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16 Cost-Effective Ways To Grow A Company Culture That Helps Keep Good Employees

As the forces of globalism and the proliferation of technology relentlessly level the proverbial playing field, it's safe to say that the men and women who work for companies are everything. The competitors have access to the exact same resources and that means infinite choices exist not only for customers, but for employees as well.

According to Joanne G. Sujansky, Ph.D, CSP, if you're not seeking ways to nurture them and meet their needs, they will seek greener pastures—and your customers will follow them over the fence.

"Many leaders don't realize that the rules of business have changed almost overnight," says Sujansky, founder and CEO of KEYGroup® (

"The old paradigm says that your primary focus should be on keeping your customer happy. The new paradigm says the employee has taken over that spot. Keep her engaged and she'll keep your customers happy. Neglect her needs and she won't be so concerned about keeping her end of the bargain. In the end, not only will she go elsewhere, your customers may follow suit."

Make no mistake: when employees start searching for greener pastures, it's a bona fide disaster. After all, your employees are the face of your organization. They build strong relationships with customers and vendors, they know the ins and outs of your operation, they train new hires and indoctrinate them into the company culture.

On top of that when a company loses great employees, it hurts customer retention and the morale of the rest of the team.

And every time a great employee leaves, a company has to shell out the cost of rehiring and retraining his replacement—a cost that studies have shown could range from 70 to 200 percent of that person's annual salary. The company also loses that employee's institutional memory, another great asset for the company.

 “A company might be proclaiming that they are the leading company in the industry or marketplace in huge letters on the mission statement," says Sujansky.

"But if the company is not backing up that sentiment in the day-to-day realities of the workplace, employees will quickly realize the truth. And by the way: it isn't always cash that makes green pastures green. When salaries are commensurate with the marketplace, other factors take priority. Good people stay where they are challenged, where they have the opportunity to develop and contribute, and where their employers take care of those meaningful little things that make their lives easier."

Here are 16 easy-to-plant (and inexpensive!) "seeds" that will help your pasture be the greenest for future and current employees:

Seed #1: Don't misrepresent the culture. Engaging employees starts with the first time a company interviews them. What does the company say to new hires about the company? Is it really an accurate representation of how the organization works? Does the company tell them about exciting opportunities only to hold them back from new assignments until they "pay their dues"? 

Seed #2: Learn the rules of engagement. Bored employees are neither happy nor productive. To keep employees engaged and satisfied, present them with challenging assignments and provide them with opportunities to grow and develop. Companies that are limited with funding options can always help employees to use their special skills and talents in their everyday job. In other words, let employees graze in other parts of the company's pasture and sometimes in entirely new pastures!

Seed #3: Cross-pollinate the culture by embracing diversity. It takes a lot of different influences—diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, lifestyle, geographic origin, education, personality, values, experience, socio-economic background and so forth—to make a company’s pasture the greenest. A diverse workforce creates an energy that can rarely exist in an environment of uniformity. Companies that bring together a diverse group of people to get the job done are richer, more stimulating and, frankly, are more fun. Leaders need to encourage the involvement of all team members who, in turn, need to feel comfortable about offering suggestions and challenging ideas or practices. By hiring employees from all walks of life, a company will create an environment where differing ideas flow freely. If a company learns how to use these ideas to better the company, and they'll create an environment where top talent wants to stay.

Seed #4: Be a good corporate citizen. Once upon a time, the corporate heads of many organizations had one concern: "How much money can we make and how fast can we make it?" Well, money still matters, of course. But today's employers are finding that they have to care about more than just profits if they want to keep their employees happy. The environment, health, and safety have never been more in the spotlight, and as a result, employees want to work for companies who take these factors into consideration. Good corporate citizens maintain high ethical standards, decrease the negative effects their company has on the environment, and give back to the community.

Seed #5: Give praise where praise is due. If someone does a great job, let him know. It's that simple. And then let his co-workers know. And then let his customers know! Recognizing a job well done isn't an expensive proposition, but it will mean the world to the employee.

Seed #6: Get creative with benefits. Companies don't have to provide employees with onsite medical care and state-of-the-art fitness centers. In fact, most companies probably can't. But companies do need realize that employees are looking at benefits other than those that meet the norm—such as health insurance and a 401(k)—when considering the elusive "happiness" factor. These "normal" benefits are really the price of admission because employees can get them almost anywhere. It's up to a company to think outside the box and figure out the benefits that will...well, benefit them the most.

Seed #7: Be aware of the changing needs of employees. Keep in mind that as employees progress in life their needs change. After having a child, an employee may want to travel less than before the child was born. As baby boomer employees get older, so do their parents. Be understanding when they need to take time off to take care of the health needs of Mom or Dad. And never give them a hard time when they need to take care of their own health issues. By understanding the changing needs, a company shows sensitivity to what's going on their lives and demonstrates that the company sees them as people, not just cogs in the machine. Not only will the company build loyalty with employees, but it will also help them bring stability to their personal lives—which means when they are at work they can place all of their focus on getting the job done.

Seed #8: Realize that great employees thrive under great leaders.  Employees won't leave a company for that greener pasture unless the company drives them to it. The buck starts and stops with their leaders. In fact it's commonly said that employees don't quit their job, they quit their manager. "Employees of great leaders will go to the ends of the earth to do a good job for them," says Sujansky. "The flip side is that employees with poor leadership will simply go. Pay attention to front line managers. Keep a close eye on their relationships with employees and get rid of bad managers when necessary. If employees see that a company cares about who they enlist as a leader, they'll feel more secure and will work even harder."

Seed #9: Conduct "stay" interviews regularly. Great employees like to hear about what they can do to make the company even better. Regular "stay" interviews provide a great opportunity for leaders to compliment their high performers on their great work and also to inspire them to do more to take the company to the next level. "Use these interviews to gauge how well the company is meeting employees' needs," says Sujansky. "Be open and honest with employees and always seek out their suggestions on what leaders and the company can do to improve." Seed #10: Create the kind of environment where people can do their best work. Is the work environment restrictive and stifling or is it freeing and innovative? By allowing employees to develop and implement their own ideas within the organization, a company will be able to help keep them passionate about their work. Companies should also make sure employees have what they need on a basic level. Do they have the equipment they need? Do they have the right computer programs to work efficiently? Nothing frustrates an employee more than not having everything he needs in order to get the job done.

Seed #11: Help employees to achieve work/life balance. In today's high-tech world, it is easy to set employees up so that they can work from home. Here's the problem: too many companies do this and then expect employees to be "on call" 24/7. If companies give this impression, even subtly or unconsciously, they’re disrupting the employee’s work/life balance. Employees in today's workforce saw their parents give their lives to companies while missing soccer games, recitals, and family dinners only to be laid off at age 55 without much hope for finding other employment. Today's working generation seems to share the sentiment of “We're not going to let that happen to us!” They actively seek out companies who make providing a true work/life balance a priority.

Seed #12: Insist that employees take vacations. As an employer, a company may be thinking, "If they would rather keep working than take a vacation, who am I to stop them? The more they're working the better it is for us!" Several studies show that employees who take vacations are less stressed, lead a healthier lifestyle, and are even at lower risk of having heart disease. All of that means lower healthcare costs for the company. Furthermore, employees who get away from the office are less likely to suffer burnout, a problem that harms productivity levels. If it isn't possible for employees to take a full week off, encourage them to take shorter more frequent vacations.

Seed #13: Create an environment of trust between employer and employee. Employees are happier and work harder when they feel like they can trust their leaders. They decide which leaders they can trust based on how their fellow employees, company vendors, and customers are treated. If an employee sees a leader treating someone else poorly, whether it's a vendor or a fellow employee, his level of trust diminishes and he starts to care less about doing a good job for the leader.

Seed #14: Rid your pasture of weeds. The weeds in a company’s figurative pasture are those poor performers and negative employees who stifle the good attitudes and high performance of their fellow employees. If a company is not pulling out the weeds, then it's likely their counterparts won't stick around and keep working with them. They'll choke out the company’s best performers. "Any environment where employees are not held accountable for their actions, whether they're positive or negative, can create a poor working environment," says Sujansky. "The greenest pastures are never filled with weeds so keep that in mind when you are growing and developing yours."

Seed #15: Use internship and mentoring programs to grow and nurture new talent. These programs allow promising prospects and employees to learn what the company culture is all about while also developing their own professional skills. They offer a win-win situation for companies because they allow them to get a good look at new talent without paying out a huge salary or, making a long-term commitment.

Seed #16: Take a seasonal approach to showing employees you care. "There are any number of ways to do this," says Sujansky. "Be creative. In summer, consider giving half-days off on Friday, or give a half-day off before an employee's vacation to help her minimize the stress of leaving town. Even something as simple as providing fresh fruit or flowers for the office can make an impact. At the holidays, bring in gift wrappers or give employees a day off to take care of their seasonal shopping. These ideas aren't expensive, and they go a long way toward showing employees that you care."

"Striving to keep employees happy and engaged is not just a nice thing to do," says Sujansky. "It's the right thing to do if you want to create a successful business. Furthermore, it's not just a matter of trying to retain people for retention's sake to avoid the high cost of recruitment, for instance. Engaged employees are creative, productive, motivated and brimming with good ideas. Not only will they stay, they'll be fully committed to their jobs and to the company's success."


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