“People before profits” may sound like a cliché but as we head out of the pandemic and into a new, re-structured way of working, it’s a concept that rings truer than ever.
IBM’s 2021 CEO study revealed that focusing on the well-being of their employees is one of the biggest priorities for CEOs in the top 20% of revenue growth, especially as they try to support an often remote workforce. Putting profit before people may drive short-term financial gains but in the long term, investing in people has been proven to bring results.
It makes sense. How can there be long-term profitability in a business if it’s hemorrhaging employees or creating a work environment where no one is truly invested in the business’s success?
The Great Resignation
While there is some debate about whether the Great Resignation is a mass-quitting phenomenon or merely the result of a higher-than-usual number of workers taking early retirement in a pandemic, there’s no denying that it’s changed how we speak about work.
Social media is filled with people sharing stories of quitting their jobs and questioning the state of their work environment. The pressures of a global pandemic have forced many to reconsider what they need from an employer and their career.
As these discussions occur, business owners and CEOs need to be listening. Companies that do not adjust how they treat people tend not only to lose staff but struggle to replace them. Looking after great employees may be expensive but losing them can be even more costly.
Working on Work Culture
We often hear the term “toxic work culture”with only a vague idea of what it is or the harm it can do. In an MITSloan Management Review, a group of researchers put together some of the key defining factors that tend to arise when people talk about a toxic work environment. One of the most frequent points that came up was non-inclusivity.
It’s a heavy topic, and one that departs from our usual idea of a positive work culture which, as NewYork Times journalist Claire Cain Miller aptly described, is often the college-style office of “ping-pong tables, kegs, and beanbag chairs.” The truth of it is much harder to achieve. As Miller argues, most people just want a job where “they have a sense of purpose, diverse perspectives are welcomed, and people have the flexibility to live their lives outside work.”
Purpose is a big driver in how people work. Creating a sense of purpose for employees means they’re more invested not only in what they do for a business but in the success of the business as a whole. However, one of the most significant influences on a person’s feeling of job purpose is the culture of the company that employs them. It’s hard to feel good about work if you or your colleagues are being treated badly.
Flexibility and needing to have a life outside of one’s job is something we’re all trying to balance. Women continue to feel this pressure most as they’re more likely to be responsible for family caregiving. Simply providing a flexible workplace however isn’t enough.
Deloitte recently published their Women Who Work report in which half of the female hybrid workers interviewed said they were concerned that they didn’t get the exposure they needed for career progression. 60% also felt that they had been excluded from meetings.
This data is such a lesson to business owners and CEOs of how work culture, even when intended to be positive, if not supported by other measures can inadvertently hold people back. In a case like this, we have to wonder how many great ideas businesses have not heard simply because a woman was working from home that day.
Hybrid work isn’t necessarily the issue, but how stilted company cultures have remained around it perhaps are. True flexibility in the workplace means taking note of employees, and their contexts and supporting them in that. A business is only as good as its last great idea and for those, you need people. You need people who feel purposeful, present, and truly invested in the business and its success.
It Can’t Just Be for Show
2020 was a watershed moment for conversations around diversity. Businesses such as Condé Nast lost valuable talent in what was perhaps one of the most publicized examples of how non-inclusivity, in that case regarding race, creates a toxic work environment.
It’s been a lesson to all that simply having a slightly more diverse workforce doesn’t ensure that the culture of a place shifts. And the culture is worth shifting. Punishing discrimination in the workplace is something The Haas School of Business has studied and seen that, in a mixed-gender workplace, helps to encourage creativity.
They’ve also looked at how in teams of people who are all the same, less divergent ideas tend to arise. Businesses need divergence. It’s where creativity thrives. Some of the biggest marketing blunders in the past few years were simply because there weren’t enough voices in the room or if there were, they weren’t being heard.
It’s why creating a fair, equitable workplace where all employees are given space to do their best work is so crucial. Having employees who differ in terms of race, class, age, ability, and gender expression, and feel respected for their ability to participate in the company, can only be a good thing. Businesses need diverse perspectives in order to last and for that, they need a diverse group of people to bring them to the table.
Investing in people is a means of investing in a business, even if that costs immediate profits. A workplace where people feel respected and supported, regardless of their identity or context, sounds utopian too many. Perhaps it is, but as so many CEOs and business leaders are realizing, it’s worth pursuing for the sake of the long-term health of a company.
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