O.C. Tanner, a Salt Lake City-based company specializing in employee engagement research, revealed its 2020 Global Culture Report during its “Influence Greatness” conference held Wednesday at the Snowbird ski resort.
This is the second year O.C. Tanner has made its culture report available to the public, although the annual report itself was first compiled three years ago. O.C. Tanner, which is perhaps better known for being a jeweler, for years has worked to learn how to improve employee experience and help other companies to do so. The Influence Greatness conference is mostly attended by HR executives to learn about trends and best practices.
Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the O.C. Tanner Institute, which specializes in research, and manager of research Alex Lovell presented highlights of the report Wednesday morning. Beckstrand said the report was influenced by over 20,000 employee and leader perspectives from around the world and 12.8 million data points were analyzed, aiming to identify both helpful and harmful workplace culture, and how to improve workplace culture.
Lovell’s preliminary remarks, and the beginning of the report, focused heavily on the concept of burnout, which the World Health Organization only recently classified as an official syndrome related to chronic workplace stress that is unsuccessfully managed. According to the report, 79% of employees experience mild to severe burnout; 40% experience moderate to severe burnout.
This has several negative effects, Lovell said. The culture report found effects of moderate to severe burnout include a 376% decrease in probability of highly engaged employees, an 87% decrease in the probability an employee will stay with the organization, and a 22% decrease in work output.
Alongside more measurable statistics, Lovell explained burnout syndrome indicators include both physical and mental exhaustion; cynicism and feeling of futility when it comes to producing useful results; and dreading work, even avoiding it as much as possible.
In its report, O.C. Tanner listed six elements of a thriving workplace culture, i.e., a workplace that does not promote burnout, called “Talent Magnets”: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership.
Feeling a lack of organizational purpose, lacking continuous learning opportunities, decreased organizational success, decreased leader recognition, decreased work/life balance and decreased trust in leadership all can lead to burnout, Lovell explained.
Beckstrand took the reins from Lovell to drill down into what makes up workplace culture: experiences. Not just a few company-wide experiences in a year, Beckstrand said in an interview, but everyday “micro-experiences.” According to Beckstrand, workplaces are striving to improve culture and employee experience separately, when really they are tied together. The six talent magnets, properly managed, lead to the “ideal framework” for creating positive everyday experiences, Beckstrand said.
To improve workplace culture and employee experience simultaneously, Beckstrand gave four recommendations for HR administrators: rethink leadership, hold regular one-to-ones, enable teams and actively listen.
Traditional leadership is dead, Lovell added. Gone are the ways of directing, evaluating and “gatekeeping.” What matters now, Lovell said, is mentorship, developing employees and encouraging connection.
Lovell heavily emphasized the idea of connection, encouraging audience members in the session to help employees connect to their purpose by understanding what employees do, share with employees why their work is meaningful and create shared goals connecting to the larger company purpose. Also connect employees to accomplishment, Lovell said, recognizing employees throughout the process of achievement.
Lovell and Beckstrand emphasized the importance of helping employees connect to one another, and to connect with leaders through more frequent one-on-one meetings that aren’t just one-sided, but give constructive feedback, recognition, and allow employees to share ideas and receive opportunities for development. Effective one-on-ones can lead to an 84% reduction in employee burnout, the study found.
Beckstrand said these changes and tools are possible to use in both large and small-scale organizations, although small-scale organizations might have an easier time, due to the inherent intimacy of being in a small company.
“What we’re talking about is connections and relationships and day-to-day experience,” Beckstrand said. “Smaller organizations typically have a higher percentage of employees that feel connected with what’s going on.”
As organizations grow, or for organizations that are already large, Beckstrand said companies can still implement these practices on a “team” level, but also need to invest in technology and communication to ensure connection.
“Relative to smaller organizations or large organizations, we don’t see a great big difference in terms of the outcomes,” Beckstrand said. “It’s primarily just a matter of how you implement that.”
Large organizations just need to implement better cultural practices from the bottom up, Beckstrand added.
“We would suggest that the greatest impact comes in those localized work teams,” Beckstrand said. “Even though I work for, maybe a 20,000-employee organization, I still have a small group that I could connect to.”
Focus on the employee
A major shift, even just from last year to this year, is leaders recognizing the importance of paying attention to employees, Beckstrand said, which includes improving the employee experience rather than focusing entirely on customer experience.
“That focus on the customer ... it was almost at the detriment of the (employee),” Beckstrand said. “Interesting enough, if we pay more attention to the employee that will actually help us with the customer.”
At the end of the day, Beckstrand said, the majority of companies want to improve workplace culture but aren’t quite sure where to start, and only recently are companies getting clarification.
“We’re still in the beginning stages ... in general, we’re making progress,” he said.
Much of that progress is being pushed by younger generations, in particular Generation Z or “Gen Z-ers,” and younger millennials.
“This notion of work-life balance has changed significantly,” Beckstrand said. Technically a baby boomer himself, Beckstrand said for his generation it was “kind of a badge of honor” to never take a vacation. “It was just a different mindset.”
Now, younger people in the workforce are forcing organizations to address issues Beckstrand said probably should have been addressed years ago, which includes increasing flexibility in jobs.
“We just need to be more flexible, and recognize and know what people do, and allow them to do it when and where they want to do it, as long as it fits with their overall structure that we need to have to coordinate with outside groups and teams.” It’s not meant to be anarchy, Beckstrand said.
One of the key takeaways Lovell and Beckstrand emphasized was the importance of listening over hearing — listening, they said, requires taking action on what is heard, i.e. taking action in a timely manner and letting employees know what action has been taken based on their feedback.
“I think we’re seeing a higher recognition among organizations around purpose and around the importance of people,” Beckstrand said.