In the recent past, attrition in India soared from 6% in 2020 to over 20% in the first half of 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 4.25 million people quit their jobs in January 2022, up from 3,3 million in 2021. The pandemic may have been the tipping point for the great resignation, but it finally made companies sit up and take notice of the real reason employees hated their jobs so much that they would quit at a time when there were no other jobs in sight – culture.
It’s perplexing that organisational culture should be such a topic of debate at leadership levels and amount to such a large quantifiable cost to a company. A Gartner study shows that companies spend approximately $2200 per employee per year on culture building activities such as trainings, workshops, offsites and consulting firms. It’s perplexing because culture is simply a compounding factor of being a good human being, and thus having the right empathetic reactions when managing a team or reacting to a situation.
I recall an anecdote that a friend shared with me when she found out that she was pregnant. She had disclosed it to her manager and some close friends at work. Later, the same day, as she sat at her desk, she noticed people leaving the floor one by one. She thought it was odd, but was immersed in her work. After a while, one of them came over and called her to come into the next room. When we went there, everyone was gathered, cheered her with great enthusiasm and gave her a basket off random goodies that they all thought were necessary for pregnant women, like imli candies and other strange edibles. She recalls this spontaneous act with a smile on her face, every time she recounts the story.
On the same lines, I have also worked on culture building programs that were aimed at creating celebration at work, whether at personal or work related moments. We discussed at length the personal occasions to be included – pregnancy was one of them. We allocated a budget, decided on a goody bag, created a roll out plan with HR, and briefed managers on what to expect when their reportees were expecting. We were excited about the branding, the goodies and the kind of feeling we wanted to create – at scale. However, the program fell flat, because, for one thing, managers felt that it was just another thing to do – they had to fill out a form, follow up with HR, track a package and ‘create’ a celebration. It diluted into employees ‘receiving’ a celebratory package from the company.
Despite the best intentions of companies, culture cannot be created. It is the aggregation of shared values, and is best formed organically, a home-grown, handed down set of beliefs and traditions. A simple and enthusiastic, “That’s how we do it here,” from the seniormost person will get internalised and passed down faster than any number of policy updates, memos and workshops.
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