your relationships ask yourself why people stay or leave your team. Think about how you can develop trust with each person on your team. Reflect on the skills of your best manager/supervisor, how did they approach building relationships? It's also important to consider what motivates your teammates. Some people need more attention than others and remote / in-person delivery touch points are different (for example: some people respond better when there is direct face-to-face communication whereas for some people this doesn't work). Once you can understand various needs and motivations, you can build on them to develop connections and empower them to reach their potential. While there is much more to building relationships and teams, this is the start to a solid foundation.

Value What Each Person Brings to The Organization (DEI)

A 2020 McKinsey Study revealed that companies that invest in diversity and inclusion outperform those that did not. This is not news to leaders and managers who have been listening to their employees. In fact, some of the most successful organizations I have partnered with have been inclusive without labeling it. However, over the last few years, many companies have created large diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives with little leadership support which turned in to 'check-the-box' activities, or that might likely be eliminated due to budget cuts and constraints. And, for employers that want to continue to thrive and support all employees, these initiatives will remain and are so much more than mere initiatives, they have become staples of the environment, they are what creates safety for employees to speak up when something doesn't feel comfortable; it may be a virtual convening of similar-backgrounded individuals who come together to share life experiences and how to cope with them successfully; or it may be educational efforts to help expand knowledge and openness of peers throughout the organization. Whatever efforts fit for your organization are unique to your situation and show support. It is important that they do not become the flavor of the month like so many initiatives in other companies in the past. Top leadership needs to model the way by supporting these efforts, properly participating, and showing that they truly believe and support the initiatives which will motivate the culture and engagement of employees.

Invest in Development – Not just ‘them’, for yourself too

This is a very important area. In fact, I will devote my next blog to it. My pinnacle HR/Training position was devoted to creating a corporate university that focused on leadership development and onboarding. Our motto was: "you only get one chance to make a first impression". This applied to new hires and anyone you met when you became their leader. Ongoing development is something that should not be overlooked, especially during these ever-evolving times.

If you have been in a supervisory or leadership position for over five years, please consider investing in your own upskilling as well. Times are changing quickly and those who become stagnant will get left behind. RogueHR was born because of all of the things I witnessed being done 'to' employees (I knew leaders could do better) and the pandemic provided employees (including leaders) the necessary time to reflect on what 'really' mattered. The way leaders have led is the past may not suffice going forward. Now, organizations are seeing the outcome of that reflection time and employees at all levels are actually asking for and personally investing in professional development and reskilling / upskilling (aka learning new things). Not to mention the waves of turnover that we have experienced with the 'great resignation' and beyond. If you want to be a leader that supports your team and stands out, provide the opportunity for them to grow and develop.

Find Your Secret Recipe-What Is It that You Do Really Well?

Some fast-food restaurants are known for their above-excellent customer service skills. Some theme parks are known for their once-in-a-lifetime experiences they provide. What is your company known for? What makes your organization stand out from the rest? Why would someone want to come to work for you versus all of the other choices out there (and I really mean ALL the other choices out there, because we know we are competing in a larger pool these days).

As a leader, are you able to speak to your mission and values or is that just a piece of framed artwork that hangs on the wall proverbial wall? If you're not able to voice the goals and objectives (or better yet, tell a story) in your own words, it may be time to refresh the mission statement. In training sessions, I call this 'finding your secret recipe'. I liken this to a secret family recipe that is not written down anywhere, but the oldest sibling knows it by heart and the whole family knows if the recipe is made correctly or if a special ingredient is left out because it just doesn't taste right. In my family, this was my Mom's Potato Salad. We only had it at Christmas and it was delish!!!

If you want to build workplace culture, every employee should be able to describe (in their own way) what is 'feels' like to work for your company. This is your biggest defense against competitors. And it will be ever evolving as you will continue to have recruiting challenges, but this is why it is ever important to create a solid recipe that everyone is familiar with. How do you ensure your team knows the company's mission and understands how their unique role contributes to success?

Adapt Agile Leadership (Flexibility is here to stay)

Flexibility is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Being agile is being able to quickly adjust and adapt to change. Successful leaders are able to deal with uncertain times and respond to a changing environment. Be Proactive in all ways; including:

  • Work arrangements: the pandemic quickly revealed that many organizations could convert to remote work arrangements and after 2+ years employees are asking for remote, hybrid, and/or in-person work.

  • Benefits: with many generations of workers in the workforce, providing variety and options in benefits should be a consideration when crafting plans. Some employees value retirement plans while others

  • Recruiting: flexibility starts with the interview: consider asking what the candidate prefers from the beginning virtual or in-person interview.

  • Work styles: strive to understand the individual work preferences of the various groups (as they are referred to) now available in the labor pool. New grads seeking their first job; Traditionalists who are very skilled in their field and can easily transfer to your organization with little ramp-up time; Gronks largest potential pool that will re-enter after retirement, underrecruited; individuals that stopped working due to pandemic to care for others or enter a different industry; Laid off Individuals with different skills and lack experience in your field, Re-entry candidates (incarcerated) that may have transferable skills or willing to train.

Be Consistent and Hold People Accountable

Believe it or not, employees actually want to be held accountable. It is much less stressful to know what the rules are and know what the consequences are when you violate those rules. Leadership models the way by knowing the policies and procedures and ensuring they are followed. Even if you think 'they won't know about it this one time', employees are really smart and there are no secrets. You signed up for this leadership position and with that comes the responsibility to have difficult conversations. While it may not seem like it at the time, it is much easier to be consistent than it is to make concessions. If you have found yourself straying from the policies, partner with internal resources (HR, your supervisor, and/or mentor) and discuss a plan or correction. Ideally, to course correct, you educate, set a date, and implement, then follow the plan.

Strive for a Collaborative Environment

To create an open environment where team members can continuously improve, provide training on providing feedback. There is a simple equation that works well for most: when you do 'x' this is how it makes me feel and, in the future, I would like for you to do 'y'. This generally works well because it shares the impact that one person's behavior had on you, and it also shares how it made you feel (and the other person cannot take your feelings away). This approach is different because it removes acquisitions and blame. Managers can lead the way by welcoming feedback and seeking feedback from direct reports often. Even more, when you receive feedback, put that valuable input in to use and when applicable, make change or ask for more information. When employees see you (as the leader) embracing this process, they will be more likely to follow your modeling and feel more comfortable with feedback. This can create a safe space for collaboration with much more and remove silos.

Consider various team building activities so that co-workers can get to know each other. This is important whether you work in a virtual or traditional work setting. Over the past few years, work routines have likely shifted, and work styles may have changed so it is important to allow time for the traditional 'water cooler' conversations to happen, even if this is planned during working hours. Some may think this is time wasted but it is actually time invested and can provide lanes for future collaboration. It may also be meaningful to ask the team what they would value to create space for increased collaboration. You may just be surprised at some of the ideas that they may come up with.

Set Goals to Strengthen Purpose and Transparency

So that employees feel connected to purpose, it is important to collectively set goals that contribute to the success of the organization's mission. To achieve high-productivity, organizations should be aware of the relationship between people and technology. With many generations and work styles in the workforce, this may require various levels of support to ensure organizational success and comfort. Some individuals may be fearful as technology continues to replace traditional roles; so, it is important to educate on the benefits of process improvement and the interconnectivity of roles and goals to ensure company longevity. Some methods to consider ensuring these conversations occur on a regular basis:

  • regularly seek employee input and feedback regarding goals, objectives, and training needs to ensure success;

  • hold departmental meetings to share progress towards goals;

  • coordinate 1:1 meetings with employees to provide updates on individual goals;

  • ensure transparence so there are no secrets

Celebrate and Recognize Excellence

In my experience, companies and leaders have been quick to correct and slow to recognize. The fact is recognition doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. To be meaningful, it needs to be honest and just. If you are a leader, how do you appreciate an action or 'job well done' from your employees? One thing to consider is that each employee may have a different preference when it comes to what they value. For me, (since I have worked most of my career in a 'thankless' profession), I prefer an email or hand-written note so that I can keep it and take a look at it later. Some people prefer a quiet 'thank you' and others like to be unrecognized. If you haven't considered it, you might want to ask your direct reports what they value and how they would like to be appreciated? I once worked with a high-powered Vice President that was VERY demanding of their team and very introverted when you got to know them. They once received an award from their boss and I truly thought they would crawl under the table at the dinner rather than go up front in a crowded room to receive the recognition, there was almost a minute's delay between the announcement and the person standing up to receive the award. So, be sure you know what the employee prefers, or you might be left holding the trophy.

Commit to Support and Communicate (Everyone)

After the last few years, everyone can use support. That support will look different at different times. Some of the hot topics right now include mental health, stress, and burnout resources for employees. As we discussed with relationship building and recognition, knowing individual preference will lead to success. Because communication and work style/preference/habits may vary and are very important for building a positive work culture.

Communication Skills are on steroids these days and there is no such thing as overcommunication. Think of all of the methods that are at your disposal for communicating with your team: email, Slack/Teams, virtual meetings, in-person meetings, town hall/department meetings, one-on-one meetings, informal discussions/conversations, formal documents and policies, trainings to name a few.

72 percent of executives are worried that the increase in remote work will take a toll on company culture, Mercer's 2022 Global Talent Trends Study found that approximately 72 percent of executives are concerned about the future of company culture as remote work increases.

How long does culture change take?

This may be the million-dollar question. You can go to various sources and you will see many different answers to this question. I, personally, believe you can see evidence of culture change when top leadership and employees are committed to creating a movement throughout the organization. True impact on culture change takes a continuous effort over a period of time (12 months or longer). As you can see from these 10 recommendations, your energy could be thinly-spread, so it is best to take a strategic approach. Some of the energies may reach audiences that have been in place for years and others may be require implementing a totally new endeavor (either of these may be relatively easy or challenging).

I invite you to share some of the best experiences you have had with company culture change efforts and employee engagement. What did a leader do to spark a sense of engagement in you? What did it ‘feel’ like to work at your organization? What tips you can share with us? I look forward to your comments.



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