Steve is the cofounder and CEO of Awardco, a fast-growing rewards and recognition company.
With economic uncertainty and worry hanging over all of us, it can feel natural for businesses to retreat and wait for the storm to pass. This retreating often takes the form of thought processes such as: “With budget cuts, there’s no way to improve our total rewards,” “We can’t afford to invest in our culture right now,” or “We need everyone in the office because we can’t trust that people are productive at home.”
In hard times, these mindsets can be tempting, but I don’t believe they are accurate. Instead of helping, they only tend to create a work culture where employees feel undervalued, uncared for and mistrusted.
As someone who co-founded a rewards and recognition platform, I’ve seen the benefits when you invest in your culture and employees, especially during hard times such as these. And many improvements won’t cost you a dime, so the economy isn’t a good excuse anymore. Here are three ways to craft an organization where employees will want to be, regardless of external influences.
1. Augment Your Total Rewards Strategy
Total rewards encompass everything from salaries, bonuses and PTO to recognition, birthdays and wellness programs. While many leaders assume they need to offer raises to make their total rewards better, that’s not necessarily true. Improving any of these other key aspects can also help transform business culture:
• Employee recognition. Employee recognition has been found to improve every single measure of morale, motivation, productivity and retention, so the ROI has a massive impact. And the best part is, non-monetary recognition, such as a public shoutout, a handwritten card or a small gift are just as effective as monetary options.
• Training and development. Employees want to learn and grow at their jobs. Learning new skills, gaining more responsibility and moving up in the company are all aspects of total rewards. And because activities such as job shadowing, training courses or classes are relatively inexpensive, I think it’s the perfect time to upgrade this aspect.
• Wellness programs. Wellness perks are an important part of a company’s total rewards offerings, especially after the pandemic. Consider offering mental health days, providing free resources, stocking healthy snacks or utilizing lifestyle spending accounts. These are great ways to boost employee health and create a place where employees feel supported at the same time.
2. Create More Value-Driven Work
Almost every business has set values that are supposed to drive everything they do. But how many values are simply stickers on a wall that no one really thinks about?
One of the best things any leader can do to improve their employees’ experience and business culture is to create a value-driven organization. When everyone knows the values, believes in them and understands how their work contributes to them, you create a culture of mutual effort, belonging and community.
In order to create an organization built on and driven by values, you can:
• Develop a shared vision that encompasses business goals and ways for the company to make a difference in the community and world.
• Train leadership and employees on the values and reinforce them through frequent communication.
• Drive the values home by using rewards and recognition to reinforce value-driven behaviors.
Employees need to know what the company stands for, and they need to know how their personal work helps the company accomplish its goals. This value-based culture can be a top driver of employee engagement.
3. Prioritize Work-Life Balance
Budget cuts, layoffs and uncertainty about the future can all lead to more hustle culture. But this is the last thing you want to let happen. Forcing everyone into the office every day, micromanaging employees’ workloads and guilt-tripping people for taking breaks only cause more stress and burnout, which erode productivity.
When employees have the freedom to find a healthy balance between their work responsibilities and their personal needs, productivity rises, absenteeism lowers and wellness improves. Plus, I find that employees become more committed to their work and the company.
To improve your work-life balance and enjoy these benefits, look to:
• Offer flexibility on work hours and work location. Letting employees work where and when is best. It allows them to have greater focus at work while avoiding unneeded stress.
• Establish boundaries. Set boundaries between work and home and ensure leaders exemplify these boundaries. For example, no answering emails or chats after 5 p.m. or no scheduling meetings before 9 a.m. Give people permission to unplug each day to avoid burnout.
• Encourage breaks and PTO. It’s impossible to be focused all the time. In fact, studies show that the human brain is only good at staying focused for about an hour at a time. That means organizations need to encourage breaks throughout the day to maximize productivity. And the importance of vacations goes without saying—let people get away from the office for a few days.
Make No Excuses for Your Culture
Yes, the economy is precarious, and yes, budgets are tightening up for many of us. However, your culture is more important than ever before, and investing in it should not be put on hold. Many of these important improvements require only a shift of mindset and a few bucks. It’s time to stop making excuses and put your focus where it needs to be—on your employee experience.
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