Pay raises. Bonuses. Benefits and perks. In an inflationary economy still recovering from COVID-19, employers are doing everything in their power to find and keep talent.
Post-pandemic, employee attraction and retention have never been more important, as working Americans juggle purchasing power and quality of life amid economic uncertainty.
But pay raises, bonuses and the like – while worthwhile in many cases – are only pieces in a larger attraction and retention puzzle. The big picture is workplace culture.
Workplace culture binds a company together
The secret behind motivation, satisfaction and productivity is the culture that binds a company together – what makes the business unique and why that matters to the people working day after day.
In recent years, Puritan Medical Products has gone through unprecedented growth, supplying hundreds of millions of COVID-19 testing swabs to the world while also expanding into forensics, genetics and other markets.
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Before the pandemic, our swabs and collection devices were applied to industries like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food production, forcing us to be creative with hiring and promoting workers. We have worked to recruit and retain hundreds of new employees, while also assimilating and contributing to a culture that has been cultivated for over 100 years.
New recruits must fit seamlessly into a family-owned company that operates more like a small business than a large corporation, carrying on a tradition of innovation.
But for entrepreneurial businesses like Puritan, innovation is only the outcome; the process is empowerment. Employees need to feel unburdened, and even supported, to experiment, fail, receive constructive criticism, earn plaudits for their work and become valuable contributors to the company’s success.
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Managers must allow workers to see the direct line between contribution and impact, in addition to eliminating unnecessary barriers between upper management and the rest of the workforce.
Puritan’s engineering department, for example, is led by Derek McKenney, who preaches “face time” with his fellow engineers. As some of our most important innovators, the company’s engineers feel like they can interact regularly and directly with McKenney and upper management.
But real face-time is nonexistent if employees work remotely, as tens of millions of Americans now do. It is almost impossible to build a strong, cohesive workplace culture if most workers are not actually on-site. Hybrid work environments are more likely to succeed, given the face-to-face component, but fully remote situations are not nearly as conducive to corporate collaboration.
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In the early days of the pandemic, most Americans reported feeling “less connected” to their organizational culture while working from home. Two years later, research showed that remote workers do not tend to replace in-person interactions with virtual ones; rather they’re more likely to just drop those interactions altogether.
A study of 60,000 Microsoft employees found that remote work caused them to “become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts.”
That’s a big deal. To maximize productivity, entrepreneurial-minded employers like Microsoft not only need to sing from the same sheet, but they also must believe that it’s worth singing in unison – that the company’s broader mission is worth the innovation in the first place.
Otherwise, according to Cornell University professor Chris Collins, “it’s just a job, it’s just a list of tasks, there’s no loyalty to the company.”
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Disparate parts come together when workers genuinely look out for each other. But loyalty does not stem from 15-minute Zoom sessions, especially when “Zoom fatigue” is endemic.
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Disney CEO Bob Iger admitted as much recently, urging employees to work in the office at least four days a week. “In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors,” he said, according to an email obtained by CNBC.
In the pandemic, the benefits of the in-person model were reinforced at Puritan while most other companies were obligated to go remote. The onslaught of COVID-19 resulted in an historic manufacturing ramp-up.
Many of Puritan’s employees made personal sacrifices to remain on-site and produce the testing swabs that people desperately needed. And while their sacrifices were immense, our workplace culture benefited from the face-time associated with in-person work. Adversity brought people together in the same place (emphasis on place) for a common cause.
From a growth perspective, Puritan would not be in nearly as strong a financial position today if remote work had run rampant at our Maine and Tennessee locations. Nor would our culture have been strengthened further. While our mission to improve employee engagement continues, working together – in-person and aligned in purpose – fosters a far more cohesive, empowered and productive workforce.
Fail at empowerment, and employers will fail at innovation and productivity, too. There are no exceptions.
Bob Shultz is president and chief financial officer of Puritan Medical Products.
Story Credit: usatoday.com