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The Kind of Workplace Culture People Won’t Leave — And How to Build It

As organizations start bringing people back to the office, leaders are embracing the truth that company culture is about people, not location. Here are 3 tips to build a culture that employees won’t want to leave.

How and where we do our work will never be the same again. The pandemic forced every organization out there to adjust on the fly to keep people safe while also keeping businesses afloat. An upside of this seismic shift was that companies discovered that they could operate in new ways with a remote workforce. And, perhaps just as importantly, many employees learned that they could perform their work even when they weren’t in the office. In fact, many of them have come to appreciate the flexibility and sense of autonomy they experience when working from home.

That’s why remote work, at least in some fashion, isn’t going away any time soon. But the emerging “hybrid” workplace (some combination of working from the office and home) presents new challenges for leaders—especially when it comes to building a cohesive culture that attracts and retains talented employees.

What follows are some tips from Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America, on how organizations can navigate these new challenges to build a workplace culture that people just won’t want to leave.

1. Rethink Your Definition of Culture

Frankiewicz defines culture simply as: How we do things around here. “It’s the sum of default behaviors, preferences, values and decisions that make each organization a unique habitat, regardless of whether people frequent an office or not,” she says.

While some 60% of workers in the U.S. do jobs that cannot be done from home—such as working in hospitals, retail, manufacturing or logistics—the pandemic has proven that we can and must also build culture from living rooms and home offices, not just from inside the walls of an office. 

The notion that you can advance your company culture outside the office can be difficult for some leaders to grasp. One CEO even asked Frankiewicz: “How do you possibly build culture when you don’t sit together?” But, to make that cultural shift with a hybrid workforce, leaders need to think differently.

“Leaders can focus on building culture anywhere by refraining from micromanaging, getting over the politics of presenteeism and learning to measure what each employee actually produces and contributes to the organization with as much objectivity and data as possible,” says Frankiewicz. “Above all, by nurturing trust and fairness in relationships with employees, leaders can upgrade the company culture even in a virtual-only world.”

2. Prioritize flexibility over presenteeism

One of the perks of building a culture outside of the office is that the days of racing to beat the boss to the office have disappeared for good, says Frankiewicz. Rather than measuring employees based on the number of hours clocked in the workplace, organizations need to start prioritizing results over presenteeism. 

While workers may still want to occasionally come to the office, few now want to come in every day, says Frankiewicz. For jobs that must be in-person, it’s going to be important to:

●     Flex the hours to minimize the commute

●     Flex the shift to allow parents to be part-time teachers and 

●     Flex the days to enable the workforce to work in a way that meshes with life.

Organizations should empower employees to own their day so parents, for instance, will no longer feel disadvantaged by having to make the choice between dropping their kids off at school or having to show up for an 8:30 a.m. conference call.

3. Give people autonomy to own their jobs 

ManpowerGroup research shows that the second concern after health for all workers post-crisis is maintaining flexibility. “Data tells us that what matters most to workers is autonomy,” says Frankiewicz. “That means choosing when and how they get their work done. With a rise in remote learning and growing demands on families, offering this flexibility has never been more important.”

To tackle that challenge, Frankiewicz says, leaders should prioritize collecting and analyzing data instead of making assumptions based on productivity and performance. Look at the effects of remote working by level. Does it provide the same career benefits to the entry-level, mid-career and executive roles? “Take active steps to challenge any embedded assumptions about the gender-normative roles of mothers and fathers so that those norms do not drive the way managers and colleagues perceive remote working by men and women and what they expect of them,” she says. 

“And most important, learn to evaluate output, rewarding people for what they actually contribute.”

4. Building a hard-to-leave culture 

If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that culture is not contained in a physical location. Rather, culture is nurtured within people. As many of us return to work inside buildings as well as inside our homes, never forget that an organization’s culture is all about the people—not where they get their work done. The physical workplace should become a place to celebrate your culture, not necessarily create it. 

In the new hybrid or fully remote workplace, fully embracing this new definition of culture will make your company a hard place to leave behind.

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