How Healthy is Your Workplace Culture (Community Disability Services)

I’ve worked in Community Disability Services (CDS) since 1986 and have experienced work cultures that ranged from inspirational to traumatic. I’ve also seen firsthand the correlation between work culture and staff retention, engagement and innovation. It’s a pretty simple equation; some work cultures bring out our best – and some work cultures leave us disheartened and actively seeking new opportunities. What is workplace culture really worth to CDS organizations?   

In ‘The Culture Cycle’ James L. Heskett of the Harvard Business School asserts that workplace culture can account for up to 50% of a company’s profits. While ‘profit’ may not be a primary concern for a CDS organizations, issues such as staff turnover, employee engagement, loyalty of stakeholders, adaptability and stability are integral to organizational health. Given the importance of our role and impact with the people we collectively serve, workplace culture may not be getting the attention it deserves…

Over the course of  innumerable conversations with CDS professionals about organizational strengths, structures and limitations, some organic pattern recognition has resulted.

Outdated ‘top-down’ systems which to a large extent mimic the bureaucracies which fund us. This can manifest in operational protocols which are disassociated from service realities, including;  HR practices, intake practices, data collection and reporting protocols and overly rigid risk management-based policies. This is a ‘systems perpetuation’ issue which rewards compliance and punishes agility and innovation. Systems are just ways of doing things – they’re not natural laws like gravity. We can change our systems to better serve the people and goals for which they were built.

 ‘Zombie Brand’ services which have pasted a fresh logo, tagline and updated messaging onto services and organization culture which have not changed since the Calgary Flames last won the Stanley cup. A brand that doesn’t exist on an interactional or behavioural level – doesn’t exist. It’s a significant letdown for the young professionals we recruit to realize that the excitement and promise of the work reflected in the organization’s promotional material is not genuinely reflected in its actual operations.  

Limited Voice and Limited Engagement – an absence of opportunities for dialogue, limited exchange of ideas and limited exchange of information results in poor engagement. CDS leadership must recognize that staff are our most valuable asset. As such, their investment and engagement are critical. Identifying and mentoring future leaders is crucial as is developing and maintaining healthy workplace cultures.  

So, how do we address the health of our workplace culture? It involves work and a sincere commitment from leadership. As for tools, Guarding Minds at Work is one of the best, free, on-line resources I’ve ever encountered. Their resources help organizations to evaluate and address their workplace culture and employee well-being based on a number of ‘psychosocial factors.’ Did I mention it’s free? A lot of CDS organizations are paying a heavy cost for ongoing workplace culture issues. What if the development of a multi-level staff committee (front-line to management) could help you identify and address issues which require attention and tell you what specifically to do using the GM@W resources? It’s a great place to start.  

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