Culture and Wellness: How to Connect, Direct, and Protect Your People

August 22, 2022
Culture and Wellness

Employee wellness was paramount prior to the pandemic of 2020. Disengagement, turnover, and the burnout epidemic are key indicators that employees are not doing well. 

Many employees who choose to stay in their jobs are working wounded. 

This blog illuminates the direct connection between workplace culture and overall employee wellness. It makes the case that culture may be the greatest mechanism available to organizations for enhancing the social, emotional, and mental wellness of its members. 

We know that when leaders and their employees are doing better so are the clients and customers they are responsible for. Strengthening workplace culture may represent a tour de force for not only enhancing employee wellness, but for optimizing engagement, performance, and preferred results simultaneously. 

Culture Simplified 

Culture is a concept used to describe a set of shared beliefs, values, and practices of a specific group as they live and/or work together towards a common goal. From an organizational perspective, culture is a pattern of thinking, behaving, and working that characterizes a certain workplace. 

Workplace culture is different from workplace climate. While culture represents patterns of work behavior, the “how we do things around here”, workplace climate is simply a person or group’s psychological perception (thoughts and feelings) of their work environment as positive or negative. Climate can be shifted much easier than culture. Changing the culture takes more effort and time because it involves a shift in thinking, behaving, and working. 

Shifting workplace culture is not as difficult as most think!

Like workplace climate, culture is often referred to as being predominantly positive or negative. However, many employees may refer to their workplace culture more specifically. Positive culture references reflect attitudes and behaviors that are positive and preferred; a culture of, “collaboration”, “openness”, “high performance”, and “health and wellness”. Negative culture references often reflect negative or less than preferred people behaviors and may be referred to as a culture of “entitlement”, “individualism”, “apathy”, or “fear”. A culture that is “toxic” is usually one where the attitudes and behaviors of staff members are perceived to have negative and potentially detrimental impacts on others.

Culture, Engagement, Performance, and Outcomes

A wealth of scholarship and research demonstrates unequivocally that positive, healthy, and strong cultures have a positive and profound impact on the level of staff engagement and overall performance. Professionals who work in a setting that has a positive culture are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and outperform those that would define their culture as negative. Research also demonstrates that a great workplace culture decreases negative attitudes and behaviors and substantially lowers absenteeism. Workplaces with a culture that is good to great record less sick time and fewer mental health days. 

Great workplace culture is positively correlated with better wellness overall and can simultaneously foster great physical, social, and mental health while buffering the stresses and strains of the challenges inherent in today’s workplace. 

The Truth about Culture – Connection, Direction, and Protection

Most people don’t know the truth about culture. It was developed by humans for our survival and when a preferred culture is developed and strengthened, it optimizes the environmental conditions necessary for humans to thrive. A great culture operates to provide three very important mechanisms for the people within that culture. Great cultures offer humans, Connection, Direction, and Protection.  

Connection

Connection is a very powerful human necessity that operates in two ways. People in a group come together and connect because they have a common purpose. This connection also reinforces identity and a sense of belonging, strengthening the relational connection and group cohesion. Connection is all about relationships, collaboration, support, and collective efforts towards a very important end. 

Another important type of connection occurs because of clear direction. Most professionals did not make it to their respective vocations by accident. The choice to work in a specific sector, especially health and human services, was a purposeful life decision driven by their own individual needs, values, goals, and strengths. Great cultures foster and sustain a strong connection between an individual member’s needs, values, and goals, and those of the collective community, regardless of the work location.

Direction

All great cultures evolve or arise from the direction offered in the Vision, Mission, and Guiding Values of the organization. Clear purpose and goals, why we do what we do and what we want to accomplish, provide all employees with a clearer direction. 

Direction provides members with answers to some very important questions like “who am I?”, “where and how do I belong?”, “why am I doing what I am doing?”, and “how should I behave so that I can connect to others and contribute to the community’s purpose?” Direction offers members clarity regarding individual and group behavior, including roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Direction offers members the opportunity to connect and contribute to the collective needs, values, goals, and strengths of the community.  

Protection

Workplace environments that consistently foster deep and meaningful connections and promote purposeful direction inevitably offer members protection. Protection is about safety and significance. A great workplace culture provides an environment for people to feel valued and valuable. It fosters a sense of purpose, predictability, and trust. This contributes to a greater sense of confidence and comfort, which includes social, emotional, and psychological safety. 

It is in this light that culture must be positioned by organizations as an utmost priority!

Working to develop and strengthen a great culture represents a critical part of the plan toward overall employee wellness. A great workplace culture protects people and the organization simultaneously. 

Strengthening Workplace Culture – Getting Started

A great culture doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes effort and must be intentional. The following suggestions will assist in the journey towards improving workplace culture. 

Have the Conversation.

The first step is to have an open dialogue about culture with everyone. 

Some discussion questions could include:

  • How do we define culture?
  • What is the state of our culture?
  • What do we want our culture to be?
  • What do we have in our culture?
  • What attitudes, behaviors, and ways of working will get us closer to our preferred culture?

Gauge the Climate.

Look to the moments when people are feeling and doing better, even just brieflyLook to the areas where you are already experiencing positive and supportive moments. Can those moments or areas be fostered or promoted further to develop patterns, ceremonies, or rituals of preferred behavior? 

Look to Vision, Mission, and Guiding Values.

The company’s vision, mission, and values offer a type of road map for understanding which attitudes and behaviors are more in or out of line with the purpose and preferred goals of working together.  

Focus on the Strengths.

Not all cultures are totally bad. Look for the attitudes and behaviors that are fully congruent with and support the company’s vision, mission, and values. Acknowledge and reinforce these preferences. Celebrate them, so you can make them stick.

Identify areas for Development.

Areas for development require the identification and elimination of the behaviors that are incongruent with building and sustaining the preferred workplace culture. 

The Role of Leaders

While culture is the responsibility of all members in the organization, it is the leaders that hold the most important role. Because they are responsible for enhancing well-being and developing the potential of all members to succeed, leaders must operate as “Culture Champions”. The leaders function as the most important variable for influencing and impacting attitudes, behaviors, and culture overall. 

Leaders must be purposeful in their efforts to promote, role model, moderate, and shape great workplace culture so that staff can feel better, perform better, and attain better results. 

Reflection

Take a moment to think about how you are doing as a “Culture Champion” in your organization. What is one thing you can start doing now to improve in this area?

If you are looking to strengthen and leverage your culture to connect, direct and protect your people and the organization overall, check out these solutions:

Human Services Culture

Corporate Culture


Stephen de Groot is the President and Co-Founder of Brivia.
He is the author of Responsive Leadership (Sage Publication, 2016) and Chief Architect of The CORE Algorithm: A Dynamic Framework for Optimizing Human Potential, Performance, and Perseverance.

Learn more about Stephen de Groot and his work.

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