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What’s more important: cash or culture?

Consultancy 3rd July 2023

The value of good workplace relationships has never been higher to employers.

More hybrid and remote working has encouraged more people to think about life in the workplace: what worked and what didn’t, what were they really missing out on, what would they go back to the workplace for? The heightened attention to workplace behaviours, to anything that might be considered inappropriate, has only added to the currency of ‘good’ places to work.

So we’ve come to a stage where the everyday work environment and experience really matters — not just for efficiency and productivity, but an essential part of an organisation’s reputation, the reason why people want to work and why they’re not trawling for other jobs.

Evidence continues to stack up around the importance of culture and experience. A report by Hubspot into hybrid working this year has claimed that 50% of UK employees would rather have “great relationships” at work over a 10% pay increase. A Workbuzz study found that culture was rated above pay and challenging work when it came to looking for a new job. At the same time, the context in terms of UK employee’s attitudes to work doesn’t look good: recruiter Randstad found that 60% of workers surveyed would leave their job if they didn’t need the money (compared with an international average of 47%, and much higher than in countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain). In other words, more UK employees are looking for something they’re not finding: belonging to a workplace with good culture, where there’s trust, understanding and openness and people feel able to be themselves.

This is what CMP calls a ‘Clear Air’ culture. Everyone feels able to be themselves and speak openly — because they know they will be respected and valued as individuals, and that any differences of opinion, clashes in personality, grievances and concerns will be dealt with in fair and reasonable ways. Too often there are gaps between an organisation’s values and expectations and the actual everyday experience of employees. Management time and energy is spent on supporting individuals who don’t know how to meet the behavioural standards, and investigating and disciplining those who fall short. Conflict escalates. Performance is reduced, talent is lost, and money is spent needlessly.

Building a Clear Air culture involves a package of new insights, skills and service offerings based around the importance of Conversational Integrity. Having organisational values and purpose might provide a reason to go to work but has nothing to do with the realities of how employees interact, how they understand and appreciate each other. In other words, good behaviours are rooted in conversations. Every output from an organisation at some point started with a conversation, and it’s the quality of those conversations that improves the quality of the outputs. This is what we call having ‘Conversational Integrity’ (CI), made up of five capacities: empathy, curiosity, self-awareness, reflective listening and situational awareness. These capacities or skills are all fundamental to human interaction, the real levers for what make an organisation or business perform better. If you want innovative people, then they need to be curious, and listen to others they need to feel able to take risks and trust their colleagues.

Checking on the state of ‘Psychological Safety’ helps with assessing progress among teams. The term psychological safety was coined by Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School to describe the “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves. There is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up”. An environment of psychological safety allows teams to operate at their best, unconstrained by fear and insecurity.

Photo by Philip Veater on Unsplash