A healthy workplace culture — one that is fair, inclusive, high-functioning and free from harassment — is a critical business asset and the greatest employee wellness benefit an employer can provide.
Company culture means more than having a nice place to work. It’s what keeps talented employees in place and performing, and talent is what differentiates the winners and losers in business today. Every decision our organizations make strengthens or weakens the culture.
Can organizations change their culture?
Yes, but to change it, leaders must first take time to learn what their employee culture their employees experience is, versus what they want it to be. Then, they can begin creating a strong statement of values that feels right to their people and their business practices, and start living it from top to bottom. They can hire for it, promote for it and fully inhabit it.
Healthy cultures are inclusive — open to anyone who can bring needed skills and live the values the company aspires to. That means thinking beyond diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, etc., to embrace talent from non-traditional educational and work backgrounds. Would your organization consider talented applicants who don’t have college degrees, a solid employment history or a clean criminal record? Hiring bias has no place in healthy workplaces.
Can culture be enforced?
A healthy culture is supported by clear, pragmatic policies, as well as employee education and training about acceptable behaviors in the workplace — critical in the era of #MeToo. But beyond enforcing the rules, leaders must also agree on the guiding principles of the organization and enforce them. A “rules-plus” approach bridges the gap between what is legal or compliant with policy and what you really want your employees to experience. For example, there is a vast gray area between what the law calls harassment and other harmful behaviors that drive good people away.
How will you know your culture is working?
In a healthy workplace culture, when toxic behaviors — such as discrimination, harassment or abuse — are observed or experienced, the community takes over and shuts it down, with a message that the behavior will not be tolerated by anyone at any level. A healthy culture tells the wrong people, “You don’t belong here.”
Your best resource in understanding and changing a company culture is your HR team. A talented, certified HR leader can ensure you have the smartest policies and the best training available to create and maintain healthy cultures. HR can be the one to make tough calls and stand up to bad actors, no matter where they rank.
An investment in HR is an investment in better workplaces for a better world.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, President and Chief Executive Officer, Society for Human Resource Management, [email protected]