Does workplace culture determine business success

Yes, is the straight answer, it can make or break a company. This is especially true with employee health and well-being, where bad culture can sabotage even the most well-designed employee programs.

Employee well-being across the UAE is growing, and according to authorities like Great Place to Work and Deloitte, low employee well-being is leading to poor physical and mental health that’s eroding profits through lower employee engagement, higher turnover, poorer customer service and higher healthcare costs.

It is very common to find workplace cultures that do no support employee well-being. Research shows that employers are creating workplace cultures that are antithetical to employee well-being in the following areas:

  • Low pay (a leading cause of stress and low engagement)
  • Under staffing (which is hurting morale and increasing stress)
  • Bad managers (a prime cause of stress, depression and low self-esteem)
  • Lack of leadership (CEO’s and boards are ignoring employee well-being)

Overall, workplaces are not seeing the big picture. They are contributing to poor employee health, directly and indirectly, by overworking and underpaying nearly half the workforce, and causing dangerously high stress levels that are leading to poor health and reduced workplace performance and customer service.

Moreover, while many employers have invested in physical fitness-oriented wellness programs, most blindly focus on diabetes, fitness sessions, obesity, curbing smoking and lowering blood pressure, while not allowing time for physical fitness and work-life balance with long hours, unpredictable schedules and inadequate vacation time. And while many companies believe, without hard evidence, that their wellness programs deliver returns on investment (ROI), they are blind to how employees actually view, let alone embrace, their well-being initiatives. This produces workplace cultures that are indifferent or even hostile to well-being efforts.

Culture is the Foundation

Accordingly, if companies hope to see any positive ROI from improving employee health, workplace cultures must be the foundation for programs. Culture comes before programs, because cultures are the seedbeds that determine whether employee well-being programs die or flourish.

A workplace culture consists of unwritten rules about what it really means to be an employee at the company. These are the real core values, and are often not what employees see on posters or employee handbooks. Simply put, workplace cultures tacitly communicate “How things are done around here.” 

Cultures are embodied and reinforced by leadership styles, procedures and perceptions of what’s valued, rewarded and punished. 

Cultures can be changed. And when they are purposefully planned and executed as foundations for successful employee well-being strategies, they can lead to the following: 

Higher Participation. A culture of well-being can establish employee trust and boost enthusiastic participation. A supportive workplace culture shows employees that the well-being program is in their best interest; not just a tactic to improve the company’s bottom line. 

Pervasive Peer Support. Trying to get healthier alone is difficult. Supportive cultures reinforce healthy lifestyles and lead to teamwork that contributes to better mental/emotional well-being. Co-worker support can overcome inertia or lack of motivation while being engaging and fun. 

Better Managers. Data shows that managers profoundly impact the well-being of their direct reports. Cultures of well-being motivate and reward managers to prioritize employee well-being as the most effective and way to hit their numbers.

Better Business Outcomes. Data from Gallup to Deloitte show that higher employee well-being leads to greater employee engagement, which can result in substantially better bottom-line business results by every measure. 

Building a Culture of Well-being

Workplace cultures must be assessed and re-engineered to ensure they support employee well-being. This requires that culture itself must become the primary strategic priority, managed with objectives, timetables and accountabilities. 

Assess the current culture

Companies must first understand the existing workplace culture as it relates to employee well-being, for better or for worse. 

Determine how the current culture supports or discourages optimal employee well-being. Consider things like 24/7/365 availability, tacit discouragement of taking vacations, uncaring managers, and paying below living wages. 

Conduct surveys, focus groups and in-depth discussions throughout the organization to hear, first hand, from employees what they need and want.  

Employee well-being must become a core value that infuses all organizational procedures, policies, leadership traits and even how managers and leaders are evaluated. Make changes showing that taking action to improve employee well-being will be recognized and rewarded. 

Involve employees in program design and implementation

Involving employees in the selection and design of the specific well-being programs ensures that the right programs are selected and creates a sense of ownership. This reflects and reinforces a supportive culture.

If stress is an issue (and it always is), consider resiliency training. If depression is rife within the workplace, work with managers and develop initiatives that remove stigma and encourage getting early and effective treatment. 

This, too, is a culture change. And given that many workers struggle with personal finances, infuse the culture with education and opportunities to reduce financial stress and improve personal finances. 

Change manager evaluation criteria

Great Place to Work stated that people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers. How true is this? 

Companies must reorient managers with training and resources to help them become effective leaders. Nothing is more culturally important than that. Gone are the days of a dictatorship leadership style.

Managers should be taught to see the connection between employee’s well-being and company success; and they should be incented by rewards (or consequences) that foster employee well-being in all forms. Managers’ futures must depend on how they treat their employees and foster their well-being.

Ultimately, managers must become enthusiastic about supporting employee well-being, rather than seeing it as a hurdle to hitting their numbers. And if they cannot see their way to that end, they must be fired. That puts an exclamation point on the cultural values you’re supporting, and employees will surely notice.

Encourage workplace socialization

Strong friendships are formed at work. This is not only good in itself, it can become the glue that holds organizations together and reduces turnover. Workplace socialization can form the foundation for strong peer support that encourages happier employees and healthier lifestyles. 

Employers should give workers time to congregate and socialize in lunch or break rooms, or a central area for physical activity. Clubs, team contests and group activities foster a stronger work environment. Bottom-up, rather than top-down, is best, so encourage this sort of activity as an integral part of the culture.

Nurturing Cultures of Well-being

Once established, new cultures of well-being must be nourished and maintained. In truth, a culture of well-being is not so much an “initiative” as it is a permanent change in how work is conducted. 

Culture is not just an HR responsibility. It requires constant vigilance and thoughtful monitoring as a standing C-suite priority to safeguard and protect an organization’s most critical asset: its workforce and intellectual capital.