Scan the headlines of any business magazine and you’re bound to find some encouraging words: Trust, positivity, well-being. It seems some leaders have finally figured out the value (both humanistic and financial) of creating workplaces where employees feel supported and capable of thriving.
Of course, it’s one thing to want your business to be a healthy place to work, but it’s another thing entirely to make it so. Building and maintaining a supportive culture is difficult, even for those with the best intentions. It takes a commitment to flexibility, a humble attitude and time to get things right. And that’s if you even have an inkling of where to start. If you don’t? It’ll be even harder.
That’s why we’ve put together these four suggestions based on lessons we’ve learned over the last half-decade. We hope they’ll help your company get the culture-building head start it deserves.
Lesson #1: Provide a thorough onboarding experience.
The best way to make sure your employees feel valued and supported in the long term is to make sure they feel that way from the very start. If they show up on day one with little orientation and direction, they’re inevitably going to feel like the company hasn’t prepared for their arrival — and that may send the message that they aren’t worth much. If, on the other hand, they’re presented with a thought-out onboarding schedule — one that explains when they’ll learn everything from essential job functions to the company’s history and values — they’ll feel like you’ve gone out of your way to set them up for success. Which you have.
Some might say: "A good employee shouldn’t need hand-holding. They should take initiative and figure out things on their own.” Sure, I understand the thinking: If somebody can find a way to be successful without much help, then maybe they can do great things for your company without anybody’s help, either. But consider this: What if, instead of spending all their time and energy performing detective work to learn the ins and outs of their new role, every new employee could put their focus on innovation that much sooner?
Lesson #2: Be supportive when life happens.
In an ideal world, nothing would ever distract us from our jobs. Our home lives would be so stable and perfect; we’d never have to miss a day of work. Reality, however, is rarely ideal. We get a toothache and have to go to the dentist. Or our kids get sick and have to stay home from school. Sometimes, loved ones pass away unexpectedly. At times like these, we want to know that our companies have our backs, and that we can take the day, week, month — whatever — to right the ship before returning to work.
As an employer, it doesn’t really matter how you structure this flexibility, whether it’s through offering unlimited PTO or something less formal. What’s important is being vocal about how the company’s support during times of illness and stress is more than just lip service. Make it clear to employees that if they need time to deal with a health or family issue, they can take that time without worrying what will happen to their job. This creates an environment where workers don’t have to fret about bad things happening. If something were to come up, they know the company would support them. And that means they can stay more relaxed and focused on the good days.
Lesson #3: Create opportunities for employees to share their full lives.
When you hire somebody, you’re hiring them for a specific role — but whatever aspects make them a good fit are just a tiny portion of that person’s full being. They have interests outside of work, and a past that doesn’t appear on their resume. They’ve faced personal challenges and overcome obstacles. They’ve got friends and family. All of these things are big parts of their life — parts they don’t forget about just because they’re at work.
By creating opportunities for employees to share their full lives, you’re showing them that you value who they really are, and not just the skills and experience they bring to your company. If your organization meets for daily stand-ups, try devoting a couple sessions per month to “show and tell” like presentations, where one or two team members get the chance to share about their personal lives. Or if the organization is too big for full-company stand-ups, implement the same idea in smaller teams. When employees are encouraged to know one another on a deeper level, they’re more likely to think of their work as more than just a job.
Lesson #4: Encourage employees to explore other interests within the company.
Sometimes the role an employee is hired for isn’t always the role they’re most interested in — and that should be okay. After all, our interests outside of work change and evolve through time, so why wouldn’t the same sometimes be true of our professional aspirations? Occasionally, you might hire a business analyst who discovers he has a real curiosity about marketing.
By giving employees the opportunity to change roles, you can, 1). Prevent them from leaving, and 2). Make it clear that you support their real professional goals. Again, it’s about making it clear that you care about a full person, and not just a particular skill set that can help make the company money.
In our experience, these strategies are all effective ways to ensure that employees feel valued and respected — but they aren’t the only ways to build a great culture. If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out our checklist: