The Human Side of Business Culture

The following post was written by Jennifer Vena, Vice President, Consulting Services at Bright Horizons.

Last week, I attended the Great Place to Work (GPTW) conference in New Orleans. I came away with the strong feeling that, to ensure success, the most important actions employers can undertake are purely human: to help managers authentically demonstrate care for their employees. Over and over, we saw how such approaches build performance through human connection.

Three Key Elements of Great Business Culture

Demonstrating Caring

Knowing your employees and demonstrating concern builds positive outcomes. A culture of compassion and caring is so important that two successful CEOs speaking at the conference stated that they spend 40% of their time attending to it. One talked about empathetic listening - truly understanding a person's feelings and responding with empathy. The process improved relationships with employees and customers. A true win-win. Another talked about personal time - requiring all managers to spend 10% to 20% of their day with their employees outside of work, sharing meals, doing volunteer work, participating in team building events, or just hanging out. Such personal interactions can have surprising upsides. According to a keynote from the Health and Benefits Leadership Conference, a simple call from a supervisor inquiring about an employee's health plays a huge part in how quickly said employee returned from workers' compensations leaves.

Providing Context and Meaning for Work

When it comes to work, employees want to feel that their contributions are making a difference. The more they feel they matter, the more productive and engaged they become. But that's not always so easy. One hospital, recognizing that employees outside of patient care can't always relate what they do to the hospital's overall mission, provides broad mission-oriented opportunities to the hospital's generation employee population. One such opportunity allows employees to bring their dogs for therapeutic visits with children. Another includes a patient art gallery. Employees are also regularly reminded of their value to the bigger picture. A wellness coordinator improved her performance when she saw how her work was enabling patient-care providers do their jobs better; an immigration specialist recognized his importance to the hospital when he saw how his work brings international scientists to further their research and help children worldwide. Connectedness matters, and it is critical to make sure all employees know their work has meaning.

Empowering Your Employees

Employees like to have some control over their work environment. The benefits of this approach were aptly illustrated through conference breakout sessions including, "Managing Change through Employee Feedback," "Unleashing the Power of Individual Innovation," and my favorite, "Let the Inmates Run the Asylum."

Offering such control - enabling employees to solve problems and support each other, provide input into design changes in their work environment, and extend themselves on behalf of the customer - benefits organizations and employees. For starters, it reduces stress, which boost performances and supports health. And, being entrusted to solve problems and take action to create an exceptional customer experience creates a positive cycle of happy employees who then create happy customers.

The Takeaway

With some effort, all organizations can move the needle toward becoming an even greater place to work. If business culture supports caring, meaning, and empowerment in the workplace, not only will individuals blossom, but organizations will thrive. The key is to hire the right people, give them freedom within a framework, trust them, and then get out of their way. Then great things will happen.