Workplace culture: What employees are looking for in 2024

If you want to attract and retain great employees, especially when hiring is competitive, culture needs to be on your radar.

Research for SEEK shows 68% of Kiwis find workplace culture important; 52% of people say they’d turn down a job if they learned a company had a poor culture and 77% say they’ve left a job or would leave a job due to poor culture.

Let’s look at what aspects of culture employees care most about, and how you can work to build a positive culture in your workplace.

Areas to focus on when building a positive workplace culture

While it’s one thing to understand the importance of workplace culture, knowing where to begin can be tricky. But there are two key areas of culture employees identify as most important – these make a great place to start.

1. A supportive environment and leadership team

Supportive colleagues and leadership comes out on top as the most valued aspect of a positive workplace culture - the research shows poor leadership is the top reason why people would leave a job.

Psychologist Sabina Read says this comes back to one of our most basic human needs.

“All people value feeling connected, seen, and appreciated,” Read says. “For most of us, the workplace is an important domain where we seek positive relationships with peers, leaders, and stakeholders.”

The good news is, fostering these supportive relationships with our colleagues and team members is something each of us can do.

“We can all build healthy and robust workplace relationships regardless of our role or seniority by dialling up compassion, empathy, and seeing the best in others,” Read explains.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Natalie Herman, a HR professional whose work focuses on leadership and the future of work. She believes that building positive working relationships is a key place for any organisation to start.

“People will only show up if they feel heard and respected. They want to know that they can contribute to the wider mission of the company, and feel encouraged to do so,” Herman says. “Think of these relationships as a two-way street, in that you're going to get back as much as you give.”

2. Flexibility and autonomy

More and more, workers are looking at ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Flexible working hours ranks as the second most important workplace culture trait, the research shows.

Herman says that offering workers this level of flexibility doesn’t just provide good outcomes for workers but can also improve their level of productivity and output.

“If you’re stressed or burnt out, you won’t have the energy to be productive and do your job well,” she says. “In that situation, both the workers and the organisations lose.

Really, it’s not about how many hours you put in, it’s about the effort you can make, and the motivation levels you can maintain. Being overworked and not having any flexibility in your hours does more harm than good.”

As well as being able to help workers regain their motivation and productivity levels, there’s an even greater power at work when it comes to offering flexibility: trust. Rather than fostering an environment where employees may feel ‘watched’ or ‘micro-managed’, Read says, offering flexible hours sends a much more positive message.

“Flexibility is a close cousin to autonomy, a construct that affirms we have the capacity and opportunity to choose how we work,” she says. “This sends the message to workers that they are trusted to deliver desired outcomes rather than focus on when they do the work.

For many, the pandemic challenged preconceived ideas about where and when we work, which has shone a light on the possibilities and benefits of flexible working hours like never before.”

How to create the kind of workplace culture employees want

With a better understanding of what workers are looking to get out of a positive workplace culture, how can you cultivate it? Here’s what the experts have to say:

  • Practice what you preach:

Workplace culture isn’t simply a box you can check off. As Read explains: “Culture is more than a list of values posted in the tearoom, annual days which give a nod to mental health or women in the workplace, or pool tables and yoga mats.”

Instead, Read encourages workplaces to focus on the bigger picture and ways to put their words into action.

“There are many facets that comprise workplace culture including the organisation’s values, behaviours, management structure, pay structure, work environment, as well as the approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

  • Change the culture from the top down:

Company leaders often spearhead the culture. So, if you want to make real change, the leadership team need to be on board.

Herman explains that for this to happen, leaders need to be open to change and vulnerability.

“When I look back at some of the best cultures I’ve seen in workplaces, it was with leaders who were transparent and honest,” she says. “They weren’t afraid of taking risks, but they also weren’t afraid to not always get it right. Leadership is a journey, in which we’re all continually learning.”

  • Set clear goals and visions for your workplace culture:

Before setting a positive workplace culture, you need to map out what that looks like. Read explains this involves taking a broader look at your organisational structure and being clear with your intentions.

“Whether you’re a small business or multinational, every organisation needs a mission that explains desired outcomes and goals, as well as clear values to guide individual and collective behaviour,” she says. “Clear management structures, compensation and promotional transparency, and leadership vulnerability are also key to ensure people know what’s expected of them.”

Once you’ve defined your goals and values, it will be a lot easier to make sure your workplace culture is reflected at every level – including for new hires.

“You can promote culture in the hiring process in an organic way by asking potential candidates about what they need to be their best, and what their core values are,” Read explains. “This will help to ensure there’s a natural alignment.”

It’s clear that workplace culture has taken on a new level of importance for many Kiwi workers. Focusing on building positive culture through flexibility and supportive leadership can help you create a workplace people want to be part of. What’s more, it will help you attract and retain the employees your business needs to succeed.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK interviewing 4,000 Kiwis annually. Published February 2024.

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