Harnessing the Human Side of Data: Assessing Workplace Culture

In an ideal ecosystem, the experience of the individual is similar to that of the whole. Ant colonies, whale or dolphin pods, and meerkat communities all exemplify this model. Human society is a bit more complicated. Those of different cultures have vastly varying life experiences and lifestyles. In the U.S., we are fiercely individualistic. The unique, American lifestyle trumps that of the typical ecosystem. Although we manage to co-exist in most situations, certain social environments can be a source of discord.Perhaps the most ubiquitous, in this regard, is the workplace. While some companies seem to thrive, having employees that look forward to coming into the office each morning and spending time together in social settings outside work hours, others are boiling pots of conflict and frustration, leaving their people stressed, unhappy, and most unfortunately, unhealthy.

In either case, efforts to identify specific reasons as to why one company’s culture thrives while another’s stagnates produces results in anecdotal evidence, subjective assessments, and artificial reliance on external factors such as the company’s revenue, reputation, and so on. It may seem counter-intuitive to mold such subjective realities as employee health and happiness into measurable, actionable data, but in fact that is the only sustainable way to assess and improve the workplace, and track that improvement over time.

There are two primary areas of concern for companies looking to improve their workplace culture: policies, procedures, and the role of senior leadership. The policies and procedures of an organization may appear too bureaucratic or administrative to factor into the equation of employee happiness, but truth states vice versa. They not only shape the work day, from daily tasks and meetings to breaks and commute time, but the policies and procedures also define the physical environment of the workplace and determine the kinds of health, lifestyle, and wellness programs available to employees. In short, they execute the organization’s vision of itself.

Question to Consider:
How does an organization figure out which wellness programs to implement without an actionable insight into their workforce’s individual as well as collective needs and desires?

On the side of leadership, the words, actions, and business strategies of a company’s senior management must align in order to inspire and energize the workforce. Any disconnect among these three worlds, whether perceived or actual, runs the risk of demoralizing and dis-empowering staff at any level of the organization.

Case in Point
A senior executive at a global company routinely paid lip service to health and well-being, but pushed his staff to their limits in order to surpass budget and revenue goals. The managers reporting to him did not feel they could implement or support the wellness programs that the company had made available because the two realities were simply incompatible and evidently contradictory.

Since management and employees view and experience their place of work differently, both groups’ input must be taken into consideration and placed side by side when assessing the impact of these two areas. Not surprisingly, the most effective means of gathering this input is via a scientifically designed survey, which levels out the rough edges of subjective or intangible information and experiences. Companies should keep two key factors in mind when implementing their workplace culture surveys:

1) Choose the survey method that best resonates with the nature of your workforce: online, electronically, on paper, or in person. Employees who work “in the field”, for example, may not have ready access to computers, while other staff may not be as technologically savvy and may prefer in-person questions.

2) Become familiar with HIPAA regulations concerning the collection, storage, and use of individually identifiable information. With your employees, be transparent about the types of data you are collecting, why, and how the data will be stored and utilized. Ideally, include language about the survey data in your company-wide privacy policy.

In the surveys we conduct on behalf of our clients, we assess and analyze eleven elements of an organization’s culture, categorized into two primary areas:

• Senior leadership: alignment of business strategy with a healthy workplace
• Policies and procedures: the actions that carry out leadership’s vision
• Individual programs: programs designed for employees’ well-being and fulfillment
• Rewards: recognition for contribution and accomplishment of goals
• Quality assurance: measurement process to assess desired outcomes

• Supervisor social support: the level of support management staff offer to employees
• Peer social support: the level of support workers provide for each other
• Role modeling: others’ practice of healthy or positive behaviors
• Values: beliefs related to healthy and high-performing workforce and workplace
• Mood: the emotional and social atmosphere in the workplace
• Social norms: behaviors subtly encouraged or discourage according to prevailing workplace attitudes

The ROI lies in the differences between the perceptions and experiences of managers and those of employees. These are the telltale signs that indicate areas where the organization needs to take action in order to bring an unhealthy workplace into balance and harmony, improve a particular program, initiative, stop practices, policies, or behaviors that damage the overall health and productivity of the workforce. At times, these gaps bring to light factors that senior management had been completely oblivious to, factors that can potentially make all the difference between a motivated, energized workforce and one that shows up only to clock in. Aside from the obvious benefit of improving the health and productivity of the workplace and the people in it, a thorough assessment of an organization’s culture also opens up specific insights into what kinds of HR policies and wellness programs would best suit that particular organization.

It’s not enough to do it once and consider it done. To track progress and be able to improve continuously, organizations should ideally conduct these workplace assessments on an annual basis. As with any other aspect of a company’s activity that changes and evolves over time, the vital functions of its workforce and workplace are best tended to only when they are properly understood. This will result in healthy growth.

Alan Wang
Alan Wang
Alan Wang is the President of UBF and serves as the lead consultant. He has delivered the UBF solution set throughout the world and is highly regarded for his areas of expertise. You can follow him on Twitter @UBFconsulting.
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