Why Culture Could Be Killing Your Employee Loyalty & How to Fix It

Patrick Van Der Mijl, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, Speakap, discusses why multiple factors contribute to high staff turnover, and explains what employers need to do to reduce the rate of churn

The average employee turnover rate in the UK is 10 percent per year, according to employment website Monster.com. Meanwhile, our recent study revealed that 75 percent of HR professionals experience an average turnover rate of 30 percent each year. But there isn’t one single cause of turnover – it’s the result of multiple factors, including poor internal communications, lack of team unity, a poor/toxic culture, lack of trust/integrity and lack of access to management, to name a few. Considering our research also found that it costs, on average, $3,000 to replace each worker, it’s clear that turnover is more than just an employee morale killer and can be a serious financial drain on a company’s bottom line.

While many HR and employee experience professionals and influencers will profess that low engagement is likely the biggest source of the problem, I’d beg to differ. As we’ve found in our latest Culture Factor research study, culture trumps engagement in the battle for employee satisfaction and loyalty. For example, when asked to choose between working 60 hours per week and working for a company that doesn’t value culture, nearly half (42 percent) of the surveyed UK respondents said they would gladly work the longer hours than sacrifice culture.

As if that wasn’t enough to make organizations believe in the value of a strong workplace culture, 58 percent said they would take a job with a competing company if the new company had a better culture than the current one. That’s why I strongly believe culture needs to be given a more prominent seat at the HR table.

So the question that every HR, internal communications, employee engagement and operations professional should be asking themselves is: How can organizations create a culture that fosters transparent communications, stronger workplace relationships, team unity, more happiness and loyalty among your employees?  Let’s explore a few ways organizations can fix the culture problem that could be pushing employees away (to competitors).

Emphasize respect, fairness, trust & integrity over transactional engagement

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about and spoken to other business professionals about the so-called amazing culture of a company. But when I dig deeper and ask what specifically makes those cultures so strong, more often than not, the answers are predominantly focused on listing out superficial perks that can range from somewhat simple amenities (free meals, foosball tables, gaming rooms) to much more extravagant perks, such as in-office yoga classes, napping facilities, paid-paid vacations and more.

Sure, these perks sound fun and attractive on the surface – and might even get employees excited and feel like the company is doing great things (for a short while) – but that won’t last. They are superficial and they have nothing to do with what culture truly means. Culture, as I see it, is the sum of a company’s values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors and attitudes. And employees, for the most part, agree with me.

To understand what employees actually think about this, we surveyed UK employees in the retail, hospitality, entertainment, construction, manufacturing and consumer packaged goods industries to specify what they feel are the most important attributes of workplace culture. For me, the responses were somewhat surprising (given the emphasis by so many companies to provide superficial perks). Respect and fairness ranked highest (45 percent), followed by trust and integrity (24 percent) and teamwork (8 percent). This is something organizations should pay very close attention to. Why? Because it signals that employees know and appreciate the benefits of a culture founded on the principles of trust, integrity, respect and fairness and don’t necessarily need a whole bunch of cool, shiny perks. If that’s what employees want, then it’s up to organizations to deliver. By doing so, they’ll see their employees feel a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment, stronger bonds with teams and fellow colleagues, more collaboration across multiple teams, regions and function levels, most importantly, a stronger sense of appreciation and loyalty.

Pre-boarding is an untapped gold mine

One important tactic that not a lot of companies currently do, but that we advise to our customers, is to create a holistic pre-boarding and on-boarding program. All too often, the pre-boarding phase is completely forgotten or ignored because many HR professionals assume an employee’s connection to culture – and engagement – only starts from their first day. But that’s just not true.

Here are some helpful pointers for how organizations can get started with a pre-boarding strategy:

Get started early:

Invite new hires to join the company’s dedicated employee communications app so they can start seeing what their new colleagues are posting/sharing and begin interacting with those colleagues.

Make the first move, digitally: 

Encourage new hires to send a company-wide “Hello, I’ve arrived or I’m joining soon” type of message on the employee communications platform to introduce themselves and provide some context on their background, role and even personal interests.

Use the buddy system:

Assign a buddy/mentor from within the company to welcome the new hire and answer any questions they might have about the company’s culture, required attire/uniforms, scheduling protocols and anything else they want to know. This not only helps new hires understand the company’s vision and priorities better, but it also gives them a head start in forging digital connections and bonds with their colleagues.

Integrate, integrate, integrate:

Set up employees with logins/access to any HR, workforce management, payroll and scheduling systems prior to starting.

Make an active effort to strengthen internal relationships

Relationships are a two-way street and require active commitment, participation and support from both sides. Sometimes miscommunication, misunderstandings and a general inability to see the other person’s perspective can create friction. But as our study found, the causes for a breakdown in internal relationships can also be much simpler.

To that end, we asked the global respondents to specify their biggest complaint about their relationship with their direct/line manager. Lack of guidance and support ranked high among the UK respondents, at 16 percent, while unclear instructions provided for tasks followed closely behind, at 15 percent.

Whatever the cause may be for a relationship breakdown between employees and managers, below are useful tips for how both employees and their managers can improve the situation.

Communicate clearly, honestly and frequently:

Oftentimes, strained relationships can be caused due to a breakdown in the frequency and quality of communications. This is where it can be beneficial to have a dedicated internal communications platform, which both employees and their managers can use, to communicate with each other as often as possible and be honest and clear in how you communicate with each other.

Go beyond communicating:

Bring an open mind to the table. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to understand each side’s perspective and needs.

Give feedback, both digitally and in-person:

Employees crave feedback because it helps them understand how they’re performing and address areas they can improve upon. Since employees are constantly using mobile and social platforms in their personal lives, use a communications tool with a similar user experience and functionality to those platforms when sharing feedback. This will go a long way towards improving the employee-to-manager relationship.

Create a safe place for feedback:

It’s one thing to encourage employees to give honest, constructive feedback. But if you don’t convey and reiterate to them that they are safe to challenge managers with their opinions, you will simply have a docile and disengaged workforce that’s going to have one foot out the door.

Treat others with respect:

Respect is a two-way street. But each person has a different expectation of respect. Find out what each person’s expectations are and be respectful.

Help others out:

No company can be successful without teamwork. If a team member or colleague needs help with a task or project, offer yourself up. If an employee is struggling to hit their sales quota or received a negative customer review, help them reach that quota or increase their customer satisfaction scores. It’s easy to dwell on the negative; instead, focus on finding a solution together.