Rebooting Company Culture

August 5, 2022


Many management gurus emphasize that workplace culture is a key to business success. “Maybe you have an incredible product and provide marvelous services. But if your work culture is terrible, your business is going to hit more than a few rough bumps,” wrote Barasha Medhi, a marketer at Vantage Circle, in a January blog on the company’s website.

Many Egypt-based companies, like others elsewhere, still allow remote or hybrid work environments across entire organizations or specific departments. “The reality is that companies … now offer more flexibility,” according to an October publication titled “2022 Global Culture Report” by O.C. Tanner, which produces employee recognition software and awards.

That creates new “unevenness” among those who must be at work and those who can perform their tasks remotely, noted Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President of Research at Gartner, in January. Accordingly, executives and managers must redefine workplace culture to complement and correctly shape their teams’ new dynamics to foster the team spirit lost during remote working those past two years. “We have been living through the greatest workplace disruption in generations, and the level of volatility will not slow down in 2022,” said Kropp.

Understanding culture

Work culture is ever-changing, influenced by every aspect of the workplace, from employees’ backgrounds to their mood on the day. The job search and recruitment website Indeed defines it as a “collection of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment.”

Michele McGovern, a content development strategist at the research firm SuccessFuel, said in a January blog on specialized news portal HR Morning, “Many organizations think their culture is built from its vision or mission statement.” It isn’t. Rather, those two statements “serve as a guidepost.”

Aligning employees’ perceptions with employer policies and goals signifies a “healthy” workplace culture that ultimately reflects on individual wellbeing. “Work culture determines how well a person fits into their environment at a new job and their ability to build professional relationships,” according to Indeed. “Your attitude, work-life balance, growth opportunities and job satisfaction all depend on the culture of your workplace.”

Work culture depends on the actions and interactions of employees, owners, and top management. “Managers shape company culture from their hiring practices. [They] set the tone … through their policies, benefits and mission,” noted Indeed. “The physical environment of a workplace also influences culture.”

Pandemic influence

Since the pandemic started, owners, management, and front-line employees slowly witnessed a change in the culture they had built. “At the start of 2021, many of us expected the world would return to normalcy,” said Kropp of Gartner. “But 2021 was more volatile than expected [leading to] a massive war for talent, [high] quit levels … and inflation.”

In some cases, rising sub-cultures were enough to hurt a company’s bottom line and cause top talent to resign. A report from Built In, a corporate culture consultancy, found that almost 40% of employees want to leave their jobs because they don’t like the culture.

To reverse those changes, “a company [must] start looking inward and see what’s great about you,” Taylor Smith, CEO and co-founder of Blueboard, an employee reward platform, told HR Morning in January.

For 2022, Kropp sees corporate culture remaining volatile. The effects of COVID-19 variants, he said, “will be layered on top of longer-term technological transformation.”

What employees want

Employees tend to join and stay in companies where they feel most comfortable, not just with the nature of work but also the employer’s values. A Blueboard survey in 2021 revealed 80% of employees “are looking for, ‘Can I bring my whole self to work?'” noted Smith. “So they joined … companies that allowed them to do just that.”

However, changes brought about by COVID-19 cause stress. That includes changing mask-wearing protocols, worrying about new variants, family safety, and job security. “The biggest challenge facing employers in 2022 is to … predict and prevent employee mental health problems early — before they have a negative impact — and create a culture of mental wellbeing,” Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, told HRMorning in January.

Experts have noted that work-life balance is a sure way to prevent stress, yet that is not always straightforward. “Grabbing a shred of work-life balance will continue to be difficult due to ongoing change, remote/hybrid work and blurrier boundaries between work and home,” Alanna Fincke, senior vice president at meQuilbrium, told HR Morning in January.

Starting point

Understanding the cultural changes in 2021 may prove vital for business leaders attempting to shape their organization’s culture in 2022. Ian Barrows, head of culture and engagement at Corporate Culture, noted in a company blog that last year was when companies realized the need to address the noticeable cultural shift that occurred in 2020, primarily due to remote work. “It is an understatement to say that 2020 was a year of unbelievable challenge, transformation and change,” he wrote. “The ‘ways of working’ rule book has been shredded, and organizations have had to be nimble and agile in the way they do things.”

In its “Culture Trends 2021” report, O.C. Tanner noted that the first change companies made was to focus on culture. “We … see a greater and intentional focus on the human at the center of work,” said Keri Higgin-Bigelow, CEO of LivingHR, in May 2021 to BCT Partners, an HR consultancy. “There is an awakening happening.”

The other trend in 2021 was that companies adapted and developed new procedures to accommodate digital work. Managers needed training to understand how to supervise and assess teams working from different locations. The report also highlighted the creation of more inclusive workplaces.

Business owners and managers also had to contend with “Gen Z” entering the workforce for the first time. According to the O.C. Tanner 2021 report, those new entrants cared more about “cultural aspects” and working for a “cause they care about.”

Meanwhile, decision-makers in organizations had to rethink almost every aspect of their work to accommodate “real digital transformation, but with a human element, [by considering] people and culture when making technology decisions,” noted the report.

Culture in 2022

In many ways, owners and top managers will continue the work they started last year, using the solid cultural foundation they created in their companies. “The uncertainty of 2020 — exaggerated by distance, reduced collaboration and record staff burnout – was tamed somewhat as employers gave new importance to staff wellbeing and needs,” wrote Benjamin Laker, a leadership professor at Henley Business School in the U.K., in a blog post in January. “But instead of putting out individual fires, attention must now turn to [create] a fundamentally different structure that is dynamic, proactive and resilient to change.”

There will be several trends that owners and managers must contend with to ensure the right corporate culture exists in 2022. O.C. Tanner’s “2022 Global Culture Report” stressed the prevailing culture would mainly revolve around flexibility: “It applies to more than where, or even when, employees work. It also means letting employees have a voice in deciding which type of work they do at home vs. in the office.” That extends to “personalized recognition [which helps] every employee … feel more connected and inspired to do great work.”

Given that not all employees will be in the office with different departments having different attendance policies, fairness and equality “will be the number one priority for HR executives” in 2022, said the Gartner 2021 ReimagineHR Employee Survey published in November. “It has become a flashpoint in society.” An analysis of S&P-listed companies found that CEOs having talks on “equity, fairness and inclusion” increased by 658% since 2018.

Another cultural flashpoint will be organization policies toward vaccination, personal freedoms and the law. The PwC report noted that mandating vaccinations this year could cause “a mass turnover event. Whatever turnover occurs will not distribute evenly. Some departments in some geographies might see” twice the turnover rate of other departments. On the other hand, vaccinated top talents could quit if there is no vaccination mandate. “Some employers don’t feel they have the right to make this decision,” noted Kropp.

New employer

Other trends likely to arise in 2022 relate to organizations aligning public service campaigns with employee values.

That involves company-wide initiatives to build connections and engagement. “Social fragmentation occurs when employees feel a loss of connection with the organization,” noted the O.C. Tanner 2022 report. “This leads to individuals and teams feeling isolated, unsupported and excluded.”

Organizations must empower HR departments to “make real changes” via initiatives that build culture and reestablish activities,” said the report.

To retain top talent, Kropp said some companies could offer a four-day week in place of higher compensation for middle and top management. “As wages rise, leisure time becomes more valuable and appealing to workers. We are likely to see 32-hour workweeks with the same compensation as a new way to compete for knowledge workers.”

Additionally, employers should introduce initiatives to promote the physical health of their employees as more work from home. “Organizations will adopt new communication plans, benefits, and technologies to support the physical movement of their remote employees to improve their health,” said Kropp.

Tools of the trade

As in 2021, automation will continue to be a vital part of a manager’s workday. The Gartner report published in December noted automation would perform mundane quantitative tasks, such as performance feedback and building new peer-to-peer communications. “Research shows that up to 65% of the tasks … a manager currently does [can] be automated by 2025,” noted the report.

That leaves qualitative responsibilities, such as “building more human relationships with their employees,” it noted. In 2022, that will “become more important than ever for hybrid and remote employees,” stated the report. “Managers are [their] primary connection through which they experience their employer.”

Kropp noted that such tools would be essential when measuring performance. “Nearly 64% of managers and executives believe in-office employees are higher performers than remote employees, and 76% believe in-office workers are more likely to be promoted,” noted Gartner’s findings.

The O.C. Tanner report also noted HR professionals could use technology tools to build a culture. “As some organizations move to hybrid or completely remote workforces, it will take more than Zoom or Google Meets to keep employees connected and culture strong,” it explained.

Kropp noted those new technologies would become more pervasive to create a balanced work environment. “During virtual meetings, new technologies will …. provide background information about the other people on a call,” noted the PwC report. “By knowing more about who is on the call, participants will be able to focus on the issues that are the most important to them.”

What next

Fears over Omicron and future variants of the COVID-19 virus will continue to challenge both government policies and business strategies. That will result in ongoing uncertainty over how corporate culture will change. The Gartner report noted that regardless of what organizations do, they must accept the possible loss of top talent in 2022: “Unfortunately for many organizations, increasing flexibility will not slow the turnover in today’s… labor market, in fact, [it] will increase.”

One reason is remote and hybrid workers have “fewer friends at work and thus weaker social and emotional connections with their coworkers,” noted Kropp. That makes it easier for employees to quit. Employers worldwide offering remote work opportunities can also recruit from that equally vast geographic pool.

Meanwhile, middle managers will come under increasing pressure in 2022. PwC’s report noted that nearly “90% of employers are planning … a hybrid working model,” yet as the year progresses, many could “demand employees return, full time, to the office.”

That is likely because managers might blame poor business performance on more flexible policies. “CEOs [will likely criticize] hybrid work, heightened turnover of employees working a hybrid schedule,… and perceived loss of organizational culture,” said Kropp.

The PwC report recommends creating a new top-management position called “chief purpose officer” to handle politics, culture, and debate in the work environment. The goal would be to ensure employees align with organizational values and culture and identify deviations early.