Building organizational culture: putting people first

The past few years have been marked by unprecedented upheaval in the workforce. The pandemic and rising cost of living have led many to reexamine their personal priorities and career goals. Meanwhile, baby boomers transitioning into retirement are leaving behind significant gaps in knowledge and skills, and as Generation Z eagerly enters the workforce, they have different career expectations than their predecessors. Together, this has sparked a large-scale reshuffling of talent known as the Great Resignation. It is against this complex backdrop that organizations are engaged in a fierce war for talent.

Culture as a differentiator

In efforts to reduce attrition and attract new talent, employers are looking to use the strength of their organizational cultures to set themselves apart from the competition. Here, we highlight four qualities today’s workforce seeks in an employer and how you can leverage the latest trends to enhance these aspects of your organizational culture, making it more attractive to current and prospective employees.

#1: Meaning and belonging

Modern workers (particularly young ones) are increasingly look to their jobs to provide them with a sense of purpose. Many view work as not “just a job” but an extension of their personal identity. They want to feel like they’re making a meaningful difference in the world.

To address the sense of purpose that workers crave, many job duties have been reframed in terms of their meaning, rather than their mechanics. Postings for jobs in all sorts of fields now include words like “empathy” and “caring.” For employers to successful hire and retain people to whom these values are important, they must continually work to provide tangible caring employee and customer experiences, rather than merely paying lip service.

Companies are putting greater emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) as they strive to be responsible corporate citizens and the kind of organizations with which employees are proud to be associated. Efforts in this area focus on sustainability; strategic corporate giving; business ethics; and importantly, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which if embedded into organizational practices can help employees feel a sense of belonging, comfort and acceptance.

This is precisely what the modern workforce wants. According to new research, Generation Z and millennial employee loyalty is directly related to organizational commitment to making a positive impact on society.

#2: Appreciation and recognition

When committing to an organization, people want to feel confident their hard work won’t go unnoticed. They crave employers that value them as individuals and the unique traits they bring to the team. Amid today’s war for talent, recognizing employees isn’t merely a nice thing to do; it’s an organizational performance imperative.

Traditionally, employee recognition has focused on monetary rewards like cash bonuses and other financial incentives that have long been tied to employee performance. In today’s landscape, meaningful recognition must be more than dollars and cents. According to a recent study, recognition has the greatest impact when it fulfills employees’ needs and expectations and is authentic, equitable, personalized and embedded in the organizational culture.

Among today’s workforce, recognition is less about receiving individual accolades and more about opportunities for connection – kudos from management, acknowledgement from senior leadership or peer recognition. The research [in above study] found that employees who have good workplace recognition experiences are three times more likely to feel strong loyalty to the organization, while those who report low-quality or infrequent recognition are at high risk for leaving.

#3: High level of performance

Developing a high-performance organizational culture is critical to helping employees stay motivated and deliver excellence. A key element of driving performance is goal setting, both individually and as a team, to help employees stay on track and understand how to best contribute their efforts to the organization’s overall success.

Supporting an atmosphere of learning – providing employees opportunities to sharpen skills, gain new proficiencies and grow professionally – is another critical piece of high-performance cultures. A 2022 workforce survey indicates that more than half the workforce is likely to leave their current employment if they do not receive ample and fulfilling professional development. Corporate universities, tuition assistance benefits, mentorship programs and access to other resources are regularly touted as attraction and retention tools.

#4: Flexibility

When millions of people transitioned to working from home in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19, many discovered they enjoyed the benefits of remote work. Eliminating a commute provides more time to focus on daily routines and other priorities, and those in jobs with flexible timing found themselves thriving by working at the time of day (or night) when they perform best. The evolution and popularity of flexible work ushered in by the pandemic has provided the balance and autonomy they’ve craved.

The trend has already taken hold in affecting employee retention and talent attraction. A recent study found that about half of all workers are likely to seek other job opportunities if not given flexibility in their work schedules and locales.

Employers, too, stand to gain a lot from embracing greater flexibility – eliminating geographic requirements from job positions, for example, widely expands talent pools to include candidates in multiple locations and those with varying transportation access and physical mobility. Additionally, employers can save on costs associated with office space, relocations and more.

Putting people first

These are just four of the many facets of organizational culture that affect the employee experience and, in turn, whether people choose to stay with or join an organization. One additional overarching factor, which we would be remiss not to address here, is front-line leadership: Employers looking to build stronger organizational cultures will benefit from further developing and educating their people managers. Organizational initiatives cannot succeed without their positive support and reinforcement.

Here at Sedgwick, we have three guiding principles to align our collective efforts and thought processes: the colleague experience, the customer experience and profitable growth. It’s intentional that colleague experience comes first on that list. Sedgwick has long believed that if we take proper care of our colleagues, they will take good care of our customers, and the rest will fall into place for the business.

Amid the disruptive workforce trends we’ve seen recently, this philosophy is more relevant than ever: If employers want to attract and retain top talent in today’s competitive environment, they must keep people at the center of their decision-making, above all else.

> Learn more — check out an expanded version of this article in Sedgwick's digital magazine, edge, issue 19

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