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Who’s the Boss of Workplace Culture? HR, Managers and Employees Disagree, New Workforce Institute Study Finds

The Workforce Institute, Kronos,, workplace cultureHuman resources pros, people managers and employees have very different opinions about workplace culture—who drives it, what’s important to creating a great one, and what can destroy it, according to new research commissioned by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated and

“It is surprising, and frankly alarming, to see such a wide gap between how employees view and experience workplace culture versus their managers and HR professionals,” said Joyce Maroney, director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos, in a news release. “There is very little common ground concerning who defines the culture, what is important to creating a winning culture, and what can ruin it. This survey provides insight to HR professionals and managers about how their employees really feel about workplace culture and how they can change their thinking and actions to improve the workplace in meaningful ways.”

Survey news facts:

Who defines workplace culture? Us, not them. When asked who at their organization most defines the workplace culture, HR professionals, managers and employees each felt they were most important:

  • About one third of HR professionals said that the head of HR defines the culture, while only 10 percent of managers and three percent of employees agreed.
  • Twenty-six percent of managers said their executive team defines the culture, while only 11 percent of HR professionals and nine percent of employees felt the same.
  • Finally, 29 percent of employees said it is the employees who define workplace culture, with only nine percent of HR professionals and 13 percent of managers agreeing. Interestingly, a full 40 percent of Millennial employees feel that employees define the culture—an indication of an evolving view of workplace culture where employees feel they have more power.
  • Troublingly, 28 percent of employees feel that no onedefines the workplace culture, whereas only five percent of HR professionals and seven percent of managers feel this way.

What culture attributes matter most to employees? HR and management strike out.

  • Employees listed their top three most important attributes of workplace culture as “pay” (50 percent), “coworkers who respect and support one another” (42 percent), and “work-life balance” (40 percent).
  • Unfortunately, HR and managers struck out on the top three culture attributes that matter most to employees. HR professionals believe “managers and executives leading by example,” “employee benefits,” and a “shared mission and values” were the top three things that mattered most to employees; while managers guessed “managers and executives leading by example,” a “shared mission and values,” and “emphasis on taking care of our customers” would top employees’ lists.
  • Only 25 percent of HR professionals and 29 percent of managers thought pay would be a top concern for how employees view workplace culture.

What kills culture? Again, each party tells a different story. When it comes to what has the most negative impact on an organization’s ability to maintain a positive workplace culture, HR professionals and managers differed significantly from the employee view:

  • HR professionals and people managers said that “a high-stress environment” and “company growth” were the two elements with the biggest negative impact on workplace culture.
  • Conversely, employees felt that “not having enough staff to support goals,” “unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well,” and “poor employee/manager relationships” were the major obstacles to maintaining a positive workplace culture.
  • These findings indicate that HR and managers might be able to reduce the perceived stress their work environment causes by focusing on hiring the right people, appropriately staffing, and ensuring managers have the proper management training to help their teams thrive.

Technology, job hopping, and Glassdoor-like pressure has changed culture.

  • Forty-three percent of HR professionals and 39 percent of managers said that “using technology to foster and improve culture” is the biggest difference in managing workplace culture today compared to a decade ago.
  • This increased use of technology comes with a price: 40 percent of HR leaders indicated there is more pressure today to maintain an attractive culture for recruiting purposes than in the past, presumably because more information about organizations can be easily found.
  • Along those lines, nearly a quarter of HR professionals (23 percent) and managers (22 percent) say that their employees switch careers/jobs too much to establish a solid culture.

How are leaders strengthening culture? Training, development, and acting on feedback.

  • When asked what they do to preserve and strengthen workplace culture, HR professionals and managers were on the same page, listing “training and development” (72 percent and 61 percent, respectively) and “getting feedback from employees and acting on it” (45 percent and 46 percent) as the two top strategies.

How can organizations keep their culture relevant over time?

  • HR professionals and managers indicated that using technology across the organization to improve communication and efficiency (59 percent and 49 percent, respectively), and paying closer attention to feedback from younger employees (50 percent and 41 percent, respectively) were critical components to evolving culture to remain relevant when recruiting.

“Among all of this interesting data, what struck me most was that 40 percent of Millennial employees believe that employees create the workplace culture, compared to 29 percent of employees overall,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends, and New York Times bestselling author of “Promote Yourself,” in the release. “This is important. Each generation changes the workplace as they rise up the ranks and Millennials are making it clear that they believe the power to impact workplace culture lies predominantly with the people who do the work. HR professionals and people managers should take note of this, look for ways to involve employees in the development of workplace culture, and be on the lookout for those disengaged workers who may be poisoning the well—they wield more power than you may think.”

More than 1,800 U.S. adults responded to the online questionnaire and were segmented into three different survey groups—HR professionals (601 respondents); people managers (604 respondents); and full-time, non-managing employees (602 respondents)—and their answers were compared based on how each group responded to questions about various aspects of workplace culture and employee engagement. The survey was completed through Lightspeed GMI’s Global Test Market double opted-in panelists who have registered to participate in online surveys. All sample surveys may be subject to multiple sources of error (i.e. sampling error, coverage error, measurement error, etc.).

Source: Business Wire; edited by Richard Carufel

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