3.16.2021 16:10

Building Employee Engagement through Workplace Culture

Building Employee Engagement through Workplace Culture


Kiah Madden

April 28, 2020


Companies have a personality just like people, although we more commonly refer to this as ‘company culture’. Culture is defined by a number of factors, such as the work environment, values, expectations, company mission and the goals of both individuals and the company as a whole.

The culture of a company has become a large part of the job-hunting process. Many people place a high value on culture when looking for work to ensure they find an environment to thrive in. A study by Deloitte shows 83% of executives and 84% of employees, rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that contributes to a company’s success.

With insights from team members at some of Australia’s leading companies, we break down the importance of a good culture and what it means for employee engagement.

Why is workplace culture so important?

The culture of a company has a significant impact on employees’ satisfaction and productivity. It is important for companies to define their culture so they are attracting and employing like-minded workers who will give it their all.

Jamie Hermes, HR Business Partner at ELMO, defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment one has for their organisation.” He notes that “those who have a higher measure of employee engagement are motivated, aligned with business values and objectives and are willing to go the extra mile for their employer.”

Hermes also talks about what engagement means for business. “Happy employees mean happy customers,” he says. Engaged employees are more likely to provide a better customer experience. Because they care about their role and the company, that extends to the customer. This can have a positive impact on the financial performance of an organisation.”

Nicholas Himonas, Senior Consultant at EY builds on how engagement and culture affect business through retention: “Workplace culture speaks to employee values and motivations, touching on the underlying drivers of performance. When there is alignment, employees can be their authentic selves. This leads to actively choosing to stay with the organisation and bringing their best performance.”

James Burden, Director of Strategic Programs at Optus, agrees that culture is key to retaining top talent. “Peter Drucker coined the phrase ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and in a modern workplace, this could be one of the most important things for a leader to remember,” he says. “Talented people will leave a company that doesn’t excite them and align with their standards. A team with a poor leader and the wrong culture will have a rudderless team that lacks the drive, accountability and autonomy to succeed.”

Cultural expectations are changing – are you keeping up?

As new generations enter the workforce, cultural expectations change. To engage and retain employees, it’s critical to understand what they want and adapt the culture to suit.

Jennifer Klingmann, People & Culture Specialist at Mantel Group, notes the changes she has seen over the years. “Experiences at work have changed dramatically over the last decade,” she says. “We’ve seen huge differences across the level of priority for diverse teams, flexible working and working remotely – just to name a few.”

Klingmann goes on to talk about what this means for creating an engaging culture today. “The best talent is in high demand – they can choose when, where and how they want to work. People are asking themselves: why do I want to work for this company? What are the benefits for me personally and for my career? Do I love what I do and where I work? We have to think about how we offer flexible working, learning and work-life-harmony in a way that genuinely makes a positive impact on our peoples’ lives and careers.”

While cultural expectations are always changing, one principle that remains is the need for an open dialogue between employer and employee. “I think one of the most significant factors that organisations and HR need to consider is the psychological contract between employer and employee and its impact on employee engagement,” says Hermes at ELMO. “The psychological contract is the social contract between employer/employee, based on a set of mutual expectations and obligations separate to the employment contract.”

“This contract has the greatest influence on employee engagement and is influenced by HR practices. Constant communication that encourages effective two-way dialogue is the key to ensure a balanced contract as it gives the employee a voice. This, in turn, promotes engagement by making employees feel valued within the organisation.”

Driving employee engagement in the right direction

With 71% of executives saying that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success, businesses need to place an emphasis on initiatives and strategies to better their culture.

Burden at Optus believes this starts with owners and managers. “A strong leader must realise that being ‘the boss’ or ‘the decision-maker’ is not the way a modern team will succeed,” he explains. “It is the role of a leader to support the team, empower them to make decisions and ask challenging questions. By giving your team power, they will take accountability for their decisions and will commit themselves to drive the outcome.”

At Optus, Burden has put his ideas to work to help build support and trust within his team. “I have worked to build a culture without a strict hierarchy system. Everyone has specific roles and responsibilities but they are treated as equals and with respect. The decisions in my team are made through consultation and with everyone’s input.”

For Klingmann, her priority is that employees have a sense of purpose. “At Mantel Group, it is incredibly important that our people are doing meaningful work. We are a people business that truly believes that when people are enjoying what they do, they can do amazing things.”

“Our project teams work together on tailored solutions that are meeting our customers’ needs. They are able to see on a daily basis how crucial their work is and what impact a single idea can have to a project’s outcome.”

When you invest time into bettering your workplace culture, you see lastly effects throughout your business as a whole.

For more on the importance of employee experience and workplace culture, check out our other articles: HR Trends: Workplaces Should Focus On Employee Experience and To Create a Successful team, Focus on Workplace Culture.

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