A happy work environment is an important goal for any organisational culture, with serious implications for productivity and profit. How can you measure aspects such as staff motivation and morale – and what can you do to improve it if it’s lagging?

Humans – your primary resource

If you’re not convinced about the value of tracking your employees’ morale, consider the story of the 1997 United Parcel Service (UPS) strike. It effectively shut down operations at the world’s largest courier service for 16 days, costing UPS hundreds of millions of dollars.

The irony of it all was that the strike came just 10 months after the company had recorded excellent marks on its annual worker-morale survey.

Our point? Money may not be able to buy happiness but happiness certainly has real monetary value.

What’s happening in your company?

Is a similar problem bubbling under in your business? If there is, how would you know? A work environment is a direct result of company culture and of the people who manage it – but business leaders often find it difficult to gauge that culture accurately.

Think about it. If you’re the boss, your employees will inevitably change their behaviour whenever you’re in the room, so don’t even try to experience that work environment for yourself.

‘There are six aspects of culture that people look for in a great place to work: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership.’

In the modern, digital world in which transparency is increasing and the influence of millennials is growing, more and more employees now expect a productive, engaging and enjoyable work experience.

According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, ‘Companies need a new approach – one that builds on the foundation of culture and engagement to focus on the employee experience holistically, considering all the contributors to worker satisfaction, engagement, wellness, and alignment.’

Rather than focusing narrowly on employee engagement and culture, the report states, ‘organisations are developing an integrated focus on the entire employee experience, bringing together all the workplace, HR, and management practices that impact people on the job.

‘A new marketplace of pulse feedback tools, wellness and fitness apps, and integrated employee self-service tools is helping HR departments understand and improve this experience’.

Simply put, under the old rules, culture was – at best – a fluffy topic on the company website or perhaps a creative photo or quote on the reception wall. Culture was seldom, if ever, measured or defined through employee behaviour.

Now, however, companies are using tools and behaviours to measure accurately, strategically align and proactively improve culture.

Enter the culture survey

Perhaps the most powerful of those tools is a culture survey, which allows you to analyse your company’s workplace culture and then (if needed) build a plan to improve it.

These surveys are conducted anonymously – online and in focus groups – with the understanding that the information gathered will be treated confidentially and dealt with transparently.

joint study by the O.C. Tanner Institute, Y2 Analytics and Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans explored the essential aspects of workplace culture to focus on today.

The study – which surveyed 10 000 employees around the world – was prompted in part by research by the aforementioned Deloitte study, which listed culture as one of the three biggest business challenges for leaders.

‘Ultimately,’ the O.C. Tanner Institute study found, ‘there are six aspects of culture that people look for in a great place to work: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership.’

Purpose, it explained, involves connecting employees to the company’s reason for being, or – as the authors put it – the difference you make in the world. Opportunity refers to the ability to learn new skills, develop and contribute.

Success entails being given opportunities to innovate, do meaningful work and be on a winning team, while appreciation is linked to acknowledging and recognising employees’ outstanding work and unique contributions.

Well-being, meanwhile, means constantly working to improve employees’ physical, social, emotional and financial health – and it is a particularly important aspect of culture. In the study, the word employees most commonly used to describe their current workplace culture is ‘stress’.

Leadership involves ‘connecting employees to purpose, empowering them to do great work, and creating a sense of camaraderie’. Again, the importance of this aspect cannot be overstated: 47% of the employees surveyed said they do not feel a sense of belonging at their current organisation.

‘The more organisations try to force loyalty and engagement on their employees, the less they get.’

‘We have found that the more organisations try to force loyalty and engagement on their employees, the less they get,’ the study concluded. ‘What today’s organisations must do is create an attractive workplace culture employees want to engage with – a place where people choose to work, find it easy to engage and do their best, and sincerely desire to stay.’

Focusing on those six key factors of an attractive workplace culture seems like a good place to start. First, though, you’ll need to establish the state of your organisation’s existing culture… and to do that, you’ll need an honest, transparent culture survey. Good luck!