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Why Culture Could Be Your Company’s Make or Break

By: Michael McQueen

In the office, it now seems the employer and employee simply want different things. The impasse between company and worker expectations around the future of the in-office work is a key factor driving what’s become known as ‘The Great Resignation.’

While there are some who dismiss this notion as an invention of HR and business consultants, the data does indicate that the latter stages of the COVID pandemic have seen a marked uptick in the number of employees quitting their jobs. In order to keep employees interested, businesses are having to change tactics.

For instance, the number of Americans who resigned from their jobs hit an all-time high of 4.5 million in the month of November 2021. This trend was most pronounced in the hospitality sector where the quit rate was 6.1%.

It’s important to note that these people are not exiting the labour market. As Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute points out, 6.7 million people were hired in November 2021. “People who quit are taking other jobs, not leaving the workforce,” said Shierholz.[1]

The data around employee resignation is similar in other countries around the world. In Australia, for instance, a February 2022 survey conducted by the National Australia Bank found that one in five Australians quit their job throughout 2021 and that 25% are considering doing the same in the coming 12 months.[2]

The reasons for this employee mobility are many and varied but it’s hard to overlook the role of employer expectations in navigating a return to the office. Data from McKinsey’s Reimagine Work report shows that a desire to retain work flexibility is proving to be a key factor in whether employees plan to stay in their current roles or not.[3]  The hybrid work model is part of this flexibility, and is now an essential for many individuals looking for work. However, the shift toward a hybrid work world will be easier said than done.

“Shifting to a hybrid model requires skills, perspectives and processes that most organisations are yet to master.”

Forecasts by Forrester’s Research in 2022 suggest that one-third of the companies that attempt to implement hybrid work practices will fail in their first attempt to do so. They suggest that this is because shifting to a hybrid model requires skills, perspectives and processes that most organisations are yet to master.[4]

Harvard Business School associate professor Ethan Bernstein agrees. “What makes hybrid work kind of interesting is that it’s the only kind of work we don’t know how to do,” says Bernstein. “People mastered working from home. In-person is the way things were. But there are so many ways to get hybrid wrong.”[5]

Meeting of workers in an office kitchen
Image: Photo by Redd on Unsplash

Among the most pressing issues for many leaders in a hybrid world is fostering a corporate culture and a sense of belonging in remote teams – especially as new employees join a team over time.[6] It’s all well and good to codify and espouse the behaviours and values that define an organization but culture is ‘caught not taught’. New employees get the clearest sense of ‘how things get done’ and what makes an organization who they are by observing the behaviour and decisions of others. Not only this, but a sense of the workplace culture is one of the key forces that encourages staff loyalty and enthusiasm for the team.

This growing realisation is causing many organisations to get creative about how they can foster a crisp sense of corporate identity when employees are working remotely. One effective way to do so is to ramp up the intentional use of off-sites and team retreats.

Off-sites have generally been the way companies gathered their teams to mark milestones such as a sales kickoff, new strategy launch or an end-of-year celebration. In the world of hybrid and remote work, however, they are quickly proving to be an effective way to foster a company culture and a deeper bond with colleagues.

One business at the forefront of this trend is Salesforce. In the words of the company’s Chief People Officer Brent Hyder, “The No. 1 danger to Salesforce and other companies is that people are going to become disengaged in the culture of the company.”[7]

“The eroding of a sense of connection with colleagues means it is easier to resign from a job…Once social and emotional bonds are weakened, work can become very transactional.”

As part of their strategy to make an intentional use of off-sites, Salesforce opened a 75-acre wellness retreat in early 2022 called ‘Trailblazer Ranch.’ Located 70 miles south of San Francisco, the facility will be primarily geared towards helping new employees feel connected to the company and its culture by way of short stays with colleagues. Visits to the retreat center will combine work, training, and wellness and will be made available to all of the company’s 70,000 employees over time.[8]

Initiatives like this could also prove key to staff retention, according to Gartner’s head of human resources research, Brian Kropp. Kropp points to the fact that remote work means fewer lunches, in-person meetings and after-hours drinks with colleagues and that the lack of these results in weaker bonds between team members. This eroding of a sense of connection with colleagues means it is easier to resign from a job. After all, many people stay in roles because of the people they work with and once these social and emotional bonds are weakened, work can become very transactional. As Brian Kropp suggests, “It’s easier to quit because you’re not quitting your friends.”[9]

As businesses are having to change tactics in response to the Great Resignation and the hybrid work model, corporate culture is an asset that sets them apart. A sense of collective identity in the workplace is essential for both staff retention and the kind of team spirit that will keep your company moving forward.

[1]  Cohen, J. 2022, ‘People are still quitting in droves,’ The Hustle, 5 January.

[2]  Healey, B. 2022, ‘1 in 5 Australians quit their job last year,’ Business Insider, 18 February.

[3]  Alexander, A. 2021, ‘What employees are saying about the future of remote work,’ McKinsey, 1 April.

[4] Leaver, S. 2021, ‘Predictions 2022: This Is A Year To Be Bold,’ Forrester, 26 October.

[5] Varagur, K. 2021, ‘Master the politics of the new hybrid office,’ The Wall Street Journal, 27 June.

[6] 2020, ‘Gartner Survey Reveals 82% of Company Leaders Plan to Allow Employees to Work Remotely Some of the Time’, Gartner Inc, 14 July.

[7] Cutter, C. 2022, ‘The off-site is the new return to the office,’ The Wall Street Journal, 5 February.

[8] Bindley, K. 2022, ‘Forget the office —Salesforce Is Making a Wellness Retreat for Workers,’ The Wall Street Journal, 10 February.

[9] Cutter, C. 2022, ‘Companies Seize On March as a Moment to Reopen the Office,’ The Wall Street Journal, 1 March.

Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

Feature image: Photo by Proxyclick Visitor Management System on Unsplash