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The term “culture” is thrown around often these days in relation to the workplace. Sometimes it feels like just a buzzword or like a company is checking a box, but when done well, a strong workplace culture can make the difference in helping your company stand out amongst the competition. 

Today’s hourly workers are looking for a company that aligns with their values and beliefs. So much so that they are overwhelmingly more loyal to companies that help them contribute to social and environmental issues and are even willing to take a pay cut to work for a like-minded employer. And not only are purpose-driven companies attracting these applicants, but they have 40% higher retention rates than competitors.  

We recently spoke with Dr. Richard Currie, Assistant Professor of Leadership and Workplace Psychology at Boston University, about how a strong sense of culture can help not only attract more hourly employees but help you retain the ones you already have. 

What is Workplace Culture? 

According to Dr. Currie, culture can be difficult to define, which is part of the challenge. 

“Culture is amorphous and can change, which makes it difficult to define,” he explains. “Climate is more tangible — it’s tied to what an organization actually does. Culture is a perception of an organization’s personality.” It can show up in many different forms and ways, including leadership and communication styles, company celebrations and announcements, and even day-to-day interactions between employees.  

Because it’s a difficult concept to define, it can be difficult to ensure consistency across a company. 

“This is a big challenge for hospitality/service organizations with hourly workers who work with different managers on any given day,” explains Dr. Currie. “You work one shift with manager Tim, and then you work another shift with manager Alex, and all of these different leaders have different values. The assumption of the store or property manager is that these are our company values and those are being perpetuated during every single shift with every single leader, but that is often a faulty assumption to make. 

“In many cases, the managers hope that their values are going to be in alignment with the overall organizational values. But, if managers don’t actually assess their employees to ensure that these values are trickling down to them, they have little way of knowing.” 

A Consistent Workplace Culture Leads to More Satisfied Employees and Improves a Company’s Bottom Line 

The first step is to do an annual engagement survey to find out if your employees share the organization values, says Dr. Currie. But it’s not enough to just put out the surveys and say you did it — you have to actually do something with the results and feedback.  

“If you’re going to collect the information, you better be sure that you do something with it,” he cautions. “If not, you are not only going to get less engagement in these types of surveys moving forward, but it sends a message to your employees that our organization doesn’t care, our organization wasted our time, or even worse, I have no voice here, I have no value, I have no worth here.”  

A study from 2021 that surveyed more than 4,000 workers found that “63% of employees feel their voice has been ignored in some way by their manager or employer, which may have a devastating impact on retention: 34% of employees would rather quit or switch teams than voice their true concerns with management.” On the flip side, when employees feel engaged and a sense of belonging, organizations are 88% more likely to perform well financially. 

“It’s very rare to have a leader who is someone you really aspire to be more like, and so whether it’s inclusivity, a climate of safety, or a climate of collaboration, there are climates that many organizations struggle to foster and this is likely the reason why they’re losing so much talent to other organizations,” Dr. Currie adds. 

A Consistent Workplace Culture Will Attract More Better-fit Candidates  

While it’s true that pay and benefits are important to today’s hourly worker, if all things are relative when it comes to compensation, culture is one of the biggest ways to make your company stand out from the competition and attract more like-minded candidates.  

Sure, employees need to pay bills, but making sure you’re fostering an inclusive work environment characterized by respect and mutual trust, is going to go much further when there’s less difference from one place to another regarding compensation,” Dr. Currie says.  

When used properly, the employee surveys can be used to develop a clear message across all leadership positions. When you’re hiring people, don’t just ask about their availability, work experience, or even personality type. If you really want to set your organization apart from other organizations in the same sector of the industry, Dr. Currie emphasizes that you have to hire people based off of cultural fit. 

When there are staffing shortages, such as many companies in hourly industries are experiencing today, there can be a sense of urgency around hiring anyone who can do the job. Dr. Currie suggests taking the extra step of showing new employees the purpose and meaning behind the work that they’re doing instead of just training them and sending them on their way. Especially in the hospitality industry where you’re offering customers an experience, if you tie in value and purpose to the work that people are doing, you’ll find that they stay around a lot longer. 

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