The past few months have highlighted the importance of worker health. What can companies do to create a healthy work climate?
The pandemic has forced us to acknowledge something we already knew but failed to pay attention to: workers need to be physically and mental well in order for companies to run smoothly.
Burnout, layoffs, high turnover rates, harassment, lack of motivation and isolation—all these are warning signs that companies should be on the lookout for, even when they appear to be isolated cases. Since recurring incidents or widespread problems require major interventions, it makes sense to stay vigilant and take a preventive approach so that you don’t end up with problematic situations in which nobody wins. When red flags go up, managers and business owners should pay attention right away.
The right diagnosis
Before acting prematurely, it’s important to understand the interpersonal dynamics at play within your organization so that you can determine what interventions are needed. Problems don’t usually stem from a single cause. Most often, a combination of inter-related factors causes collateral damage and affect workers.
The work climate is based on how employees perceive their work environment. These perceptions are shaped by their needs, expectations and what they value most in a typical work situation. Factors that influence employee perceptions include team spirit, recognition, the values emphasized in the workplace, management leadership, individual roles, career development opportunities, equity, respect, the feeling of being useful, etc.
Obviously, these impressions tend to shift over time in response to changes within the organization or society at large, such as restructuring, new management or a pandemic. Employees also influence each other when they share their thoughts on these constantly changing circumstances.
In other words, the work climate reflects the group’s emotional state. These feelings are linked to how employees perceive their work situation and shaped by informal conversations with each other. Studying the work climate can therefore shed light on the wellbeing of a team, business unit or entire organization.
If an assessment reveals that your work climate is tainted by uncertainty, management might consider reviewing or updating its structure or management practices. Or the discovery might simply confirm that employees are responding negatively to a planned change (such as restructuring). Either way, it’s always important to pinpoint the right diagnosis before springing into action. You need to know what are the key drivers behind the situation so that you can focus on the right factors.
A 6-step process
Even though every organization is different, with unique operating conditions and challenges, we recommend a tried-and-true approach that’s equally effective for SMEs, non-profit organizations and major corporations, regardless of the business sector. The process contains six steps to be completed in order.
1. Define the causes and your objectives
This step allows you to fully understand the issues and determine what’s causing the issues arising in your organization (disengagement, lack of motivation, high turnover, poor attractiveness, etc.).
2. Select internal and external experts
Appoint a special committee to address the situation. If the members are in-house staff only (with no input from external experts), we recommend choosing people from different teams within your organization (HR, management, business units, supervisors, etc.). Be sure to include individuals who are directly affected by the problem.
Keep in mind that perceptions are important. An internal survey could be discredited if it’s not prepared right or appears to lack objectivity or impartiality. In fact, this would only exacerbate existing concerns. Most organizations appreciate getting help from a third party to ensure that facts are presented objectively and the situation is reviewed with impartiality. We advise companies to create a steering committee made up of internal employees and designate a project manager to liaise with the external firm and facilitate communications and logistics.
3. Determine your target group
The assessment and diagnostic exercise can either cover the entire company or just a specific unit, depending on the issue, goal, budget, time available and the size of your organization.
4. Choose the right method for collecting data (qualitative and quantitative)
Different data collection methods and tools can be used, depending on the situation. Typically, two approaches are used.
The first is qualitative. It involves collecting information through one-on-one interviews, discussions with a target group and real-time observation of what’s happening on the ground. This step gives you the chance to get a stronger understanding of the issues at hand and explore theories on what might be causing them.
The second approach is quantitative. It involves conducting surveys that are specially designed for this type of intervention. Surveys are a quick way of finding out whether your hypotheses hold true among a large sample. They also let you check in with workers on various organizational considerations related to the work climate. The information collected can help you link cause and effect.
We recommend combining both approaches so that you can cross-reference a wide range of data and either confirm or rule out your initial hypotheses.
5. Analyze and share the findings
After analyzing the results of your surveys and interviews, you have to share the findings. But the success and credibility of the entire exercise depends on getting the communications right. This means informing employees of the results and how you intend to make things better.
More specifically, once management presents the results—either to the unit involved or the entire workforce—through carefully planned internal communications, the company needs to implement measures right away so that workers don’t become disinterested or disillusioned. Instead, the idea is to empower the people involved. By ensuring your project leads to concrete action, you prove to employees that their opinions count and their engagement is essential to the success of the undertaking.
6. Draw up a game plan and stick to it
Certain corrective measures to restore the work climate within your organization should have become apparent during the previous step.
Implementing action plans is mainly the responsibility of managers and the teams themselves, though they should receive support from internal or external committees. That’s why it’s important to share all your survey results with all levels of personnel, rather than simply providing them with the organization’s overall results. Your action plan should be outlined in detail so that teams know what to expect and all actors get behind your efforts to improve the ambiance and engage teams.
Remember that effective follow-ups are the key to your success. The action plan should be developed around indicators established during the planning phase. It should also include well-defined steps so that you can track progress. A carefully designed dashboard can make it easier to compare the data collected throughout the process and anticipate corrective measures if there’s a significant gap between your target and your results. One indicator could be to plan a second survey on the work climate to be conducted in 12 or 18 months.
Take action to protect your business’s health
A work climate diagnostic exercise is a democratic and confidential method of evaluating your organization’s health. It’s a little like an annual physical at the doctor’s office. You check a set of indicators to see whether or not your system is in good working order.
For companies, the check-up involves asking employees how they feel by sending surveys to a specific group or to your entire workforce, including managers. The exercise gives you a quick and accurate reading of your organization’s health, often at a low cost.
The recent crisis may have exacerbated latent problems that were bound to surface sooner or later. It’s worth checking in now, before the situation gets worse and drags down your team’s morale and performance, affecting the employee experience and your employer brand. After all, your workforce is your most valuable asset.