The U.S. Labor Department reported last week that jobless claims (unemployment claims) hit a 43-year low. Employee retention is rising everywhere as employers are more reluctant to lay off workers in a strong labor market. It would appear that we are finally, at long last recovering from the economic crash in 2008 that sent unemployment rates above Great Depression-era levels.
Which means it’s a job seeker’s market and companies have to adapt quickly to keep the talent they have, not to mention work harder to recruit new talent at a time when applicants are spoiled for choice. It’s the main reason that the tenor of the employee engagement conversation has evolved from emphasizing retention to emphasizing company culture.
The conversation shift is not surprising – in an employee’s market, culture is all any organization really has to differentiate itself from its competitors. Every employee expects a competitive salary and benefits. Those are easy to get right. Developing and adapting your culture to create a truly inviting workplace is the harder bit. But here are some basics:
Document your “culture code” – In a webinar I did on employee happiness we asked attendees how many of them have their culture requirements or “code” written down somewhere. Around 63% in our insta-poll said they didn’t. This is the first thing you should do before anything else, and it should be given due diligence to make it clear, accessible, and understandable to everyone. We recommend taking a look at Netflix’s “culture deck” for an example of doing it right. Employees can’t be empowered to make a culture change until the ultimate vision is firmly established by leadership.
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Give employees avenues to reinforce the desired culture – This is where reward and recognition schemes can really help. Design your incentives and rewards to reflect, remind, and tie employees back to the cultural values, and reward them repeatedly until the culture-positive behaviors become muscle memory. There is no better opportunity for communicating and building culture than the moment when you are presenting an award or giving praise to an employee for a relevant accomplishment, so take advantage of every opportunity to be an advocate.
Hold everyone accountable to the culture – Words are meaningless without action, which means you must be willing to take meaningful action when something is working against your culture. That means holding everyone accountable – even upper management – for the way they affect the culture on a daily basis. In other words, if your managers are busy telling their employees about how much the CEO cares about a positive workplace that CEO then needs to embody that desired culture in his attitude and policies every day. If there’s an employee whose negative behavior has grown to be accepted, that employee no longer gets a free pass. These types of conversations are difficult but ultimately necessary if you are serious about your culture.