This is the second in a series about the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s recent work around culture. Check back soon for more, including articles on such topics as whether culture predicts performance, traits of a healthy culture and the benefits of creating a culture of learning. Read the first in the series here.
Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur, Shark Tank investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has repeated a dire warning for corporations over the last several weeks.
“How companies respond to [this pandemic] is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”
Cuban is stressing a critical point. The decisions an organization makes today in balancing the health and safety of its workforce with a desire to “return to normal” will indelibly impact the perception of the company by its customers and other stakeholders. It’s an interconnectedness that has always existed but is more visible during this pandemic than ever before.
We refer to this interconnectedness as the New Corporate Currency, an equation that links Purpose, Culture and Brand. While purpose defines why your organization “does what it does,” its ability to connect the heads and the hearts of your workforce is what sets the tone for a healthy culture. And organizational culture, the element that dictates the employee experience around what is condoned, rewarded, encouraged and even penalized, has immense impact on the overall brand. How your organization is perceived externally is a direct reflection of how the workforce perceives your organization internally.
In our research on the pandemic, it is clear that most organizations are preparing for a return to work. In a poll we conducted of senior HR execs (most were CHROs), more than half indicated their corporate leadership teams were spending greater than 50% of their collective energy planning for a return versus just a quarter of those surveyed a week earlier.
Companies are fairly certain they are logistically ready: Two-thirds felt strongly that their facilities were ready to go. However, only about one-quarter believe their workforce is ready to return to the workplace. To create a safer work environment, more than half said they would require employees to sanitize work space they had just used, and a significant number of companies said they would limit the number of people allowed in the same workspace at the same time, as well as reconfigure workspaces to ensure greater physical distance. They would also decrease or eliminate shared workspace while at the same time expanding their flexible work arrangements as attitudes toward remote work have changed.
That same poll found 72% of companies expect to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, in-person meeting requirements, and 41% respondents indicated that proximity will no longer be a requirement in hiring decisions.
We’ve heard from others that they may require masks for all employees and even take temperatures before entering a facility. Most are simply trying to do what they can to make the working environment safe for employees to come back to the office.
But “safe” is a relative term. While it is primarily being used to refer to the physical safety of employees, it’s the psychological safety of the workforce–and the practicality of returning–that will end up being the main determiners. When we asked companies to project how their employees would feel about returning, 34% said they’d probably do so reluctantly. However, almost 50% said it depends on the reopening of schools, childcare, and eldercare along with their own perception of when the risk of being around their co-workers has passed.
Cuban may have summed it up best when asked by Axios about an eventual return to work. “No one wants to talk about this, but can you even get workers back who aren’t so addicted or depressed they can actually function?”
As companies begin to reopen their doors when the pandemic subsides, attention to mental and emotional health is going to be paramount. There’s a lot of room for improvement in this area, however. A recent study we conducted on holistic wellbeing found that only 15% of all organizations feel they are highly effective in addressing employees’ mental-health needs, though the percentage more than doubles in high-performance firms.