Last reviewed 1 September 2021

“Culture” and “engagement” are consistently rated among the top priorities for HR and business leaders. Regardless of where we are as a society, the social order of a company will remain important.

A good company culture shows that the business is reputation-led, employee-centric and is results-driven — all of which not only make for a successful business but is also a good indication of how future employees will potentially fit into the business.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, 42% of staff said they would rather work a 60-hour week than work for a company that does not value its culture — according to a survey conducted by Speakap. The study, which gathered responses from 1000 employees in both the UK and the US, reinforced how powerful workplace culture can be when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. 58% of those surveyed admitted that they would take a job with a competitor who demonstrates a better workplace culture.

Employers should not assume that these figures would have changed due to the pandemic. As we know, the pandemic will have allowed workers to reflect on what they may want out of their job, meaning company culture may still be a driving force for where employers choose to work.

Defining culture and engagement

Put simply, culture is the sense of “how things are done”, whereas engagement can be defined as “how employees feel about how things are done”. Culture includes the “values, beliefs, behaviours and reward systems that influence behaviour on a day-to-day basis. Engagement, on the other hand, is a way of describing an employee’s level of commitment to the company and their work.

The two are also connected. A company’s culture is aligned with its business strategy which can lead to a high level of engagement if the workforce feel comfortable in it. Initiatives to improve engagement will usually uncover cultural issues, making the company re-examine its values, incentives, systems and structure.

Lack of understanding

In reality, the concept is not well understood and many organisations find it difficult to measure. Equally, they find it even more tricky to manage and align their culture with the business’ direction.

Many employers (especially following the coronavirus pandemic) see a disconnect between where their culture is now and where they want it to be; they recognise culture change is needed yet they do not know how to achieve it.

What is clear, however, is that successful companies have a sharp focus on their culture and vision, and take steps to redesign and articulate it. The dating app Bumble, for example, recently made headlines for its bold steps towards creating what it believes to be good company culture.

Recognising the adverse effects increased workload during the pandemic had had on its workforce, Bumble announced that the business would be closing all its offices for one week to tackle burnout. Not long after that, it announced unlimited paid holidays for all of its staff.

While not every employer will agree with Bumble’s methods, the business has certainly built a reputation for itself as one that seeks to prioritise engagement and culture by putting its employees at the forefront of change.

Developing good culture and engagement

Bumble has found what works for its workforce and core values. However, developing and maintaining good company culture and engagement does not have to start and end with such headline catching measures.

In fact, the following are also signs of good culture and engagement:

  • the ability to retain staff — low turnover

  • workers are eager to join the organisation

  • existing employees feel they have job security

  • a good atmosphere in the workplace.

Ultimately, there are many ways to develop good company culture, but at the core should be:

  • company values that benefit both the business and its employees

  • willingness to embrace changing times and a diverse workforce

  • good HR practices rooted within the business.

Transforming employee feedback

Forward-thinking companies are moving away from solely relying on single annual surveys to using more frequent — even weekly — continuous pulse surveys to give near-instant insight into a company’s culture and health.

One of HR’s biggest challenges is to move from the comfort zone of a reactive annual survey mindset to progress a continuous listening and monitoring approach to engagement. Essentially, this requires employers to adopt a proactive “always on” mindset on to employee feedback.

Involving line managers and encouraging frequent communication between employer and employees will provide a great opportunity for companies to monitor engagement on a detailed, real-time basis, delivering specific, actionable information for continuous improvements.

Conclusion

Traditionally, employee engagement and culture were brushed off as something HR needed to fix, but these are now firmly rooted as CEO-level issues which require their commitment. However, even CEO-level change requires strong support from HR to help them to understand, measure and improve accordingly.

This requires a detailed understanding of the connections between culture and engagement with one eye on what the competition is up to. Fundamentally, how well employers measure culture and engagement, and how quickly they act on employee feedback, could make a real difference. Failing to act could jeopardise efforts to raise engagement and develop good culture.