What COVID-19 Taught Companies About Culture

 In Employers

Organizational culture might seem like an afterthought, something that happens accidentally or over time as a result of hiring certain people. Culture can certainly shift over time, but HR professionals play an important role in attracting the skills and personalities a company needs and preserving the type of culture that helps it be successful.  

With COVID-19, company culture took a hit that no one saw coming. Now, social distancing and remote work strains the easy, comfortable relationships that employees once had with their coworkers. Companies that decide to make remote work permanent for some of their workers, or extend it to a larger share of their workforce, may find their organizations’ cultures shifting in undesirable ways. They may struggle to build camaraderie between dispersed team members, and managers might find it difficult to build trust with workers they’ve never met. As Rani Molla wrote for Recode, “The coronavirus made working from home more widely acceptable, but it also made being together more important than ever.”


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Strong, strategic cultures must also be able to adapt, according to Harvard Business Review. Those that do earn an average 15% more in revenue than similar firms. 

Mercer found 70% of larger employers will prioritize creating a culture of health in their workplaces over the next five years. Willis Towers Watson’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey found 73% of employers will focus on a culture of health over the next three years. Clearly, leaders are thinking about how their culture supports employee health, and for good reason. 

Companies that develop a culture of health see returns in the form of: 

  • Lower rates of obesity, poor diet, tobacco and alcohol use, and depression, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. They may also see lower prescription drug utilization.
  • More productive employees. A study in Population Health Management found encouraging a healthier culture resulted in productivity gains of $2.30 for every dollar saved in direct health care costs. 

With these gains in mind, how can organizations stretched thin by COVID-19 promote a culture of health? 

  1. Design wellness programs that give employees what they need. IFEPB found that stress management is a key element in successful wellness programs, and i4cp identified six core elements that employers need to address for worker well-being: career, community, finance, mental and emotional health, physical health and social connections and relationships.
  2. Foster healthy competition between coworkers. The National Bureau of Economic Research found the average workday has gotten almost an hour longer. Workers are sending and receiving more email, especially after hours, and having more — and bigger — meetings. Encourage workers to take more breaks away from their computers and phones by pitting them against their colleagues in wellness challenges. A friendly rivalry can help renew the camaraderie that was lost when everyone started working from home, according to SHRM. 
  3. Take meetings to the sidewalks. Walking meetings have many benefits to companies on top of health benefits to employees: Workers feel more creative, the typical boss-employee power dynamic shifts and workers leave meetings feeling energized, according to employee engagement platform Hppy. Try replacing a video call with a walking call to encourage healthy habits. 
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