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People strategy

Engagement and Culture Are the Answers to Employee Retention

Clare Hopping


Recent research highlights the direct relationship between a strong organisational culture and high employee retention. But that begs the question: how do we better understand that culture and hang on to our best people?

A recent Deloitte report highlights the importance of culture in today’s competitive world of human resources. The report revealed that, in the eyes of employees, many companies fall short of generating a compelling culture, indicating a “capability gap” of 31 points (out of a possible 100). Clearly, many companies are failing to keep up with this recent shift.

A Canadian Center of Science and Education study involving Kenyan microfinance institutions solidified the link between a healthy corporate culture and the achievement of a company’s goals – again, there was a strong statistical correlation between a better culture and heightened overall performance.

A poor working environment is no longer something that employees keep to themselves; the advent of social media means that unsatisfactory employers are named and shamed online via outlets like Glassdoor, Twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs.

Today’s employees are well aware of the ways market forerunners improve their respective work environments, and they hold their employers to the same high standards. Moreover, compensation is far from the only factor that guides the job decision-making process – unhappy employees are quick to jump ship the second a better option reveals itself (even if it doesn’t pay more).

Working Towards a Better Cultural Experience

It's clear that good culture is essential to not only improving employee retention, but also inspiring workers to give their best effort every day. So what are the best strategies around to promote good culture?

The first step is to make an honest assessment of the quality of your culture. Admittedly, it’s something of a nebulous concept, one that’s hard to measure, evaluate, and emulate. Josh Bersin suggests you start by observing the small, tell-tale signs, like whether your employees arrive early and stay late, or vice versa.

Try to get a general sense of how much your employees seem to enjoy (or despise) their surroundings, as well as the overall attitude pervading the workforce. Lastly, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal employee and ask yourself, “Would I would want to work here?”

It’s often helpful to try to fit your culture into a particular organisational type: clan, adhocracy, hierarchy, or market, among others. Each type of culture has its own advantages and disadvantages, which tend to enhance or suppress different aspects of a work environment.

The Organisational Culture Assessment Instrument, developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Queen, can help make sorting through it all a little easier, and uses data gathered through company-wide surveys to paint a more accurate picture of workforce morale.

High Culture

Blockbuster companies are nearly as well-known for their utopian corporate cultures as they are for their products. The Silicon Valley Business Journal explains how Google reinvests much of its otherworldly profits into making sure the creators of that wealth are happy. To name just a few benefits, employees are treated to three chef-prepared meals a day, nap pods, and bespoke ergometric work stations.

But it’s not just about the perks  the most sought-after employers also show their workers respect. The Harvard Business Review describes how Netflix’s approach to company culture keeps its employees on a long leash. Rather than heavily police travel and work expenses, Netflix instructs its employees to simply "act in Netflix's best interests," and encourages them to make frugal choices that serve the company well.

They also offer a unique holiday package, as employees decide just how much time they need off for themselves. And judging by Netflix’s reputation and performance, this empowering approach seems to be working wonders.

Culture Shock

The shift in perception of the importance of culture has placed HR on the centre stage, and departmental employees are now expected to act almost as sculptors of an organisation’s cultural experience. What’s clear is that, as companies’ internal workings become increasingly visible to online job-seekers, cultural experience and positive engagement are going to matter most when it comes to retaining quality hires.

Clare Hopping

Clare Hopping has been involved in the recruitment of both full-time employees and freelance staff for ten years. She specialises in recruiting staff via social media and digital platforms.