The Cultural Engagement Imperative

Why is cultural engagement so important and how can we start to think about it in bite-sized chunks?

According to a 2021 study by the consultancy McKinsey & Company, the top three factors in employee attrition, according to employers, were compensation, work-life balance, and poor physical and emotional health.  When McKinsey asked employees the same question, however, over 50% of job leavers cited the absence of a sense of belonging as one of the most important factors in their decision to quit.  In fact, a study by PWC around the future of work found that fully 1/3 of workers would consider taking a pay cut in pursuit of meaningful work, relationships, and experiences.

The message of the Great Resignation is clear: employers seeking to retain talent with perks while ignoring the role their company culture plays in employee satisfaction are the moral equivalent of fad dieters.  Sure, you might lose a little weight at first, but if you want to make sustainable changes to your health, you’re going to need to look more systemically at your lifestyle habits and choices.

And yet, many leaders are asking themselves whether effective investment in cultural engagement is even possible in an environment where the way we work is changing so rapidly and dramatically.  Before COVID, just 6% of white-collar workers worked from home.  By May 2020, that proportion had risen to 65%.  Even more recently, as employers looked to bring workers back into the office, more and more companies are embracing hybrid schedules in acknowledgement that many employees are unwilling to return to the pre-pandemic norm of employer-dictated schedule and location rigidity.

In a recent New York Times survey, in response to questions about returning to the offices, the most strongly argued position against returning to the office was about workplace culture, citing either a lack of engagement or a culture that felt actively exclusive, particularly for those who self-identify outside the extroverted heteronormative white male image of mainstream corporate success.  Many of those surveyed questioned the point of returning to an office when they feel they are equally, if not more effective, both personally and professionally, when working from home.

All of these datapoints are a wakeup call to managers.  PWC found that engaged workforces experience a 17% increase in productivity and between 24% and 59% less turnover.  But how do we think start to understand cultural engagement, not to mention go about influencing it?

The role of corporate culture is to reinforce a shared commitment among colleagues about how they solve problems, share information, serve customers, and deliver experiences.  Engagement with an organization’s culture is based on the ability of each employee to connect across the three core pillars of cultural engagement.

Over the coming weeks, we will do a deep dive into each of these cultural pillars and discuss how to understand them in the context of your own workplace and what it takes to move the needle in the right direction for your organization.

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