Remote working | Could 2022 see the death of company cultures?

Could 2022 see the death of company cultures?
Could 2022 see the death of company cultures?

Although the past couple of years have been tortuously unpredictable in HR circles, there’s one topic that’s been present throughout: and that’s the state of company culture.

It’s easy to understand why, too. With the UK gripped by financial uncertainties, COVID-enforced lockdowns and the ongoing effects of Brexit, every organisation has been looking for ways to navigate increasingly choppy business waters – and a positive company culture has often been identified as a key supporting element to success.

However, although creating positive company cultures has always been a priority for business leaders, influencers and commentators, just what do they really mean to the average employee? Do employees really think they’re that important? Have they been affected by the pandemic? And, who do they think is responsible for the culture of a business?

To find out, Cezanne HR conducted a survey of 1,000 employees across the UK and Ireland; covering a broad range of age groups, industries, job roles and organisational sizes to get some firm answers.

Their key findings included:

Company culture is hugely important to employees

Perhaps unsurprisingly, out of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 84.5% felt that a company’s culture was important. But just 57% said that their company had a “stated culture”. And of all the respondents whose companies did have a stated culture, a little over 73% believed their firm was actually living up to it: although 26% felt their company’s real culture was “not at all” reflective of the firm’s actions.

Candidates research company cultures before applying

Cezanne HR also discovered that more than 75% of respondents said they would research a company and its culture pledges before considering applying for a job with them.

Poor culture could be a factor in The Great Resignation

More than half (54%) of employees are willing to walk away from a job at a firm which they consider doesn’t support or care about a great company culture, according to the Cezanne HR findings. This indicates a positive culture is a vital part of the employee experience, and something that employers should ignore at their peril.

Younger generations in particular appear less willing to tolerate poor working cultures, with 61% of both 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 year-olds saying they were happy to leave (or have left) a business because of it. However, given how important people thought it was to have a good company culture, it is somewhat surprising that 45.5% seemed to be happy to overlook it.

This result suggests that the expectations of younger workers are different to those of older generations. Organisations and their HR teams cannot afford to ignore what culture means to younger generations entering the workforce and the impact it can have on staff retention.

Their expectations of what makes for a great culture – for example, flexible working, employee wellbeing and diversity, inclusivity and equality initiatives - are a much bigger focus than they were even a decade ago. With that in mind, cultures shouldn’t remain ‘fixed’; they must remain fluid and adaptable to changing employee expectations.

Money matters

Many believe a strong company culture trumps compensation every time. Indeed, back in 2019, Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain at leading employer review and job site Glassdoor stated that “Employers looking to boost recruiting and retention efforts should prioritize building strong company culture and value systems, amplifying the quality and visibility of their senior leadership teams and offering clear, exciting career opportunities to employees.”

Andrew’s statement accompanied research that discovered 56% of UK workers ranked a strong workplace culture as more important than salary. But, given the global events of the past two years, have priorities changed?

When it comes to whether employees value culture or compensation more, Cezanne HR’s survey found that a positive company culture comes out on top – although only just.

Overall, it revealed that just 52% of employees value a positive company culture over a better salary, although that wasn’t the case for everyone surveyed.
For those aged 35-44, money proved to be a key priority: with 54% revealing they valued a better annual wage over a positive company culture. Given that 84% of employees in this age range felt a company’s culture was important, it’s surprising to learn that salary has the edge when it comes down to what really motivates them.

Does remote working damage company culture?

The outbreak of COVID caused workforces around the globe to adopt home working, many of which have now either gone permanently remote or adopted a hybrid model. And 55% of British and Irish workers told Cezanne HR that this change in working structure hasn’t hindered their company’s cultural aims.

However, 50% of the respondents did say that hybrid and remote working isn’t beneficial for supporting workplace relationships, with almost 31% saying that WFH is outright harming their connections with colleagues.

A further 63% felt that the physical workspace was an important part of a positive company culture, and this figure rises to 85% among employees aged 54 and over.

Cezanne HR suggests that, to maintain a positive remote workplace culture, employers need to establish and nurture virtual environments in which team members still feel connected. Us humans are social creatures, so sending a monthly update email or occasional MS Teams message simply won’t cut it: employees need to feel that their team is just that, a team and that their opinions matter. To achieve this, they must have regular contact with their manager and their colleagues. It’s vital that HR and business leaders make sure this can be done effectively.

Who do employees think is responsible for company culture?

It’s generally accepted that the leaders of an organisation are the ones who can influence a company culture the most. After all, for any positive culture to truly take effect within a business, its senior leaders must lead by example. Their behaviours and attitudes can create a ‘waterfall’ effect, filtering down into the wider workforce.

That sentiment was echoed by the survey results, with 32% of employees believing the behaviour of senior leaders influence company culture the most, closely followed by managers. Interestingly, the behaviour of HR was seen to have very little influence.

40% of the study’s respondents agreed that directors and senior leaders are primarily responsible for promoting a company’s culture. Cezanne HR’s survey shows that employees will look to the actions and behaviours of senior leaders, so they must demonstrate the values they want to see in their workforce. A ‘do as I say, not as I do’ style of culture simply isn’t enough, says Cezanne HR.

Senior leaders and managers must be seen as guiding examples of the culture their business needs to flourish. They need to be the ones stepping up and setting the example to follow. If there’s a clear difference between their workplace behaviours and the desired principles of a stated culture, it can create a total disconnect between what a company thinks its culture is, and what it really is.

What matters most, salary or culture?

To complete their survey, Cezanne HR wanted to find out what employees valued the most when looking for a new job, asking employees “In order of importance, what matters to you most when looking for a new role?”

The overwhelming winner was better annual salary and benefits, with 34% putting it top of their list of priorities and 60% including it in their top three. Other popular first choices included flexible or remote working and a shorter commute.

That doesn’t mean that culture isn’t important to job seekers, though. Just over 10% flagged it as a key driver when looking for a new role, and 40% included it in their top three. But, given the pandemic has accelerated conversations about working practices and opened a new world of working freedoms for many people, knowing what matters most to your staff will be key to developing more effective retention strategies.

The key takeaways for HR

The results of Cezanne HR’s survey indicate employers need to do more to make effective company cultures work in ‘The New Normal’.

Given the past couple of tumultuous years, many organisations have had to concentrate their energies into simply carrying on with ‘business as usual’ in the face of global events., So, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to learn that positive cultures had suffered.

Thankfully, the research suggests employees still genuinely value a company’s culture. But, with the ‘new’ normality of hybrid and remote working, there is much for HR to do to ensure their company cultures are fit for new ways of working and changing employee expectations.

Poor company culture is fanning the flames of the Great Resignation – HR need to be the firefighters

Cezanne HR’s research shows that employees are not prepared to put up with a poor company culture and will leave a role if it doesn’t meet with expectation. Given how competitive the jobs market continues to be, it’s in every HR teams interest to step up and investigate whether their culture is fit for the objectives and goals of the business, or if it’s contributing to poor rates of employee retention and attraction.

Do not underestimate the importance of stating your company culture

The research shows that a positive company culture is something the majority of workers cherish – it isn’t just marketing spiel. The problem is though, is that it looks as if not all employers are nurturing their own cultures as well as they should.

It would certainly explain why 43% of employees said they didn’t know if their company had a stated culture. The danger is that without a clearly articulated culture, employees can lose sight of what their organisations truly stand for and what their ultimate aims and ambitions are, too. This is potentially a huge problem brewing.

For any business to be successful, it’s vital its’ workforce strives towards the same shared vision for success – a big part of what forms a company culture. But, if 43% of employees don’t know what that vision is or what behaviours are conducive to success, then how can they work towards achieving the business’s goals?

That being said, organisations need to also be aware that a company culture is not all things to all employees. Discovering what truly motivates and engages their workforce’s different demographics is the only way to build that all-important culture that works for everyone.

Rewards and recognition are central to a positive company culture

The Cezanne HR survey found that one thing employees believe is a crucial part of any culture is reward and recognition. It should be said though, that when we talk about reward and recognition, we don’t just mean of the monetary variety: it’s often the case that simply instilling a culture of saying ‘thank you’ can be enough.

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