Feature article

Why company culture will help you retain your best people

Recruitment adviser Kate Ross shares the secrets to fostering culture and unlocking employee retention.

In the Trade Me Jobs Annual Job Market Insights Report 2024, job hunters cited business culture as the number one reason they were looking to leave their jobs. So how can we develop a good business culture (or reverse a bad one), and keep staff happy, motivated and loyal?

Independent recruitment adviser, Kate Ross, agrees that you can keep staff for much longer if you have a good culture. “They’ll be comfortable talking to management about how they’re feeling, they have a great team around them, and they’ll love coming into work,” she says.

“This is because they feel they’re learning, contributing and that they’re truly able to be themselves.”

But where do companies stumble with company culture - and whose responsibility is it? We sat down with Kate to find out.

Who leads the charge on your company’s culture?

Culture starts from the top down. If you’re a team leader who spends most of the time in your office, away from where everyone else is working, you’ll likely be out of touch with the company culture. To set the culture, the team leader needs to be visible and regularly engaged with everyone in the company and that means ideally working alongside staff in the same space, role modelling the kind of culture you would like to see.

What sort of a say should staff have in company culture?

The staff are the heart of the business while the team leader sets the scene and the expectations. The “feel” is led by the team lead, but it takes an entire village to get on board and create the culture. The staff must be part of all and any conversation.

A culture of open, honest communication where people feel safe to comment and give feedback, creates a great working environment. I would suggest regular company meetings, where a range of business objectives and topics are openly discussed. At my company, I ran these twice a week, for 30 to 40 minutes. Another activity was doing a quiz together for 15 minutes, or something light and fun, which makes opening doors to bigger topics an easier transition.

With any of these business meetings, the idea is not to talk at your staff, but to get them leading or asking questions. I would rotate who ran each meeting, even the new staff stepping up. This builds confidence, openness and inclusion.

What is a good example of company culture working well?

A good example of culture working well is where everyone comes in and is in a good mood, gets on with the job, celebrates people’s excellent work openly and supports others who need it without the managers needing to ask or direct. In this kind of open environment, trust and a good culture will start to happen.

In my opinion, the team leader should be sitting right in amongst it all. If they’re in the midst of their staff, they’re able to gauge morale, the level of output, what training is needed, gaps in processes and any key issues that need to be addressed. If you need a room for calls or private meetings, then have a room for that; but it’s important that you’re engaging with people, talking to staff, that you’re down to earth and open to feedback. You should also be involved in work conversations that employees may need direction on.

How do you handle one rotten apple spoiling your company culture?

Larger companies might run culture surveys with staff, where they can make anonymous responses about a negative member of staff who is damaging morale. If your business is 20 people or less then, as team leader, you could run your own personal culture survey with each staff member, asking questions like:

  • How would you describe the team culture?
  • If you could make a change, what could you add?

  • Are you enjoying your job and working here?

As the team leader, you shouldn’t take the surface answer but delve deeper. You’ll soon start to see a pattern if people are unhappy and you’ll realise things need to change and who might be responsible for any unhappiness.

If people are unhappy with their direct manager and it’s not addressed, then they tend to leave. If you have a manager who is hurting your company culture and you are the manager or team leader of that person, direct conversations need to happen. You can offer strategies to change, but if none of that happens, then the removal of that manager damaging your company is vital as productivity will keep going down.

It’s very difficult for staff who report into a problematic manager to be honest and open. Sometimes you can talk to this manager to see where the stress points are coming from and offer help or support. It might be work, personal life, health, stress or anything. Some people struggle to cope under pressure, so sometimes it takes a careful kind of conversation can be had that can start a chain of positive actions.

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