How to Support Employees and Improve Retention With a Strong Company Culture

The key to keeping employees isn't getting rid of bad bosses but improving the overall culture at your company.

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By Matt Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We have all heard the expression, "people don't leave businesses, they leave managers." In this time of the Great Resignation, is that really true? Perhaps to a certain extent, but I think there's something else to consider.

Having capable managers is critical, of course. That's why our group spends so much time helping new managers build the key mindsets and capabilities they need to succeed. Nevertheless, a good boss can't compensate for the most significant reason high performers move on.

I'm talking about culture. A toxic culture will always overshadow even the nastiest bosses. In fact, some of the worst bosses exist because their culture allows them to thrive. The Washington Commanders' two-decade-long toxic work culture that has come to light recently is a great example of this. The culture became toxic after leaders at the top level of the organization ignored sexual misconduct allegations.

If you've seen a lot of people flee your company since 2020, you might have a dysfunctional culture — and I'd hazard to guess that the pandemic hasn't caused the cultural dysfunction in your organization but likely revealed it. When the people on your team finally saw those cultural weak spots, they decided it was time to head out the door.

So, put your energy into nurturing your culture and ensuring everyone has an integral role to play. To do that, try these retention techniques that have worked for my company and my clients:

Related: Great Company Culture Isn't Magic -- Take These Steps to Create It

1. Take purpose to the next level ... your people

You need to have a strong organizational purpose if you want a strong organizational culture. Your purpose is the "why?" behind everything you do. A well-articulated purpose can serve as the backbone for all decisions. It also informs people why they should come work for you as integral team members.

You shouldn't just strive to have a corporate purpose, though. You need to take purpose to the next level by helping each person find their own purpose and connect that to your organization.

Here's how this can work in practice: Our leaders regularly run special sessions for our newest joiners. The sessions help participants discover their purposes by identifying strengths, values and life-shaping experiences. Once everyone has identified an individual purpose, they can connect it to the organization's purpose, as well as the work they do daily. The result is a team that feels motivated by and connected to a greater sense of purpose.

2. Encourage people to name their work-life balance needs

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about work-life balance. In the past three years, the lines between everyone's professional and personal lives have blurred significantly. Accordingly, your company needs to put structures and systems in place to accommodate the team's work-life needs. You can't do this on your own.

Rather than dictating work-life balance parameters to your team members, put the ownership on them to develop their own work-life balance routines. For instance, you might have a group of ambitious people. That's great, but we all know that ambitious people are notorious for filling up their plates. Your job is to assist them in figuring out how to balance all the facets of their lives appropriately so they don't risk burnout.

Start by encouraging everyone to talk about their non-negotiables. These are what each person needs to feel grounded. Some people might say that's being able to log off by 5:30 p.m. Others might say it's having the chance to plug an hour of exercise into the day. The point is for people to feel supported enough to name what they need to lower their stress levels and enhance their overall well-being. Teams can then develop workflows to accommodate everyone's non-negotiables and foster work-life balance.

Related: I Created a College Atmosphere At My Company. Here Are 3 Ways It Increased Employee Retention

3. Give out autonomy like it's candy

Individuals feel empowered when they have total authority to make decisions. Their sense of empowerment usually spills over into higher engagement. The more accountability and responsibility you can give people, the more rewarding your environment will be — and the less reason team members will have to take jobs elsewhere. A Jabra survey of more than 5,000 knowledge workers revealed that 59% of them believe flexibility is more important than salary and other benefits.

To be sure, your business or industry might not be able to allow tons of flexibility with autonomous decision-making among team members. Still, it's a valuable exercise to think about ways and times you can drive decision-making in your company from the upper levels down. Based on my experience, organizations with lower autonomy and authority struggle with this mindset shift. It won't happen overnight, but we've found that with purposeful intervention, you can create the right change momentum.

4. Incorporate fun into your work

A dull workplace isn't one that tends to be sticky from a retention standpoint. On the other hand, a fun atmosphere can buoy everyone's spirits and reduce the effects of inevitable challenges.

You don't have to bring in balloons and a bouncy house. Fun can come in different forms. Corporate-sponsored social activities, work sports teams and the occasional celebration can all be enjoyable. It just depends on the makeup of your company and its people. Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard, had the goal of making his workplace fun and enjoyable, which is why he has always let his employees work flexible hours that allow them to surf during the work day, attend courses or just be parents. All he asked was that their work got done.

And although organized fun is great, the key is integrating fun into the work itself. Never underestimate the power of being a fun place to work. After all, fun can be a huge differentiator because it's as rare as a unicorn sighting in Alaska. Give your people the freedom to let loose a little.

They call it the Great Resignation, but for me, that seems a little glass half empty. It's high time to stop worrying about the Great Resignation and focus on building a great culture. You'll unlock your people's potential and your organization's performance possibilities, too.

Related: Why a Positive Company Culture Is the Key to Employee Retention

Matt Smith

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Senior Director at BTS

Matt Smith is Senior Director at BTS, a global professional services firm headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.

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