Why Now Is Not The Time To Cut Your Employee Engagement And Company Culture Budgets
Shelley D. Smith is a best-selling author, consultant, and Founder & CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm.
When times are tough, often the first budget cuts are ones that should be the last: training, development and communications.
As your institution wrestles with the financial impact of the pandemic and political strife, it may appear that cutting these functions is an easy, painless decision. They may appear to be “fluffy” and nonessential during a business contraction, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is, when a company is facing an uncertain future due to an economic downturn, a shift in market realities or reduced profitability, these services should be moved to top priority. They should not be viewed as expenses, but instead as tools that ensure survival and success. Now is not the time for panic, but rather for rational, thoughtful decisions that sustain your business.
Your employees are your lifeblood. They are more concerned and stressed about economic stability, job security and workplace changes than ever before. You can do great damage to your workplace culture for years to come by making knee-jerk decisions that send a message to your employees that they are expendable and nonessential, or that they have no voice in the well-being of the company.
A survey released in May shows just how important company culture continues to be during the pandemic. Jobvite’s 2020 Job Seeker Nation Report found:
• 52% of workers said company value and culture were the top influence in accepting a job in the Covid-19 climate, just behind compensation (61%).
• 81% of workers think company culture is somewhat or very important in the decision to apply for a job.
• 35% of workers who have left a job in the first 90 days cited company culture as the reason.
• Company culture is more important to workers with college degrees (51%) and workers in cities (83%).
The most successful companies long-term do not cut budgets supporting employee engagement when times get challenging; rather, they place more emphasis on keeping their teams informed, involved and motivated. They know that recruiting and retaining top talent is only possible when employees feel appreciated and valued for their contributions, heard when expressing concerns, and rewarded for exceptional work.
Our own informal request on a popular listserv for comments about the importance of culture during the pandemic produced 56 responses from companies whose average size was 300 employees. One company had more than 7,000 employees, and a few had fewer than 50. All of the companies have increased spending on training, communication and employee engagement by 25%, and some said they had increased their budget by up to 300%.
All companies said they were increasing their attention and budget on employees to support the mental well-being and health of their team members and to help them balance their personal lives while working remotely. They expressed a desire to get everyone involved in shared leadership through seeking their teams’ ideas and input on workplace changes, training and communication. The reasons for their increased emphasis were retention, deeper employee engagement and solidifying their culture or making intentional shifts to improve it.
This was evident from the CEO of a small recruitment firm on the East Coast, who said his company had recently increased its budget to ensure employee engagement. He realized the company had to invest time and money to uphold its culture.
Realizing that working online creates special challenges, the CEO of a large national home remodeling company set about to create best-in-class online content on the company’s digital platforms. Staff analyzed everything from the best time of day to send updates to how long people stayed online, and they tweaked the program to provide the best experience possible to employees.
Employees must be at the heart of everything you do. Without a cohesive, committed team, your business cannot reach its goals for success and profitability. Several companies spoke about the recognition that employees are their most valuable asset. The CEO of a small healthcare data company said her company had instilled programs to help them understand what motivates their team, quantify the risk of employee turnover and ensure that the company maintains and grows its “people-first culture” in spite of the pandemic.
Counterintuitively, this may be the perfect time to recruit key staff members. If your company has been courting high-performance individuals who have been furloughed by other businesses, these individuals may now be more open to accepting offers. The CEO of a private jet company said his company had been able to hire people it had been chasing for years. He thought investing in quality team members now would launch the company years ahead.
If you are not among the premier employers continuing to invest in company culture and employee engagement, you must reconsider your position. Your company’s abilities to recruit and retain employees, energize your team, and remain competitive are at stake.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?