What impact has the pandemic had on workplace culture? It’s too soon to say definitively, but experience so far suggests it’s been a mixed bag – while many firms saw initial positive changes as a result of the shift to dispersed working, some of those changes have been difficult to sustain in the long run.
This is reflected in the findings of the Financial Services Culture Board’s (FSCB) most recent survey, which revealed a notable dip in employees’ attitudes to their respective workplace cultures across nearly all areas from just a year before.
Scores across all survey questions lost, on average, half the gains made in the previous year – with previous advancements relating to responsiveness, personal resilience and leadership being all but reversed over the past eight months.
It’s disappointing to see such short-lived improvement, particularly because the 2020 results followed two years of the results trending sideways. But it’s also not all that surprising when you consider the ongoing external environment.
So, what lessons can we learn from the findings and where do we go from here?
Firms are struggling to understand their cultures
Strong disagreements with the proposition ‘I believe that my organisation responds effectively to staff feedback’ almost doubled from 3% to 5%, while more employees now agreed internal processes were a barrier to individual improvement. Both these findings might suggest that organisations aren’t going far enough to understand their cultures and identify the root cause of issues.
In response, businesses will need to look beyond basic surveys and metrics that provide point in time data, incorporating a wider range of tools and techniques to provide them with continuous situational awareness and understand the true root cause of issues.
After all, it’s crucial that any proposed interventions get to the heart of the problem, allowing firms to make intentional targeted change instead of just alleviating symptoms. Otherwise, the core issue will never be properly resolved – and firms will be regularly expending resources to patch over surface cracks that only deepen with time.
Take a look at how we leverage smart technology to help assess and understand culture in real time.
Confidence in leadership has waned
72% of employees are currently confident that senior leaders mean what they say – a 5% drop from last year. And just 28% of respondents would now strongly agree that their leadership team takes responsibility when things go wrong, down from 32%.
It’s also worth noting that the number of respondents who trusted their colleagues in general to make good on their promises also declined, suggesting this issue isn’t limited to the top echelons of an organisation. This is an area that firms will want to keep an eye on, given that doing what you say you’ll do is a key aspect of acting with integrity, which in turn is one of the Conduct Rules that apply to almost all employees who carry out financial services activities.
Of course, this could be a potential consequence of the shrinking networks and increased siloes that we’ve seen in organisations as a result of the changes wrought by the pandemic, coupled with the mental and emotional toll on individuals.
Leaders are people too and have had to adapt in real time alongside the rest of us, with the added layer of providing direction and support to those they lead. At the beginning of the pandemic, employees responded positively to leaders who showed their humanity and expressed authentic emotion. Focusing on building these skills in leaders can have a positive impact for teams and organisations as well as individuals, so it’s important to give leaders the time and space to manage and lead their teams, and renew employees’ trust and confidence in them.
Hybrid working hasn’t benefited everyone
One of the most sobering revelations from the findings is that more staff now say working for their organisation has a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing, rising from 20% to 24%.
And not only that, but some individuals are more negatively impacted than others. For example, employees living with disabilities were more likely to report negative sentiments across the board – more than 50% often felt under excessive pressure at work, compared to just 38% of their peers without disabilities.
This resilience imbalance is at odds with the overall improvement in work-life balance reported in the survey, indicating that some positive outcomes of remote working aren’t felt equally. Ultimately, this disparity reinforces the need for firms to understand and recognise the realities of intersectionality – in other words, how a person’s overlapping identity characteristics inform their unique lived experience.
This is why it’s important for organisations to know the demographic make-up of their employees and overlay it with information about their experiences – to understand not just the diversity of your workforce but the extent to which you’re creating a culture of inclusion and belonging for all employees, and crucially to identify areas where progress needs to be made.
For a more in-depth look at diversity and inclusion, download our podcast series.
Now more than ever, taking a holistic approach to understanding your culture – especially when supported by smart data that offers continuous, objective insight into your strengths and weaknesses – is the key to lasting transformation that can withstand whatever the future may bring.