Given the uncertainty businesses face in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, company leaders are looking at every phase of their operation to determine ways they can improve.
Company culture is one area commanding attention. As the virus caused business limitations and forced many companies to go fully remote in 2020, workplace culture was challenged in new ways. This was a reminder to company leaders to make culture a priority, forcing them to find ways to strengthen it in the new year, says Mark McClain, CEO and co-founder of SailPoint and the ForbesBooks author of Joy and Success at Work: Building Organizations that Don’t Suck (the Life Out of People).
“More and more, companies are starting to understand that they need to show employees that they value them as whole people,” McClain says. “If you respect them, value them, and treat them as professionals, they will go through walls for you. If you don’t, if you create an environment where the very thought of coming to work creates anxiety, then they are going to look for employment elsewhere.”
Issues within the workplace culture can fester and eventually lead to toxic relationships, lower productivity, and higher turnover. McClain says that as companies try to balance remote working with a return to the office, it’s critical that culture problems be diagnosed and dealt with.
“But too often,” he says, “leaders don’t have the time to dig into te root problems or don’t know how to really reach their people and devise solutions.”
McClain offers these tips for management to build a better workplace culture in 2021:
1. Make the health and well-being of your employees the first priority.
“Putting your employees first makes them far more likely to be good producers for your company,” McClain says. “With the ongoing pandemic and 2021 bringing much uncertainty, it’s the right time to review workplace safety, collect employees’ thoughts on working remotely vs. coming back to the office, look at internal communications, and analyze management practices to make sure you’re addressing employees’ needs and concerns. Circulate employee surveys to get helpful feedback.”
2. Hire people who are culture fits.
“Some people are very capable, but they happen to be jerks,” McClain says. “No matter how smart such a person might be, the negatives will eventually outweigh the positives. At the same time, you don’t want to hire people who are really nice but not terribly competent.”
3. Beware of fake culture.
Some companies create what McClain calls “pseudo cultures,” which he describes as “thinly veiled come-ons where companies offer massages, free beer, or other perks to attract employees.” Eventually, people figure out that a cool employee lounge with a ping-pong table does not make for a successful company. “Real organizational cultures are reflections of how companies treat people and create useful products,” he says.
4. Increase employee engagement.
McClain says leaders should go the extra steps to get to know their employees – a big help in keeping them engaged. “It can be tougher initially to spot people who are not fully engaged,” he says. “The gut feeling leaders need in that regard develops over time with the determination to know your people as individuals. Not all managers are willing to do that, and that’s a mistake. Showing genuine concern can uncover issues that can steer the employee to the help they need.”
5. Promote a work-life balance.
“It’s nice to have ultra-motivated climbers, and it’s essential for a forward-moving company to demand a lot of its people,” McClain says. “But not at the expense of burning them out, messing up their health, and hurting their family relationships. That’s going to hurt the company in the long run as well.”
“Nurturing your internal culture,” McClain says, “enables people and business to thrive. It’s never been more important than now after a year of chaos and with more uncertainty ahead.”