Why are some small businesses more resilient, productive, and profitable than others? The answer often boils down to a high-performance work culture. To support business growth, an increasing number of employers are recognising the need to build a work culture that enhances the employee experience.
A high-performance culture is a working environment in which a set of values and behaviours enables employees to perform as effectively as possible in order to accomplish business goals. To put it more simply, it’s a workplace where employees are given the support and tools to thrive, leading to business growth.
Building a workplace that employees want to work in – and actually enjoy working in – is more than just a feel-good exercise. A study by Columbia University is just one of many studies that reveals the link between a high-performance culture and higher levels of employee engagement, productivity, and retention (1).
A company culture that supports the professional growth of employees is also directly related to employee retention and business growth. According to research organisation Gallup, companies that invest in employee development report 11 percent greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees (2). In essence, when employees have a greater sense of purpose and feel appreciated at work, they’ll be more fulfilled, engaged, and loyal.
Engagement: The Vital Ingredient
Even if employees are provided with various development opportunities, they won’t perform at their best and remain loyal to a company if they’re not engaged in their work. Highly engaged employees (those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work) are more productive and committed to the organisations in which they work (3).
It’s therefore crucial that employers build and maintain the right working environment to increase employee engagement levels. Unfortunately, many businesses fall short. In a 2020 Gallup study involving over 100,000 businesses, only 36 percent of employees stated that they were highly engaged. In the study, 51 percent of workers were “not engaged” and 13 percent were “actively disengaged”. (4)
In the face of such evidence, employers clearly need to do more to boost employee engagement. This involves creating a more comfortable working environment that supports workers not only physically but also psychologically. It’s about understanding each person’s unique talents and strengths, steering them toward tasks that suit their abilities, and allowing them to develop their skills and knowledge.
Ultimately, when an employee is more interested in the tasks they’re performing, they’ll be happier in their role and feel more pride in their work. This leads to increased productivity and boosts team morale.
Sharing Organisational Values
Leaders committed to maintaining a high-performance culture work hard to establish and promote the company’s core values so that employees understand the company’s vision and mission. These values shape the identity of the company and provide employees with a set of principles that unite the workforce and help everyone make better decisions.
Maintaining these values is a key factor in attracting and retaining employees. According to an employee retention report from Tinypulse, employees who believe their company has a higher purpose than just profits are 27 percent more likely to stay at their companies (5).
Recruitment and induction materials should clarify company values. Workshops, off-site activities, and team-building exercises will also help to create a sense of team unity. Every company has its own set of values, but the most common values are employee and customer-centric. For example: integrity, fairness, passion, learning, hard work, loyalty, innovation, teamwork, diversity, and employee development.
When defining company values, employers should think about what sets their company apart from the competition to attract the right employees and customers.
Employee Involvement: Why It Matters
“Management is about telling people what to do, and leadership is about allowing people to do what they’re capable of doing.” – Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller
Why does employee involvement matter? Hiring the right people is not enough. Employers should be encouraging each employee to identify and develop their unique skills according to the company’s goals and objectives. When employees are more involved in business outcomes, they feel more empowered and confident in their roles, which ultimately improves productivity and strengthens workplace relationships.
Involving employees in decision-making not only encourages them to think creatively, it also reduces their resistance to change in the workplace. This all helps to increase job satisfaction and build trust between employees and their employer.
Leaders should empower employees by giving them more control over their time and more of a say in company processes. They should also provide employees with the tools and training they need to succeed in their roles. Investing in workshops, certifications, courses, and conferences will help. This not only fosters loyalty, it prepares employees to take on greater responsibilities within the company.
How Leadership Influences Company Culture
Leaders set the tone for business culture. Good leaders communicate honestly and clearly, respect others, show faith in others, and act fairly. Setting a good example fosters respect, creates a more collaborative work environment, and boosts employee morale. This all helps to strengthen the business. Mentoring, coaching, and listening should be used to strengthen relationships and support employee development. Instead of micromanaging and trying to do it all themselves, the best leaders empower employees to perform well.
In high-performance cultures, leaders recognise employee achievements and also regularly offer advice and encouragement to employees, even when they fail. According to Gallup, leaders who provide weekly feedback have employees who are three times more likely to be motivated to do outstanding work, and almost three times more likely to be engaged at work (7).
Acknowledging and rewarding good performance motivates high-performers, shows others what kind of work is appreciated, and inspires everyone to raise their game. In a study by career website Glassdoor, 81 percent of employees said they were motivated to work harder when their boss showed appreciation for their work. In contrast, only 38 percent of employees said that a demanding boss motivated them to work harder (6). Put simply, people respond better to the carrot than the stick.
Transparency is key. It’s hard to make progress when team members withhold information, which is why leaders should encourage employees to speak honestly, share information openly with colleagues, and transfer knowledge to strengthen team performance. Employees should be comfortable with expressing their opinions without fear of judgement or repercussions.
This culture of open communication should be reinforced by employee questionnaires. For example, how do employees feel about the company’s culture? Do they need extra support to get their jobs done more effectively? Regularly asking for employee feedback is one of the best ways to learn about employee experiences and uncover any issues that need to be addressed. Leaders can then make more meaningful changes that support employee development.
Employee Wellbeing Is Critical to High Performance
Research has revealed a strong link between poor workplace conditions and incidences of mental health problems, such as depression. If employees don’t have enough time to accomplish tasks, experience harassment at work, have no access to mental health support, or are forced to work unsociable hours, it’s not surprising that mental health issues arise.
A survey conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (2019) revealed that 61 percent of Australian workers have experienced mental health challenges associated with their jobs and working conditions. More than one-third of these workers had missed some work as a result (8). With around 65 million working days per year lost due to increased absenteeism, the economic costs are significant.
In light of these statistics, it’s not hard to understand why an increasing number of employers are focusing on wellbeing in the workplace. By taking steps to support the physical and mental health of workers, employers can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. According to the Wellbeing Lab Workplace Survey 2019 – 2021, Australian businesses that consistently provided workplace programs to support mental health and wellbeing were more likely to experience greater employee commitment and performance (9).
The Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reported similar findings. Among employers offering paid time off, rewards, and wellness programs, 63 percent were experiencing financial growth, and 66 percent reported increased productivity (10).
To support business growth, it’s clear that leaders need to take a proactive approach to protecting the mental and physical health of employees. This involves taking steps to improve the physical work space, providing access to mental health resources, offering more flexible working hours, organising staff social events, and encouraging a supportive team dynamic.
Businesses with a high-performance culture have leaders that champion company values, promote transparent communication, and encourage personal development. They give employees more autonomy to decide how work gets done, embrace innovation, and reward good performance. At the same time, they provide the resources and tools necessary to strengthen team collaboration, and build a supportive working environment to protect the emotional wellbeing of every individual. As a result, employees are more fulfilled, cooperative, motivated, creative, and productive. It’s an ongoing process, but with the right support structures in place, any organisation can build and sustain a strong work culture that engages employees and supports business growth.