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5 reasons why company culture is critical during COVID-19

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Organizations in every industry have been hammered by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. Many have and continue to furlough or lay off employees or institute pay cuts in an attempt to survive. And as some shifted to cost-containment, corporate culture suddenly became at risk.

That begs the question: as hordes of unemployed, skilled talent seek jobs, and companies focus on cutting costs, does company culture still matter? After all, job seekers and employees have little negotiating power now. It’s a “take it or leave it” job market.

Importance of culture amid times of uncertainty

The economy will slowly recover, and when it does, people will remember how companies treated their workforce and acted in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, organizations will be judged by their corporate culture.

A company’s culture reflects its core values, management practices, and its workplace environment, such as how an organization manages employee work-life balance and performance — and in the case of the pandemic, how managers and employees adapt to working from home full-time. 

Here are the five reasons why having a strong, healthy work culture is more important than ever: 

1. Employee engagement

In 2018, more than 3.5 million Americans quit their jobs every month. The reasons people leave their jobs include low pay, low morale, bad communication and bad managers. In fact, a 2019 study found that nearly two-thirds of workers have considered quitting their jobs because of poor workplace communication.

When an organization cultivates a culture of transparency and strong communication, employees feel a stronger sense of belonging, which results in higher engagement, according Inc. magazine.  

In another recent study from Udemy, 51% of Millennials and Gen Z’ers and 43% of older employees quit their jobs because of bad managers, and 60% felt their managers lacked proper managerial training. They want managers that help them develop their careers and motivate their teams, foster collaboration and handle interpersonal issues, all of which are soft skills that can improve employee engagement.  

The upshot: employees are much more engaged and happier with a better culture. A Gallup study found that engaged employees are 59% less likely to job hunt in the next year.

2. Performance and productivity

Highly engaged employees are loyal, self-motivated, are supportive of coworkers and have a strong work ethic and are committed to quality, according to Forbes. 

As a result, engaged workers are more productive, innovative, and successful. In fact, a Gallup study found that highly engaged business units are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable.

3. Talent attraction and retention

When COVID-19 struck, graphics processor giant NVIDIA moved up its annual performance reviews by nearly six months, allowing employees to receive raises earlier and help cope with the sudden changes of the lockdowns.

Other businesses increased communication, provided more flexible work hours, added benefits such as additional pay or more vacation time, to help their employees cope with the coronavirus crisis, according to Human Resource Executive

Actions like these not only improve a company’s reputation, but keeps employees engaged and excited to work there. And retention is important, especially as businesses recover. A study by Gallup found that the cost of replacing an employee can cost 150% of his or her annual salary. With businesses cutting costs, turnover is an unnecessary, costly expense.

4. Brand reputation

Company culture can reflect directly on brand reputation for years to come.

For example, when Best Western’s UK hotels saw high rates of cancellations in early March because of the virus, the hotel chain repurposed 15,000 rooms across the country to house medical personnel, low-risk patients and at-risk individuals, which kept some of its hotel employees employed, according to an online post by management consulting firm Bain & Company. 

The chain was guided by two of its central cultural values: service excellence and being a good community member, the post said.

Such a move improves a brand’s image, which long-term can help boost revenue.

The greater community will look at your company in a positive way. Bain & Company’s research shows that companies that exhibit a good corporate culture by inspiring employees and showing a strong internal compass are 3.7 times more likely to be business performance leaders.

5. Show of confidence

In times like these, it’s not surprising that employees might be on edge. They’re working in unfamiliar environments, adapting to new technologies, and don’t know if they’re next on the chopping block.

A strong company culture, however, can be the fuel for solidarity. For example, companies that continue celebrating wins, practice transparency toward employees, and reinforce what makes them excellent places to work can instill trust and morale. And in times of uncertainty, confidence allows employees to innovate and deliver.

An increasingly remote workforce

Retaining strong company culture can be challenging when most or all employees still work remotely. That’s where unified communications can make a big difference.  

Unified communications combine team messaging, video conferencing and cloud phone into a single platform, allowing remote teams to effortlessly communicate and collaborate from anywhere and on any device.

Organizations can hold town hall meetings, project-based meetings or even happy hours and other social gatherings. The technology fosters a strong, supportive work culture that motivates employees, boosts morale, increases productivity, and ultimately, drives success.

Originally published Sep 24, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023

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