The “Great Reshuffle” has made one thing abundantly clear: employees are no longer willing to settle for business as usual. As work cultures continue to evolve in the “new normal”, employees are beginning to push for changes to their work environments - new benefits, new flexibility, and new dynamics. This, in turn, presents a challenge for human resources teams. How can you find a balance between preserving your organisational culture and adapting to your employees’ needs?
To find a solution, companies must first embrace the fact that the world of work has permanently changed, and take a curious and exploratory approach to employee-led changes to the workplace culture.
Here’s how to make it work for both your company and your employees.
1. Accept that employee expectations have changed.
In December 2021, Lattice conducted an extensive survey of more than 2,000 employees and HR leaders across the UK. Nearly two out of three workers said that the COVID pandemic had made them think about leaving their job. HR leaders confirmed that they were struggling to attract and retain top talent — nearly half (46%) attributed the difficulty to “social factors".
Survey respondents indicated that today’s employees are looking for flexible work, a strong wellness programme, respect for their work-life balance, and an employer who demonstrates commitments to sustainability, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
To quote Seth Kramer, Lattice’s Head of EMEA:
“This data underscores that the ‘war for talent’ has reached a new phase, with employees not only reconsidering what they’re looking for in a role but how they work entirely. Employees are increasingly empowered to leave behind employers who aren’t meeting their needs. More than ever, HR leaders should pay close attention to these trends, and find ways to evolve their culture, policies, and processes to provide their people with what they need.”
Read the full report here: Rethinking Work: Attracting and Retaining Talent in an Employee-Led Market
2. Empower employees to shape organisational culture.
In short, HR leaders have no choice but to accept the fact that work has become about more than the 9-to-5. Employees expect more. They are looking for jobs that are meaningful, and an employer who treats them with respect. Some industry experts, like sociologist Dr. Tracy Brower, feel that it no longer makes sense to use the term ‘work-life balance'.
Instead, Brower prefers the term ‘work-life fulfilment’. I.e. thinking holistically about how work shapes people’s lives.
“Work is part of a full life, and it’s a place where we are able to contribute our talents and skills within our community”, she says. “We all have an instinct to matter, so when we’re able to fully engage with our work, that’s important. In addition, a big part of fulfilment comes from the rest of our lives as well — and these tend to be the things, statistically, that people value most when they look back: time with family, time volunteering, time invested in personal growth. Work-life integration or fulfilment is important to our joy, our happiness, and to our contribution to our communities.”
Once you’ve accepted that employees are looking for a richer work experience and more flexibility from their employers, it’s time to find out what your specific team needs from you. Employees should feel like co-owners of the organisational culture, rather than passive recipients. Instead of being expected to fit in with ‘how we do things,’ employees today thrive in an environment that invites them to play an active role in examining, questioning, and improving how work is done.
3. Create opportunities for collecting and sharing feedback.
Instead of waiting for employees to come forward with requests and suggestions, HR leaders should aim to be proactive about inviting employees to get involved in building the corporate culture. Tim Reitsma, General Manager of People Managing People and a thought leader on organisational culture, suggests:
“One straightforward way HR and leadership can collaborate with their employees is to host a series of company culture round-table discussions. These conversations are simple, interactive, and high-impact. A few questions could include:
- How would you describe our organisation’s culture?
- What do you love about our company culture?
- Where could we improve?
- If there was one thing we could do to evolve our culture, what would it be?
A roundtable (virtual or in-person) could follow a defined set of questions that HR and leadership hope to answer.”
Steven McConnell, Director Of Sales & Marketing at executive consultancy firm Arielle, recommends introducing “employee suggestion [programmes], where employees are also effective at promoting each member's involvement and emphasising that there is recognition in helping us help them be more productive, cut costs, and drive improvements to the company overall.” McConnell’s team are offered small perks for their contributions, as an added incentive to get involved.
Finally, employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys can be powerful tools for gathering employee input at scale. You can design surveys to address specific areas of interest that arise during your round tables or ask open-ended questions to show that you’re open to feedback.
4. Respond to employee suggestions consistently.
Regardless of how employee requests for changes arise - whether through feedback, through discussions, or through the employees’ own initiative - it is vital that you respond to their ideas, and communicate your responses clearly. Failing to act on – or even acknowledge – employee suggestions is worse than not asking for suggestions in the first place.
A 2021 survey about work environments by Ernst & Young found that, while nearly 80% of companies plan to “make moderate to extensive hybrid work changes,” only 40% had actually communicated those plans to the workforce. Given that the pursuit of flexible work is one of the main reasons employees are quitting, now is not the time to be secretive!
Some HR leaders worry that opening up their organisational culture to employee feedback could also lead to unrealistic requests. Employees who ask for changes that the company cannot reasonably manage might then be disappointed to have their ideas rejected.
Tim Reitsma suggests that the best way to respond to unrealistic requests is to “take a quick pause and get curious as to what’s behind the request.” For instance, an employee who asks for unlimited holidays might in fact be struggling with overwork or coping with issues at home. While you might not be able to allow all employees to take as many days off as they would like, you might be able to support the employee with alternative solutions, such as offering a short paid leave or decreasing their workload.
However, Reitsma has some words of caution. “Don’t lead people on! If there is an unrealistic request and your company isn’t going to act on it, then let the employee(s) know. If you do look into the request and then decide not to take action, it’s better to own it and communicate it.”
If you’re unsure about whether or not an organisational change will be a good fit, it may be time to incorporate your company’s core values and mission into the decision-making process. Ask yourselves:
- Does this change reflect who we want to be as an organisation?
- What type of culture are we trying to build?
- Will it help or hinder our overall mission?
- Which of our values will it strengthen?
By using your shared values as a framework for evaluating proposed changes, you will not only reinforce those values, you will also provide a useful shared vocabulary for discussing employee suggestions, and your reasons for accepting or rejecting them.
5. Monitor and evaluate changes effectively.
Once you’ve reviewed a proposed change, it’s time to take decisive action to try the idea out. If the change is extensive – a switch to remote work, or a four-day workweek, for instance – it might be worth trialling a short-term pilot scheme with a single team or department.
For a formal, structured framework for evaluating and guiding the process of change, try Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Culture influences performance dramatically, and this standard performance management system can act as a helpful framework for managing the effects of culture change.
For a full guide on how to make it work, take a look at our on-demand webinar with Lawrence Walsh of There Be Giants: Managing Cultural Change in the Workplace with OKRs.
Once you’ve implemented the change, you’ll then need to monitor its impact to see whether it should be incorporated into your organisation’s culture for the long term. Teamwork is key here. Instead of taking the traditional top-down approach to change management, Arielle’s Steven McConnell advises that you:
“Get your employees involved in making sure the change stays, by reporting which elements are working and which still need adjustments. We want them to be the ones to tell us about the impacts, both negative and positive, of the causes they've advocated for themselves, to truly bring out the manager in each of them.”
For HR leaders, keeping an eye on the impact these changes are making might also include weekly one-to-ones with senior managers and other stakeholders, as well as regular employee surveys. Depending on the change in question, it may be appropriate to incorporate relevant resources into your learning and development programme to further support your employees. You might also want to appoint a working group to manage and report on the culture change in question, to ensure you can gather all the information you need.
Today’s workforce expects more from employers. It’s time to rise to the challenge.
To establish your brand as an employer of choice for high performers, HR departments must partner with business leaders to create the employee experience your team is looking for. In today’s evolving labour market, remaining competitive as an employer will require companies to demonstrate their adaptability. Employees are looking for meaningful work in which they feel recognised and appreciated, and in which they see their own cultural values reflected. They should feel like co-creators of a shared and evolving organisational culture that they are helping to build.
“Involving employees in culture-shifting initiatives will create trust, ownership, and engagement,” Tim Reitsma says. “Often, the people with the best ideas are those around you! Gather feedback, listen – and take action!”
By creating the mechanisms to gather, evaluate and implement employee-led changes to the organisational culture, businesses will be in a prime position to attract and retain those star performers currently looking to ‘reshuffle.’ Your recruitment pipeline, your culture, your retention rates, and even your bottom line stand to benefit greatly from the resulting cultural transformation.
Lattice helps organisations collect and measure employee feedback through our engagement tools. To learn more about using Lattice to turn insights into action, request a demo today.