The past 20 months have put company culture to the test. Working from home became the norm and now companies are grappling with a seismic shift in their relationships with their workforces. Employees are demanding work-life balance and deciding where, when and how to perform their jobs. It all cascades to the central question- is it possible to build a company culture, especially one rooted in caring?
The Human Touch
With so much uncertainty as a backdrop, successful companies are turning up the humanity. Building a culture of caring means you value your employees and demonstrate it. Caring becomes part of your internal brand, the thing that keeps good employees from leaving, while turning your company into a workplace of choice for prospects. When an employee feels appreciated, that you have their back and value their worth, they invest more in their work and in the company’s success.
Putting Caring Into Action
During the pandemic, workers have been feeling anxious about their future and the future of work. “We, as leaders of any company, have to ensure that our highest responsibility to our employees is ensuring that they feel safe,” says Thomas Rajan, Vice President, Global Talent and Total Rewards at American Airlines. For an industry where safety means everything, airlines like American had to grapple with 85% of their employees not being able to work from home, while facing an invisible, possibly deadly virus on their planes. Put plainly, American Airlines had to make sure its workers, and passengers, felt safe.
Closing the Information Gap
But how can a company, especially in times of crisis, reassure its workforce they are safe? It starts with communications. American knew that if it didn’t effectively communicate with its workforce at a time of so much uncertainty in the airline industry, its workforce would fill that information gap somewhere else. And getting misinformation could be crippling to its culture.
“Give It To Me Straight”
American Airlines also knew how impossible it was to synchronize communications with all its employees at the same time “We had to adapt, whether it was various channels or even various methods to be able to ensure that our team knew what was going on,” added Rajan. So, it experimented beyond the typical communications playbook and turned to a mix of audio and video. “We said, ‘Look, we have 30 minutes where we’re going to talk to you straight with the information that we have.’”
Opening the Lines of Communication
The airline industry has had a history of contentious labor issues. But during the pandemic, management and labor leaders at American came together early and scheduled weekly meetings to establish open lines of communication. While it’s vital to keep the flow of information moving to your workforce, it’s also critical that the information reaches senior leadership. “Good or bad, if there were days where bookings were not recovering or if we thought we were turning a corner in the pandemic and if that wasn’t true, we needed to make sure our leaders knew that because it’s important that they are leading with reality, but then also being able to provide some degree of hope,” says Rajan.
How To Demonstrate A Caring Culture
The pandemic has allowed workers to say out loud what they’ve been craving for years, that they need balance. Companies with a strong caring culture understand this and promote a work-life balance to their employees. It doesn’t mean a company needs to be audacious. In fact, it’s more important for a company to make smaller, more sustained gestures, from a monthly cookout to a card of appreciation for a special effort. Employees also feel cared for when bosses listen to them, solicit their feedback, and empower them to make change. During the pandemic, one CEO we work with held monthly Town Halls, and shared how the pandemic was affecting his life, which made him more relatable, empathetic, and trusting.
Years ago, Allyson Willoughby of Glassdoor wrote an article titled, How to Create a Workplace People Love Coming To. In it she identified five drivers to create a culture of caring:
- People matter
- Employees feel heard
- People are empowered to grow
- Leaders are strong
- Employees are appreciated
How To Measure A Caring Culture
One way to measure the success of a company culture is through the hiring process. Are people excited to apply? Do employees recommend a position to their friends or family? As we come out of the pandemic’s darkest days, American Airlines posted openings for 1,000 new flight attendants and 27,000 people applied. Rajan shares his bottom line. “The highest attribute that you can ask is to have others come with you. Ultimately, that’s what culture should do. It’s supposed to help us all lift our standards and be able to be a competitor difference in this world.”