Our world has been through a lot of changes recently. As a result, a lot of employees are taking a second look at their work situation. Do they feel safe at work? Do they feel welcome? Does their supervisor or manager even know their name? For many of today’s employees, the answers to these questions make a difference. Company culture is important to them. Understanding what employees are looking for in a workplace can help employers retain their workforce.
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Len Toenjes, President of the Missouri Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America (AGCMO). He’s worked at every level of the construction industry, starting as a carpenter, and transitioning later into teaching and management roles. His position as president brings him together with other industry professionals. During his time with AGCMO, he’s discovered just how important company culture is.
First, we’ll talk about why company culture matters to today’s workforce. Then, we’ll share steps employers can take today to change their company culture. Finally, we’ll discuss how a culture of care can make a difference.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Company culture: The reason employees stay or go
Company culture matters more today than it did twenty years ago. Employers once gave employees the basics: starting time, working hours, hourly pay. If they didn’t like it, then they would just have to leave. But today’s employees feel differently. Pay isn’t the first reason they leave a job. The benefits aren’t either. The way they are treated makes the biggest difference.
“The number one reason why people leave their employment is the treatment they get from their immediate supervisor, the treatment they get from the boss,” Toenjes explained. This applies at every level of a company. Employees want to feel welcome. They want to feel like they belong. And when they don’t, even if they are well-qualified for the job, they are more likely to leave.
Toenjes recognizes that it’s hard to find and recruit the right people. COVID-19 has made that even harder. “You do need to have a culture that makes them feel welcome, makes them feel safe, makes them feel that they work for a company that’s inclusive.” Like a safety program, a caring culture focuses on making sure people have what they need in the workplace. Without both, it may be more and more difficult to keep good workers around.
Consequences of a bad company culture
Losing good employees isn’t the only consequence of a bad company culture. Working in a poor workplace environment can cause mental health issues, or make existing ones worse. Further, there are employees who will stay because they need the job. Some may start showing up late or act differently. Others may turn to substances to deal with their mental health, or become distracted on the job. And those distractions may lead to safety incidents – ones that also put others at risk. Building a great safety culture is one way to show employees you care. But creating a welcoming, inclusive environment can take that great safety culture one step further.
Creating a caring company culture
Some employers can attract talent with money. However, that isn’t enough to make up for bullying, harassment, or intimidation on the job. Toenjes points out that today’s employees don’t put up with ill treatment. They have more personal self-worth than previous generations. “A smart employer pays attention to that,” he added. A safe, caring culture is the way to keep the right employees around. But how can employers create one?
Toenjes and his fellow professionals oversee an initiative called Culture of Care. It helps businesses take visible steps toward more inclusive workplaces. He recommends the following as great first steps for employers:
- Have a zero-tolerance policy. Every employee must be accountable – leaders included. Toenjes points to the “hot stove” concept as important for business. Similar to touching a hot stove, consequences for unacceptable behavior must be immediate and the same every single time.
- Make anonymous reporting available. If an employee is facing harassment or bullying, they need a neutral place to go. They may not feel comfortable going to a manager or supervisor – or their leader could be responsible for the ill treatment. Create a place where employees can share information without being identified.
- Hold front-line supervisors accountable. Front-line supervisors usually have the most contact with employees. No matter their personal beliefs, they need to enforce a culture of care, safety, and inclusion every time. They need to know what to watch for, and how to address it.
“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into bringing people in the door,” Toenjes explained. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into hiring the right employees to help the company grow and help the company serve their customers.” A culture of care helps keep those people around.
Benefits of a caring culture
Toenjes has seen companies who adopt a culture of caring find immediate benefits. Communities value businesses that care. They want to work with them more often. Those positive views result in more contracts, an easier recruiting process, and the ability to attract more talent. Current employees want to stick around.
Losing employees often takes an expensive toll on a business. But a culture of care builds a stronger workforce. “It makes the whole company stronger, if you don’t have the churn, if you don’t have a new person coming in every three months because the boss told them some dirty story or called them some stupid name.,” Toenjes shared. “That all adds up.”
The Culture of Care initiative is active at dozens of workplaces. Toenjes advises employers to review the website. Or, they can pick a key decision maker. “The company needs a champion,” he explained. It can be difficult to change a workplace culture, especially one that’s been around for a while. But in today’s world, it’s worth it. “This is obviously a good retention tool with the workers you’re going to need for tomorrow,” Toenjes finished. “It wasn’t important 20 years ago. It’s extremely important today.”
For free safety posters, sample policies, and safety toolkits, visit our Resource Library. Then, learn how to build a better business with empathy and awareness in this WorkSAFE Podcast episode.