Workplace culture: the times they are (kind of) a-changin’

In many ways, changes in workplace culture have accelerated at a pace that was unprecedented before the pandemic.  Pre-Covid, I doubt most HR leaders can imagine going to their CEO and suggesting that all employees shift to home working, or even tabling a paper on the benefits of a three-and-two hybrid week.  Flexible working in most cases has advanced to the point that it no longer sets you apart as an employer, it is widely expected by the workforce.  The research has been pretty consistent since 2021, that flexible and hybrid working is here to stay.

The same could also be said of wellbeing.  While this was certainly a focus for businesses before 2020, again the pandemic pushed employee wellbeing to the top of the agenda.   During the pandemic, the bar was significantly raised on what employers were willing to do to support their team, and in turn what employees expected.  In addition, understanding of the different factors that impact a person’s wellbeing was considerably broadened, with more focus being given to inclusion and belonging.  Much like offering flexible working, a focus on employee wellbeing has become a fundamental business practice.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, having a workforce which feels included and well also has a positive business ROI. So win-win.

Employee experience, in general, has also been drawn sharply into focus, even more so this year with the rise in competition for talent.  In order to be considered a great place to work, businesses are thinking more and more about how to create cultures that are meaningful, that align with employee values and a company mission that is driven by purpose.   Without telling employees what you stand for, the assumption is often that it’s just profit, which doesn’t do a lot to inspire engagement and support retention.

While some of these conversations have been taking place in boardrooms for years, they have certainly not been mainstream in the way that they are in 2022.   The debate has moved on and I don’t think we need any more LinkedIn polls asking us about our preferences for working in the office or at home.

But these advances and fairly dramatic changes in some areas of workplace culture are in sharp contrast to some fundamentals that still seem to be overlooked or go unchecked.

For example, I am always surprised by the number of businesses that are still using surveys as their primary means of gauging employee sentiment, and worse still, sitting on that data and doing nothing with it.  Surely by now, the survey tickbox has been removed from HR plans? It is clear by now that doing a survey, failing to share the results with employees and taking no action as a result of this feedback is definitely worse than not doing the survey in the first place.  If you don’t care enough about employee opinion to act on it then don’t ask for it.

Another issue we see that still happens on a regular basis is the promotion, or lack of action taken against ‘toxic rockstars’, who deliver for the company but not the culture.  Ignoring poor behaviour from people who act contrary to your culture and values has a huge impact on the wider workforce and will cost you, employees.  Find someone who can deliver results and support positive company culture, because profit over principles is not a good look.

Supporting, or even promoting this type of poor behaviour is also linked with the wider issue of poor Managers.  Having a bad boss has been linked to burnout, poor performance, disengagement and ultimately higher staff turnover.  Yet often Managers are promoted to their role with little thought given to their development in the role, their understanding of what it means to be a leader, their communication style, and the list goes on. Training budgets are often the first to be cut in a downturn, but that can be a false economy if it leaves you with a revolving door of people or increased ER issues as a result.

Finally, just because surveys suggest employees care about wellbeing, flexibility and purpose don’t mean they no longer care about career development. In 10 years of running staff focus groups across multiple sectors and sizes of business, we still get consistent feedback that what people really want is a visible career path and managers who support their development. And it’s still an area that so many businesses neglect. If you are spending a lot of time, money and effort hiring talented people, don’t be surprised if they leave when they feel their talent has nowhere left to go. The pandemic may have caused people to re-evaluate what’s important to them but that doesn’t mean it has hampered ambition, and if anything remote working has only increased opportunities for employees. If you aren’t offering your team the chance to develop and advance within your business, someone else will be offering it within theirs.


This article was written by Holly Milne, Director at Hunter Adams. Please feel free to get in touch with Holly if you’d like to chat over a coffee about any of the issues discussed in this article –