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December 16, 2022

If you want to help relieve the damage stress can cause your employees, take your culture seriously.

Corporate culture isn’t ping-pong tables and espresso machines—it’s treating people like people.

Stress can cause a wide range of problems for employees, which means a wide range of problems for employers. It can hamper performance, damage engagement, and ultimately drive employees out the door. Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA)’s 2022 Workplace Stress Study discovered that not only were employees feeling the effects of stress but 70% of managers felt that job demands had increased, causing them stress.

Working conditions, including environment, workload, communications, lack of support from co-workers, and even the ability to have a say in how, when, and where employees do their work can create a stressful culture without you even realizing it’s happening.

You don’t have to invest an exorbitant amount of money to establish a better culture for the company. Creating one that will attract employees and keep them wanting to work at your company is about treating people with respect and understanding. From there, the culture helps attract and retain employees.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Great line, but is it true?

Far too often, the company strategy can be in direct competition with the company’s culture or the culture it desires to create. Rather than undertake a wholesale cultural revolution, figure out which elements of your current strategy reinforce your desired culture, then prioritize specific areas that may need attention.

Start by understanding that employees are your most important asset.

Great employees who produce exceptional work are essential to the success of any organization. Every job in every organization is important and requires not only the employee’s skill but their dedication as well. Keeping them engaged and positive is a great way to keep them with you and to ensure both their success and the success of your organization.

Employees are real people with lives of their own. They’re not cogs in a wheel or blithely interchangeable. They are unique individuals with financial issues, physical and mental health and well-being needs, and a desire to feel heard, appreciated, and understood.

The question is how do you keep employees productive and fulfilled? One way companies have tried to make this happen is by employing empathy through a caring culture.

Empathy is important to producing clear, motivating communication to support creating a more productive, engaged environment. However, empathy is often misunderstood or misused and, in some ways, misses the point.

The key to making sure you have a culture that works is to treat people as people. Still, how do you build a culture that demonstrates you care about your employees as individuals?

Strive for a work-life balance that works for everyone.

Work-life balance is sort of like the weather. Everyone talks about it but it can be hard to define. With that said, many organizations around the world are attempting to make work-life balance work for everyone.

Good work-life balance provides an adequate amount of paid time off, encouraging employees to use it, and not rewarding behavior that negates it. In addition, to have a real effect on work-life balance, management must walk the walk. Managers should encourage employees to take appropriate time off, but they should also do so themselves.

You can also help employees get away from work even while they’re at work. This can be as simple as encouraging employees to break away from their desks or workstations to take a short walk. You could also host meditation or yoga sessions. Allowing and encouraging employees to step away from work also encourages social well-being within the workplace.

Don’t be undermined by an overwhelming workload.

Excessive workloads can negatively affect health, productivity, and morale. They can also result in costly errors. Setting reasonable expectations—and being consistent about them—is important. Managers should plan ahead and distribute the workload evenly to reduce the burden on employees.

How do you know if the workload is out of whack, though? Create a comfortable, safe space to talk with employees about their workload. Watch how employees react to new assignments. Offer ways to manage workloads, including setting priorities and taking care of work in small sections rather than trying to handle everything at once.

Employees need flexibility—and so do you.

Not every job can be done from home. However, if you’re able to give employees flexibility as to when and where they work, that can go a long way toward creating a workable culture. This allows employees the freedom to handle caregiving chores for children, spouse, or parents. It also affords them time to pursue outside interests that might be put aside otherwise.

Here again, clear communication from management is essential to making flexible schedules work for everyone. Employees may fear that having a more flexible approach to work will cause backlash from managers or co-workers. They may feel that spending time providing care or working on outside projects may make them look less committed to their jobs. Surprisingly enough, research from the Academy of Management shows that employees who have a secondary job perform better at their main jobs.

Listening is better than talking for communication.

Communication in the workplace is too often reduced to email messages, pronouncements from management, and meetings to discuss employee issues. However, that’s talking—not listening.

The key to effective two-way communication is making time to listen. Allowing employees to speak their minds without fear of reprisal is essential. Be prepared to hear the bad with the good and follow up on what you hear. If requests or ideas can’t be enacted immediately, let employees know exactly why and look for other possible solutions that might help.

Monitoring employees doesn’t foster a healthy culture.

Tracking employee hours might seem efficient, but it most often backfires. Employers are tracking employee work habits through cameras, internet monitoring, GPS trackers, and more. The most common method uses monitoring software that allows employers to measure employee productivity, track attendance, secure sensitive company data, and collect proof of hours worked.

The dark side of this “efficiency” is a reduced level of trust, a feeling of privacy invasion, a lowering of employee morale and engagement, and ultimately reduced retention.

Create social well-being.

The quality of social relationships in the workplace matters for employee health and well-being. Evidence shows that positive social connections at work—supportive interactions, a sense of belonging, and effective teamwork—improve worker well-being and can protect against harmful effects of workplace stress.

Making connections in the workplace is incredibly important. Having friends and trusted associates at work can:

  • Improve collaboration
  • Increase individual productivity
  • Boost morale
  • Lead to a transfer of valuable knowledge and skills
  • Encourage employee retention
  • Improve physical and mental health
  • Foster creativity

The right culture can improve physical and mental health.

Encouraging employees to take care of their health, along with providing sufficient medical insurance coverage, can build a culture that shows the employer cares for employees as people. Urge employees to stay home when they’re sick, allow them to see a doctor in-person or via telehealth, and encourage employees to eat right and get adequate exercise.

In addition, fostering a culture where it’s safe and easy for employees to admit they may have mental health issues, and giving them benefits that support their mental health, is becoming more important to employee wellness. This can include providing ways for employees to relieve stress (walking, more discretionary breaks, workout areas) establishing quiet spaces where employees can go to relax, and implementing a company-wide initiative to remove the stigma of mental health and address it head-on.

Provide opportunities for growth.

According to the July 2021 Monster Job Index, 80% of professionals don’t think their current employer provides opportunities, 54% fear they don’t have the right skills to thrive in the workplace, and 49% expect their employer to support their career growth.

A 2019 Workforce Learning Report by LinkedIn discovered that 94% of employees said they would stay longer if their company invested in helping them learn.

Employees want training and opportunities for growth. Providing these helps employers remain competitive, builds a pipeline of potential leaders, and encourages innovation. It also adds credibility, which helps attract better talent, win customers, and make employees proud to work for you.

A people-oriented culture gives employees—and managers—a reason to stay.

Studies show that building a better culture makes employees and managers happier, healthier, and more productive. A better culture rewards everyone for acting without being directed. It celebrates achievement while allowing for failure instead of punishing it. Ultimately, it helps everyone stay engaged, committed, and focused on shared goals.

MMA can help.

Our 2022 Workplace Stress Study Report found that the best ways to help relieve stress for everyone were to hire people who are a good cultural fit, provide additional training for employees, deliver better and more personalized benefits, improve communication, make work schedules more manageable, and treat people with respect. In other words, build the kind of culture to support retaining and attracting ideal employees.

MMA has a wealth of expertise in helping organizations rethink and refocus their approach to creating a more caring culture. Visit our website to see our resources, including links to helpful sites, toolkits for developing better mental health, and playbooks for encouraging social, physical, mental, and financial well-being.

To learn more, contact your MMA representative today.