Culture of caring: How to show employees they are seen and valued

It isn’t enough to say the right things. You must follow through with authentic action.

You’ve doubtlessly had to face the consequences of “The Big Quit,” that mass exodus of employees across all industries. You had to learn to handle it in your own department — or maybe you’ve joined it yourself.

Some of those losses couldn’t be helped. People moved or realized their priorities in life had changed. But a little kindness might help keep a few people around longer.

In a recent Ragan webinar, “The Communicator’s Role in Finding, Retaining and Upskilling Talent,” three HR and communications professionals discussed how savvy businesses need to think about hiring and retaining employees. It isn’t enough to ask someone to perform as a cog in a machine in return for a paycheck. Now it’s a matter of helping employees see that they are valued as whole people, with unique lives, challenges and strengths.

Communicators have a uniquely important role in fostering this culture of kindness through our messaging, and more importantly, through our actions.

Give employees a voice

No one likes being told what to do with no input. It makes workers feel unheard and unvalued. So when it came to defining what a hybrid work schedule might look like — how much time an employee would spend in the office or working remotely — Forbes asked for employee input.

“We considered hybrid not just coming into an office a couple days a week. Maybe hybrid is 100% remote,” said Ali Intres, SVP, human resources & talent management, Forbes.

Human resources worked closely with corporate communications to draft and deploy surveys to ensure communication was aligned with actions.

Forbes wound up selecting a remote model, which has helped with recruitment, opening up new job candidate pools and boosting retention. That ethos is now woven into Forbes’ overall philosophy, and proudly leads their job ads.

Check in

The pandemic has been the rare event which impacted nearly every human on the planet in some way. That’s certainly true in your organization, from your CEO down to the newest hire.

“We are starting to feel the effects of the PTSD of being in this pandemic at the same time,” said Azurée S. Montoute-Lewis, global head of talent management and diversity, equity and inclusion at Hill + Knowlton. Montoute-Lewis identified “anxiety, stress, grief, loss, so many other emotions that have threatened to swallow us whole in some ways.”

That’s where the organization needs to come in to create a culture that cares about employees as individuals — not as assets or cogs in the wheel, Montoute-Lewis says, but as people. You can make your organization stand out in a crowded market.

“Creating a culture of caring really starts also with the leadership team,” said Laura Brusca, senior vice president of corporate communications for Forbes. Leaders must show that they care, not just saying the words. That can be as simple as checking in with employees and making sure they’re taking vacation days.

Since the start of the pandemic, Forbes’ CEO memo’s subject line has been, “checking in and caring for each other,” which Brusca sees as another simple signal of caring.

Every week, the memo delivers a message that their CEO values these kindnesses — so employees should too.

Be candid

Many companies are used to avoiding transparency. They share as much or as little as they want about decision-making and internal audiences just need to content themselves with that.

That attitude is changing – and fast.

Montoute-Lewis said she regularly receives messages from job seekers asking her for the real story on what Hill + Knowlton’s work environment is like, seeking true authenticity and doing their research to ensure the company’s actions match their messaging.

The importance of transparency compounds when generational differences are considered.

Younger generations feel like they should have more information and access than those in the past, said Intres.

“I would never have imagined asking the head of HR for information that happened in the executive team meeting,” she said. But it’s smart: Who wouldn’t want to know what something means for them?

“Bringing people in or bringing them along as much as you can will get more of a feeling of connection,” Intres added. “Their demeanor will change.” Likewise, there’s a need for managers to be clear and direct, but still kind, with feedback. Don’t leave ambiguity about expectations.

Sometimes, the kindest things we can do for one another is to simply ask. Ask their opinion. Ask how they are. And ask for expectations. Then do your best to follow through on those questions to create a more positive, affirming workplace for all.

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