Office harmony: 5 tips for improving your workplace culture

It's important for managers and human resources professionals to devise strategies to improve engagement, and a good place to start is with the company culture.

One of the most recent trends in the world of business and human resources is the growing attention paid to issues of employee engagement and company culture. The two are often discussed concurrently because one impacts the other - employees tend to be exhibit more engagement if office culture is more conducive to productivity.

But what do these terms mean exactly? Well, employee engagement is defined as the extent to which a worker is satisfied with his or her job. And company culture is understood as an umbrella term for workplace policies, behaviors and managerial styles that create a desirable environment within which to work. In organizations with a strong company culture employees tend to feel more satisfied with their work, and in an office with a poor culture the workforce is often less focused, less motivated, and less united. Metrics such as job performance, job satisfaction and attitudes toward higher management are used to measure employee engagement.

Problematically, employee engagement levels in the U.S. are typically low. A recent January 2016 survey from Gallup found that well under half - just 32.5 percent - of the American workforce is engaged at work. Consequently, it's important for managers and human resources professionals to devise strategies to improve engagement, and a good place to start is with company culture.

Below is a guide of five tips for office managers looking to improve their workplace culture:

1. Make goals clear
Few employees enjoy working in the dark, without an understanding of exactly why they are completing certain projects and the goals the company is working toward. Employees want to be in the know. After all, it's hard to care about a position if you have little understanding of its purpose. That's why it's important to routinely outline your organization's vision, core values and strategies for future success, Business Bee argued. This can take the form of quarterly company-wide meetings conducted by the CEO and email updates. It's also imperative that managers update their staff regarding any developments on a more frequent basis - team meetings should ideally take place every 2-4 weeks or so.

"As a Marketing Team, it is one of our responsibilities at Beacon Hill to make sure that employees feel included and in-the-know," says Caitlin Antosz, Marketing Manager at Beacon Hill Staffing Group. "Building that inclusive culture, whether it be through monthly newsletters, providing company updates, or helping organize company outings, is a core part of our job and we see the dividends every day through our teams' cohesiveness."

"Team meetings should ideally take place every 2-4 weeks or so."

2. Generous vacation policies
The U.S. remains the world's only advanced country that doesn't legally guarantee its employees vacation time, The Week reported. And although most reputable organizations do offer their workforce paid time off, the amount tends to pale in comparison to that offered in European nations such as Germany and France. Things are beginning to change though. Employers are waking up to the fact that a healthy work-life balance is essential for an improvement in office culture. Employees need rest and relaxation, and they will likely appreciate and remain loyal to an organization that provides more than the standard amount. According to the Muse, some organizations are even experimenting with unlimited vacation policies, and with great success!

3. Encourage socializing
Employees, especially Millennials, are continuing to demand more from their jobs: They want an experience - a lifestyle - and office socializing is a significant facet of that. While some managers may argue that encouraging a social atmosphere is counterproductive, in reality a friendly workforce tends to be far happier and therefore more productive, Forbes explained. This is because strong social bonds facilitate more effective communication, which in turn improves the quality of work produced.

Inc stated that non-mandatory after hours social engagements are a great way to build relationships with colleagues. For example, take the team out to dinner or organize a group trip to the movies or theater.

"Despite what you may expect, social outings are an integral reason behind our company's performance," remarks Ms. Antosz. "Getting to know someone outside of the office builds chemistry inside of it. With over 100 employees in Boston alone, it just makes it so much easier to understand someone, - their workflow, their beliefs, their attitudes – when you've met them face-to-face and had a chance to have a conversation."

A great workplace culture features plenty of socializing.

4. Ditch the traditional 9-5
Another expectation that Millennials are bringing into the workforce is flexibility. In the digital age young workers are increasingly expecting their employers to offer them the freedom to work from home and make their own hours. This is due to the fact many office jobs nowadays simply require a laptop and a decent Internet connection. While more traditional employers may be skeptical about the efficacy of such an approach, according to Business News Daily, studies have revealed that remote workers tend to be happier, more engaged and productive. This is likely due to reduced stress and an ability to work at times during which they are able to get more done - after all, not everyone is producing their best work at 9am!

If your office does opt to implement a work from home policy, it's important to set rules. Offering benefits only on certain days of the week, establishing guidelines for home offices, and ensuring that remote employees can log on through a secure network are some of the common measures employers will implement in these cases. No matter what your office culture, it is important to have management or human resources set these boundaries in order to protect your business.

It's also necessary to engage remote workers as much as possible, so they feel included in office life. Strategies for ensuring this include holding regular conference calls and requesting that they attend important in-person meetings. Also, don't forget to invite your remote employees to any after-hour social events.

5. Apologize when necessary
A common cause of employee disengagement is a dislike for higher management. It's important, therefore, for managers to display humility. Executives are not immune from mistakes, and they should apologize if and when they occur, Inc asserted. Employees value leaders that are open, honest and genuine, and apologizing when appropriate is a clear sign of honesty and sincerity.

It's also vitally important to be open to criticism. A position in management makes you uniquely capable of enacting positive change, and you cannot do that if you are not receptive to feedback. Business Bee suggested that a good way to demonstrate a willingness to listen is to hold routine office hours and even open forums for discussion.

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