According to a Corvirtus report: ‘What is Organizational culture: The quest is not whether your enterprise has a culture, but whether it’s the RIGHT one,’ organizational culture is often referred to as “the way we do things around here,” but it is really much more.

Culture is the assumptions, mysteries and engine of an enterprise’s success – or the poison pill of its failure.

Culture is the defining characteristics of successful companies, such as Google’s and Apple’s creativity and Ritz Carlton’s intense customer caring. It is also the detrmining factor for companies in decline such as Sears and BlackBerry, and failed companies such as Enron and Pan Circuit City.

Scholars tend to be a bit more specific in their definitions than managers and leaders, as indicated by the following summarized definition from academia: The system of shared values, beliefs and experiences that govern the thinking and behavior of a group and its members. The major function of organizational culture is to initiate and sustain success as well as provide a personal and shared identity for members.


According to Martin Hutchins, managing director and senior expert lecturer (sales, marketing, leadership) at Professional Academy, to instil passion in your workforce, you must lead by example through your management style, not just use words.

One place to start is to focus on a corporate responsibility scheme that instils a shared sense of purpose, and a positive culture.

Investment in CSR is not just about the financial contribution, but also the time given by managers and employees to make them feel part of a collective cause, and reinforce their sense of importance.

At a Yammer user conference in San Francisco, the firm’s co-founder Adam Pisoni explained that unmotivated staff may be suffering from micromanagement.

The days of micromanagement are over, and a good manager doesn’t dictate the course of action. The manager takes advantage of collaborative engagement getting the workforce to be part of the shaping of culture.

“Decentralisation provides autonomy,” Pisoni said. “Transparency allows mastery of work. Aligning your employees with high-level objectives, rather than tasks, gives them purpose.”

According to Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, Google have been very intentional about creating the culture they want. One aspect of that culture is their focus on transparency, encourage creativity and collaboration. And employees, as a result, are feeling empowered by that transparency.

Culture comes down to behavioural habits and Google, by creating a culture of transparency and freedom, creates habits of creativity. Formalising that people spend 20% of their time doing something outside their normal work function, facilitates a creative culture.

Ultimately culture is about “how things get done” and should not be left to chance, it’s too powerful a force not to take control over – and Google has done this well.

Organisations that focus on transparency engaging employees more than those that don’t. Employees want to be a part of something where there are no hidden agendas. Informed employees feel valued and engagement typically follows.

While cultures are built from the inside-out, they are more easily understood from the outside-in.

When you experience a company from the inside-out, what you experience is its culture. This is the perspective of internal stakeholders such as employees and suppliers. In contrast, when you experience a company from the outside in, what you experience is its brand and reputation. This is the perspective of external stakeholders such as customers and community members.

The culture of a business affects every aspect of how it operates, and how work gets done. And an organisation’s values provide a template for the behaviours and standards expected of its people. Taken together, the concept they form of “what you’re all about” as a business affects the standard of customer service delivered, the satisfaction and engagement of your people, and ultimately your bottom line.

Dr. Jill Miller, a research adviser at CIPD explains how culture and values can help to differentiate your firm from its competitors

Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has revealed that unless your values are regularly reinforced and are the fundamental building blocks for your organisation, they will become diluted… or even disappear.

More than three quarters of small-business decision makers surveyed (77%) agree that their business success hinges on them staying true to their vision and values, and say that this is something they will need to actively focus on as they grow (79%). However, almost a fifth (17%) believe that their colleagues would struggle to articulate what their company’s vision and values actually are.

Cultures are layers of meaning

According to the Corvirtus report, while its layers are what make a culture so hard to define, understanding can be gained by methodically peeling back the layers to reveal the underlying values and beliefs.

In a “strong culture,” all of the layers are in alignment, creating a structurally united culture. In a “healthy culture,” the layers are not only aligned, but directly and intentionally connected to the enterprise’s success.

Vision and Goals frame the future of the company and are pursued to ensure success.

For example, a company might have a vision of being a remarkable place to work and, to ensure that they can achieve this, they establish goals such as industry-low turnover, industry-high employee productivity and a high ranking among top 100 Best Places to Work.

Values and Beliefs are the heart and soul of an organization’s culture – the “whys” of a company’s actions that frame its ability to create and sustain success through the application of its business model. Values and beliefs also explain the differences in stakeholder priorities within different cultures.

Procedures and Behaviors support the creation of the employee experience. This layer includes employee-centric procedures such as employee pay and benefits, hiring procedures, recognition programs, products, customer service and product/service guarantees.

Also included in this layer are the employee behaviors that the procedures are designed to promote and reinforce. For example, in the airline industry, safety is the primary focus of many procedures. However, if  employees don’t follow an important procedure, such as the safety announcement that precedes every flight, safety is compromised. This results not from a bad procedure, but rather a failure to execute the procedure, which is a consequence of a behavioral lapse.

Curt Coffman, co-author of office-politics guides ‘First, Break All the Rules and Follow This Path,’ said: “Actively disengaged people operate from the mindset, ‘I’m okay. You’re not okay.’ They believe that they’re doing what needs to done, and everyone else is wrong. Negativity is like a blood clot, and actively disengaged employees sometimes clot together in groups that support and reinforce their beliefs.”

He added: “An engaged person occasionally becomes negative. We all do. But an actively disengaged person finds it almost impossible to become part of the solution, because they thrive on being part of the problem.”

Getting values and beliefs right is what culture building is all about.

Clarity around values and beliefs impact on  the alignment of the layers it supports.

A leader may believe, for example, that being an employer of choice is an important outcome. To become reality, has to be followed-up with the nature of the employee experience that will make the company an employer of choice.

Strategies and Policies are the organization’s approach and the policies that support them to deliver the organization’s intended brand and customer experience. Examples of policies that support talent management may include hiring practices, reward programs, scheduled and documented job training programs, and outside education with incentives such  as tuition assistance and/or the opportunity to take sabbaticals. This is the layer that connects internal stakeholders (employees) with external stakeholders such as customers.

“You can have a good strategy, but if you don’t have the culture and enabling systems that allow you to implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.”

Richard Clark – former Merck CEO

According to Jeff Gold, author of ‘A Guide To Professional Doctorates in Business and Management,’ one of the most difficult and complex issues is how to bring about shifts in cultures.

And the difficulty relates to the fact that leaders and managers assume that everyone in their organisation has the same interest and concern about future direction and purpose as they do. But this is unlikely and variations of interest and concern can make change and culture shift a difficult problem.

And the defining factors at stake are:

  1. Engagement
  2. Trust
  3. Confidence
  4. Review and Feedback
  5. Leadership
  6. Decision-making
  7. Silo-working
  8. Change


Some key themes through Appreciative Inquiry for enabling a culture shift emerged: actionable knowledge concerning communication, consultation, attitudes, challenge, reward and recognition and ideas for innovation.

Appreciative Inquiry is an action mode of research that focuses on holding conversations with people who have knowledge of what is working in an organisation.

Talking to people appreciatively encourages them to reveal what they value about work, producing knowledge for action that elevates what is good and right.

By encouraging communication across every level of your business you can support and develop your people, making them feel proud to be part of the team.

Cultures fail because leaders fail to lead them

It is important, managers should not think that leading change is a one-man job.

“Often leaders will believe that the responsibility for getting people to follow a certain course of action is solely down to them,” says Steve Martin, author of bestselling book Yes! and a leading expert in the science of influence. “That’s not true. The evidence shows the much bigger influence on people’s decision-making is what people immediately similar to them and those around them are doing.

According to the Corvirtus report, there are two major contributors to the core beliefs of a company: the definition of success and the process of being successful. For this reason, beliefs have the largest impact on the nature of a company’s culture.

It is differences in beliefs rather than values that cause a company to be transformed by a change in leadership.

Faulty beliefs about success and how it is achieved are the primary reason for failure.

The culture building process involves aligning the layers, the right goals, strategies and policies, employee experiences, etc.

Thus, in order to build a strong and healthy culture, you must have a viable set of beliefs and a business model that is aligned with those beliefs, and how the beliefs are weaved through the successive layers of organization’s culture. How they talk about the desired outcomes is how they will eventually be understood and how they talk about the right ways to achieve them is how they will eventually be achieved.

CMI research shows that there’s a communication gap between senior leaders and middle managers in far too many businesses, which is leading to lower levels of trust and weakened company cultures.

To shape a better culture tomorrow, you need to find out what people think about your culture today.

You can do this by carrying out a staff survey or holding some internal focus groups. Think about where you want to make improvements and the sort of questions you could ask to get feedback on this.

  • Maintain what is working well – and look for any improvements
  • Identify problem areas and gaps and make open plans to tackle them
  • Don’t go back on promises – if you’ve said you’re going to make changes, make them

By having conversations you can make people feel valued, boosting their sense of commitment and bolstering morale.

This could include:

  • Providing clear objectives – so that people understand business goals and their role in helping reach them
  • Establishing a sense of fairness – a consistent approach across the workplace, making decisions using the same guidelines and standards.
  • Creating a feeling of ownership – so that everyone is clear on the expected contributions and the value they bring to the business
  • Offering a chance to feedback – so that everyone knows that they have a Voice and any raised issues will be acted on

A strong and healthy culture is the first outcome of perfect alignment, while its ultimate reward is a company reputation for human goodness, flawless execution and being a best-in-class brand.


Here are some tips for retaining your culture and values over time:

  1. Look out for signs that your employees are becoming less engaged with your business

This might manifest itself as employees lacking the passion they once had for the business and being less willing to go the extra mile. However, many business owners say they just have an instinctive feeling that things are not quite right, which signals the need to re-engage the workforce with the founding purpose and values of the organisation.

  1. Articulate what your business stands for and its values in a way that your people can identify with

It is important to communicate your values in words that really mean something to your employees and that provide a formal reference for what’s expected of people. Use focus groups to get employee feedback and discuss what your values actually mean in practice, in terms of attitudes and behaviours.

  1. Tell your story

Ensure that your employees understand the back-story of your business as well as their role in building its future to increase their engagement and sense of ownership. For example, devise training or an induction for new starters that includes a section on the company’s journey and why you do things a certain way.

  1. Consider how introducing new formal processes and procedures will affect your business culture

If your business success depends on being innovative and providing great customer service, try to avoid introducing cumbersome forms or lengthy sign-off processes which complicate simple tasks and impact upon customer service standards.

  1. Your values need to be the golden thread through all your people practices, especially your recruitment processes

When hiring new staff, think beyond technical capabilities and look for people who fit with your culture and whose personal values and ways of working match those of the organisation. Cultural fit is something that can’t be learnt. And when introducing a new reward approach, think about whether it will encourage the desired attitudes and behaviour from employees.

Provide a MAP

According to Tom Peck, Guy Kawasaki, the “chief evangelist” at Apple inspired people not just to buy Apple products, but to love them. In his latest book, Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, Kawasaki explains how to enchant customers, colleagues and partners, as well as inspire ourselves to a level higher than we’ve thought possible.

Kawasaki says: “Enchantment should be easier on a person-to-person basis. People can see the expressions and reactions of others. They can change their approaches and do many other things to make themselves more enchanting. With a physical object such as an iPhone, you have much less control of the initial experience: for example, the circumstances of opening the box, setting it up, picking the carrier, transferring data, and setting up an Apple account to buy apps. It’s a sad world if machines are more enchanting than people.”

For managers, he says, enchantment is a three-stage process. “The most important thing they can do is to provide a MAP,” he says.

M stands for mastery – the ability for people to master new skills and improve themselves at work.

A is for autonomy – the ability to work independently and not have someone breathing down your neck.

P is for purpose – people are working on a higher calling than simply making money; they are making the world a better place.

“If you enable people to master new skills while working autonomously on meaningful goals, you will enchant them. If money is the primary mechanism for influence, the magic won’t last very long. Employees need to embrace the goals and values of an organisation – so much so that they need less direction and supervision. They ‘know’ what to do because they know what the organisation stands for. They are empowered.”

On enchantment, Steve Martin, author of bestselling book Yes!, head of a consulting organisation called Influence at Work, and a leading expert in the “science of influence” says: “One of the things we find when we conduct research is that people believe that some people are born with this ability to engage people, to lead people, to get people on-side. To a certain extent, it’s true. But there’s a significant body of evidence that says any manager can learn those skills.”





Social Obligation

“People will be more likely to engage in a message or a proposal if they see that doing so is in return for something that’s been done for them first. Rather than demand compliance, the most engaging people will invest in others in advance and then trade on those social obligations.”

Often, managers think, ‘If I have a challenge, who can help me? Who can help me deliver?’ That’s the wrong question.

It is better to be asking themselves, all the time, ‘Who can I help? Whose cause can I further? Who can I support?’

employees who feel cared, want to reciprocate, they want to do their best, because they feel valued and important.


Managers need to do more to boost employee engagement, according to research from Oracle, with almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents saying they don’t feel engaged most of the time at work, and more than half saying that their managers were not doing enough.

The report, Oracle Simply Talent, found that 57% of employees said they would prefer more proactive, regular interactions with their managers, with only 26% saying their employer already offered the right level of management interaction.

Currently, only 29% of employees believe their company is proactive at engaging with them, compared to 42% who state that their employer typically waits for them to bring up issues.

Loic Le Guisquet, Oracle president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific regions said: “From the perspective of employees there is a gap between what makes them engaged and the approach taken by management.”

More than half (56%) of employees said they would be more productive if they were more engaged with the company, with 37% saying better engagement made them less likely to look for work elsewhere and 35% that they became more creative.

Using salespeople as an example, coaching expert Tripp Barden explained how lower productivity can manifest itself in disangaged employees failing to carry out their tasks. Disengaged sales professionals, Braden argued, “often decrease their visits and calls to clients and prefer to work on other non-productive activities versus spending time with clients”.

He added: “Many disengaged sales professionals have shorter conversations with their clients. They focus on short-term results and selling with the exclusion of talking about things the customer is interested in. A critical element that might be missing with a disengaged sales representative is trust. They may begin disconnecting from the client for any number of reasons, but all [those reasons] lead to a lack of trust in their relationship.”

According to an HR Blog, disengaged employees are also likely to watch the clock in anticipation of a break, and start getting ready to leave the office more than 10 minutes before the home-time bell.

David Smith, HR director at insurer Liverpool Victoria, says that an increase in sick days points to a lack of wellbeing and low morale, whereby the employee does not feel excited or empowered coming to work.

Meanwhile, the CBI has shown that sickness absence costs the UK more than £17 billion, and disengaged workforces take an annual average of 6.2 days off sick compared to 2.7 days taken by engaged employees.

According to Professor Adrian Furnham, a business psychologist at the Norwegian Business School, few employees start off disenchanted by their organisation, but they can easily be turned sour by their experiences and the way they are treated. It mostly relates to that people are unfairly assessed, promoted and rewarded, and the feeling that the organisation does not even trust its own employees.

So what to do?

The answer lies in training and mentoring and ultimately the corporate culture which accepts and even encourages behaviours that lead to disenchantment. It is possible to run an annual survey which may pick up disenchantment in individuals and groups and plot this over time. It then becomes important to alert managers and leaders which of their actions encourages disenchantment and how to change them.

This is an ongoing task, but one in which there is a very impressive return-on-investment.

According to CMI researcher, Matt Scott, there are some simple steps that managers can take to ensure they are doing the right things to maximise their workforce’s potential, boost productivity, retain staff and improve customer satisfaction:

  1. Recognise achievements – 53% of workers surveyed by Oracle said the biggest priority for management should be recognition for good work
  2. Clarify roles – 35% said they would be more engaged if managers helped employees understand their contribution to the company better
  3. Exciting projects – 34% said offering exciting project work should be a priority for managers looking to boost engagement levels


The benefits of engagement are also seen to extend to improved customer service: 30% of employees said they are more inclined to deliver better customer service if they feel engaged with the work they are doing.

In CMI’s recent Management 2020 report, Kevin Murray – chairman of brand communications agency The Good Relations Group – stressed that proactive and inclusive management styles are key to achieving high levels of engagement.

He said: “I have seen cases where underperforming teams have had a new leader come in who’s been much more about involving people and having conversations with them on a continuous basis, and who engages them in the process of new ideas, taking new products to market, and inventing new ideas around new product opportunities. The performance of the teams changes overnight.”

WorldAtWork senior practice leader Rose Stanley said: “Today, as more companies are beginning to treat employees like customers, recognition plays a role in creating an atmosphere of higher engagement, motivation and overall job satisfaction.”

In survey findings, WorldAtWork revealed that 89% of firms who run multiple employee-recognition programmes are hitting their benchmark goals – compared to just 66% that run only one scheme at a time.

Make people feel valued, boosting their sense of commitment and bolstering moraleand make them more engaged with the team and the business as a whole.

Everyone needs to feel that they are valued and that others are interested in them. An employee is far more likely to care about a business if they believe the business cares about them.

Involve your people in developing a new vision and new initiatives they can really buy into.

Discover their motivation: Helping your employees to find out what it is that motivates them, and enabling them to tap into that as part of their daily routine, will make their work more meaningful – and that is likely to promote personal brilliance on an ongoing basis.

Ensure managers have the skills and capabilities to support the new culture and their teams within them.

Giving your full attention to what someone is telling you without interrupting or becoming distracted shows them respect and appreciation, as well as helping you discover what makes them tick.

Ensure continuous performance improvement – so every employee feels supported to succeed.

According to Zara Seager, head of consulting at management consultancy firm Strengths Partnership, you ought to schedule regular slots for providing open and constructive feedback to individual employees as well as the team as a whole. Make sure you highlight what they are doing well, as well as outlining areas where progress could be made. Allow employee input into plans for improvement, and enable them to learn from past errors while focusing on future success. To reach their full potential, employees need to feel they have the support of their managers and the business as a whole, and that they receive the same amount of attention as their colleagues.

Every employee has unique talents and strengths that the team can capitalise on, and drawing them out is the role of a good manager. By taking a genuine interest in team members, listening to them, understanding their motivation, and providing constructive feedback, managers can nurture personal brilliance that will contribute to the team’s success on a daily basis.

Six golden rules to make employees more engaged

The Harvard Business Review outlines six key demands as keys to motivation and engagement:

  1. Let me be myself
  2. Tell me what’s really going on
  3. Discover and magnify my strengths
  4. Make me proud I work here
  5. Make my work meaningful
  6. Don’t hinder me with stupid rules

The undelrlying demand is trust!

Management style can play a significant role in building and maintaining trustful relationships within your organisation.

According to Jermaine Haughton, in an trusting environment, whereby all parties feel safe to work confidently and openly express their personality and ideas without fear of discrimination and negativity, there is typically an implicit feeling among colleagues that they each have each other’s best interests in mind.

According to research by the CIPD management styles are key to driving employee engagement. When asked what management behaviours led to employees feeling positive about their role and behaving in a manner that shows they are committed to the organisation, its values and behaviours, employees most often said: reviewing and guiding; giving feedback and recognition; providing autonomy and empowerment; showing interest in them as an individual.

Equally, the UK Training Foundation’s White Paper on employee engagement reveals that the key driver in an employee’s engagement is their relationship with their line manager, reflected in the ‘atmosphere’ of the workplace, for example, whether the manager places trust in others.

Trust-building involves a continuous process of managers and employees showing honesty, competence and authenticity in who they are, what they say, and how they behave.

According to Julie Gordon, head at cHRysos HR Solutions, an Institute for Employment Studies (IES) study indicates the qualities that engaged employees might convey, if motivated by the correct leadership styles:

  • Belief in the organisation …perhaps otherwise interpreted as trust in the organisation, belief in what the organisation is trying to achieve and the way in which they are working to achieve this, or belief in the organisation’s product or service.
  • Desire to work to make things better… the employee engages in the concept of continuous improvement for the benefit of the organisation, for colleagues, for customers or maybe for the community on behalf of the organisation – corporate social responsibility.
  • Understanding of business context and the ‘bigger picture’… interestingly the concept of business awareness or context is being increasingly demanded of HR professionals but the suggestion here is that this is something that would come willingly from an engaged employee.
  • Respectful of, and helpful to, colleagues… often known as organisational citizenship, though we could more commonly see this as teamwork.
  • Willingness to ‘go the extra mile’… to give some extra effort for the benefit of the organisation, colleagues or the community.
  • Keeping up to date with developments in the field… perhaps through continuing professional development, product knowledge or knowledge of competitors.

Suggested strategies include:

  • Give managers guidance and coaching to support their competence in those actions and behaviours that drive employee engagement
  • Avoid using a ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee engagement; the drivers of engagement will be different for those in a management or professional role, for example, when compared with those in support roles
  • Ensure that performance appraisal is effectively implemented across the organisation and that all employees have a personal development plan
  • Use strategies such as talent planning to identify and harness potential
  • Ensure that employees are heard and that their contributions are valued
  • Put strategies in place to care for the health and wellbeing of employees
  • Monitor levels of employee engagement at regular intervals

But the IES study suggests that these efforts and initiatives will be wasted unless they are maintained and supported by an organisational infrastructure of:

  • Good line management
  • Effective two-way communication
  • Internal co-operation
  • A focus on development
  • A commitment to employee wellbeing
  • Well defined jobs

a healthy corporate culture can lead to greater prosperity


According to Matt Scott, new research from the Financial Reporting Council reveals that a healthy corporate culture can lead to greater prosperity.

Businesses need to give more importance to corporate culture and values if they are to be successful and add value to the economy.

The report came out with seven recommendations for businesses to improve the way they manage company culture:

Recognise the value of culture: A healthy corporate culture is a valuable asset, a source of competitive advantage and vital to the creation and protection of long-term value. It is the board’s role to determine the purpose of the company and ensure that the company’s values, strategy and business model are aligned to it. Directors should not wait for a crisis before they focus on company culture.

Demonstrate leadership: Leaders, in particular the chief executive, must embody the desired culture, embedding this at all levels and in every aspect of the business. Boards have a responsibility to act where leaders do not deliver.

Be open and accountable: Openness and accountability matter at every level. Good governance means a focus on how this takes place throughout the company and those who act on its behalf. It should be demonstrated in the way the company conducts business and engages with and reports to stakeholders. This involves respecting a wide range of stakeholder interests.

Embed and integrate: The values of the company need to inform the behaviours which are expected of all employees and suppliers. Human resources, internal audit, ethics, compliance, and risk functions should be empowered and resourced to embed values and assess culture effectively. Their voice in the boardroom should be strengthened.

Assess, measure and engage: Indicators and measures used should be aligned to desired outcomes and material to the business. The board has a responsibility to understand behaviour throughout the company and to challenge where they find misalignment with values or need better information. Boards should devote sufficient resource to evaluating culture and consider how they report on it.

Align values and incentives: The performance management and reward system should support and encourage behaviours consistent with the company’s purpose, values, strategy and business model. The board is responsible for explaining this alignment clearly to shareholders, employees and other stakeholders.

Exercise stewardship: Effective stewardship should include engagement about culture and encourage better reporting. Investors should challenge themselves about the behaviours they are encouraging in companies and to reflect on their own culture.

Sir Winfried Bischoff, chairman of the FRC, said: “A healthy corporate culture leads to long-term success by both protecting and generating value in the UK economy. It is therefore important to have a consistent and constant focus on culture, rather than wait for a crisis. A strong culture will endure in times of stress and change.

“Through our research, it has become clear that establishing the company’s overall purpose is crucial in supporting and embedding the correct values, attitudes and behaviours.”

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said business leaders need to wake up to the importance of culture and ‘show more commitment’ to changing behaviour for the better.

“This is an important issue, and firms need to stop dancing around words such as culture and integrity and show more commitment,” she said. “Real leaders will understand this means more than a change of wording, and use it as the jolt to the system to drive real change in employee and board behaviour.

“Worryingly a sizeable minority of firms have actually pulled back on employee welfare, equality and skills reporting in the last three years, with our own research revealing that 24% of employees don’t believe in their company’s values, and only 61% feel fairly treated by their employer.”


Good managers can reap the benefits of flexible working and preserve a sense of team spirit.

According to CMI researcher Jermaine Haughton, reporting on HR Directors Summit, contests that revitalising traditional work environments is key to driving the UK’s productivity, as opposed to a looser office culture.

A Steelcase report suggests that the trend towards a looser office culture in recent years is responsible for staff feeling separate from each other, disconnected from their firms and, ultimately, disengaged.

According to the study, 83% of UK employees report that they are not engaged – or feel actively disengaged – at work. The remaining 17% who are more upbeat about the connections they feel with their firms – compares poorly to the 30% of US workers who report a similar sentiment.

Steelcase director of design alliances Catherine Gall told the Summit that the poor level of engagement should be a serious cause for concern among organisations.

“The impact of employee engagement – or the lack of it – cannot be underestimated,” she said. “It is a global issue and is affecting a wide range of companies, including leading organisations with teams of employees distributed around the world.”

She added: “The business benefits of fully engaged employees are clear. Those businesses outperform competition, enjoy higher productivity and profitability, and have lower staff turnover, absenteeism and safety incidents.”

In particular, she pointed out, “companies such as Jones Lang La Salle and Yahoo have articulated how important it is to get teams of employees collaborating effectively – and that is best done in an inspiring workplace.”

In 2013, Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer made the headlines for banning employees from working at home – a step she said was vital for ensuring increased productivity and a more connected company culture.

A leaked Yahoo memo read: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

Gall explained that creating a welcoming and thriving physical and mental environment for staff is the key for employers seeking to re-establish high engagement levels. “We strongly believe in the power of place, and that bringing people together in a space will make them more collaborative and innovative. Therefore, workplaces need to be destinations that enhance the physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing of workers.”

Managers, Gall stressed, should focus on a handful of simple values to re-engage their staff. “People, purpose and place,” she said, “are the three key elements to encourage and activate greater employee engagement. The tools and the technologies are there to help that happen and are developing all the time. The utilisation of those tools, the creation of innovative space and a commitment to accommodate the wellbeing of employees can go a long way to creating a dynamic and productive space that will deliver tangible benefits to a company.”

However, with flexible working still a popular means of promoting engagement by improving work-life balance, many would argue that it’s unfair to pin the blame for fading enthusiasm on flexible working.

CMI head of external affairs Patrick Woodman concluded:Bad management is the main reason employees disengage, not flexible working, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to that fact. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. Good managers can reap the benefits of flexible working and preserve a sense of team spirit.”

He added: “Of course, any organisation trying to put flexible working in place has to make sure its managers have the right skills, or it will fall down. Like any change-management programme, it’s about the people. Whether it’s through short courses, management qualifications or coaching and mentoring, employers need to ensure managers across the business have the skills to make the most of new ways of working.”


CMI Case study: Creating a culture shift

Leyla Okhai when she joined Imperial’s Organisation Development department in 2012 initially to support disabled members in the 8,000-strong workforce.

The aim was to change the culture to a more open culture in which there is space to talk about issues that might stand in the way of healthy and happy personnel that are satisfied in their job.

“The first step was to start the conversation with staff – making them comfortable talking about things that were affecting them,” Okhai said.

Three years on she says the change is striking: “A culture shift has started to take place, driven by the message sent out by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team to managers and leaders: staff health, happiness and job satisfaction matter.


It’s empowering for staff to know they have a support network to fall back on, and they can play an active role in encouraging colleagues to use it.

“Culture change doesn’t happen overnight. But the fact that the senior leadership team has recognised the importance of it has caused a shift,” Okhai said.

There are now 150 mental health first aiders who give advice and support to colleagues. They are trained on an ongoing basis to talk to people who are experiencing stress or mental ill health in the workplace – they signpost, guide and advise.

Okhai has also set up Conversation Cafés, where staff come together to listen to a colleague’s mental health journey, and set up a high level mental health steering group to drive awareness and uptake of the support available to academic staff.

Imperial also has a wide range of systems and initiatives in place to promote staff wellbeing.

“There are a lot of examples, from an in-house occupational health team to healthy living courses that include nutritional and weight loss advice,” Okhai said. “We also have a helpline for managers, maternity and paternity workshops and an in-house mediation service to resolve conflicts before they reach a crisis point.”

Imperial also host a number of events, such as National Stress Awareness Day, Mental Health Awareness Day and an ongoing Reclaim Your Lunch Break campaign.

Staff feedback on the initiatives has been very positive. The latest staff survey showed that 80% of staff are proud to work for Imperial.

Okhai is confident that a positive shift in attitudes toward health and wellbeing is occurring – and that it is here to stay.

CMI Case study: Building a caring company

Arup is a global, employee-owned firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists (creators of Sydney Opera House and the London Aquatics Centre) with over 4,000 employees across the UK, is  making sure Arup’s employees are in the best position possible, both mentally and physically, to do their job and enjoy doing it.

Evan Davidge, head of reward at Arup, said this was all part of the ‘psychological contract’ between an employer and its staff.

“Employees put an awful lot of psychological and intellectual effort into the success of their business, and a good business should be able to reciprocate in kind,” he said. “That’s what constitutes the modern-day psychological contract.”

A study by the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) quotes: There is a sense that employee engagement is something the employee chooses to give to the organisation to a greater or lesser degree – a level of commitment, buy-in to values and citizenship towards colleagues; but like the psychological contract, effort is required on behalf of two parties, the organisation and the employee. The organisation must set the scene for these behaviours and partake in activities that will engage, whilst the employee has to make a decision about the extent to which they are engaged.

Arup’s health and wellbeing approach was triggered by the realisation that large parts of its workforce were very hard-working and dedicated – but at the same time lacked understanding about the impact of their working life on their health. There was a culture of excessive working and poor life balance.

Having a sustainable and integrated health and wellbeing strategy makes business sense. Not only does it have an impact on the bottom line, it also improves engagement and productivity, reduces risks and costs, targets presenteeism and absenteeism and attracts and retains talent.

Arup’s ‘Total Reward’ proposition, employees’ quality of life sits alongside the quality of their work environment, and there was a strong focus on people and personal development, and real recognition for their work.

“Our sustainable health and wellbeing strategy empowers them to harness this spirit for the benefit of shaping a better world together,” Davidge said.

Health and wellbeing is positioned not purely as an HR initiative, but as an integrated part of the organisation, aligned to the business values of shaping a better world and being a humane organisation.


According to Julie Gordon, organisations who behave appropriately towards employees, showing mutual respect and care for the well-being of employees; , those who ensure that communication is clear and two-way and those who organise and define work effectively, will find they are on the right path to creating the conditions where employee engagement can flourish.

Martin Hutchins, advices: 

In everything you do, employ three basic principles in the care of your staff and you will have a passionate workforce.

  • Encourage mastery – allow employees to excel and play to their strengths by sending them on courses or allowing time to explore that particular skill-set as part of their role.
  • Give them autonomy – allow them the freedom to perform without constantly checking up on them.
  • Finally, providing a sense of shared purpose within the business creates a deeper connection with the organisation. Through all this, you will develop long term relationships with employees that will benefit you, your company, and most of all, the employees themselves.

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Read the research findings in full: Keeping culture, purpose and values at the heart of your SME

Find out more about CMI’s Quality of Working Life research here

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