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Gleaning Cultural Insights from a Sea of Data

A few weeks ago I came across a survey that reminded me why data we collect in business is only as good as the insights we can glean from it. And gleaning accurate, useful insights from surveys isn’t always easy.

The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. and Workplacetrends.com commissioned this particular survey. They concluded that “human resources (HR) professionals, people managers, and employees have very different opinions about workplace culture, who drives it, what’s important to creating a great one, and what can destroy workplace culture.”

When I looked more closely at the survey results, however, I wondered if the three groups weren’t more aligned than it appeared. The three groups have different roles, different agendas, and different perspectives. So of course they respond differently. That doesn’t always mean they have different values or different views on what’s important to culture. Perhaps they were just saying similar things in different ways.

For instance, the culture attribute that mattered most to employees was “pay” (50 percent). Fewer than 30 percent of HR professionals or people managers saw that as the No. 1 culture concern. Employees, of course, never want leadership to forget the importance of pay. HR and managers, meanwhile, see competitive pay and benefits as table stakes.

Beyond pay, employees ranked “co-workers who respect and support one another” and “work-life balance” as important. The two leadership groups ranked “managers and executives leading by example,” “employee benefits” (which includes compensation), and “shared mission and values.” Think about it: Leading by example and having shared mission and values results in co-workers who respect and support one another and may lead to employees having more work-life balance.

Or consider the question about what “kills culture.” HR pros and people managers ranked “a high-stress environment” and “company growth” as having the biggest negative impact on workplace culture. Yet most people want to work in a company that’s growing. Employees said it was “not having enough staff to support goals,” “unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well” and “poor employee/manager relations.” Those three things, of course, are often caused by a high-stress environment and company growth that’s out of control.

What’s most interesting about the survey isn’t the perceived differences, but the shared insights. Employees, managers and HR respondents all value intangible things such as “coworker respect,” “work-life balance,” “leading by example,” and “shared values.”

Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos, told Fast Company it all “boils down to one simple question for employees: Am I being treated fairly at work?” In my view, this is about establishing a culture where honesty and openness are encouraged and where people are valued. In that environment, in combination with market-based compensation practices, there is a much higher probability that employees will feel they are “treated fairly” and their workplace culture is in good shape.

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