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Have you ever worked in a business where everything was a matter of urgency and where people were overwhelmed, yet the ‘keep calm and carry on’ style of leadership appeared to (just about) keep things carrying on? Or maybe you’ve worked in a business where work was manageable- a place where people seemed happy and leaders were open to feedback? In either case, what you’ve experienced is company culture.

The culture of a company can significantly influence both how people feel at work and also how they perform. It’s no secret that internal company culture also influences a businesses’ external reputation, which in turn affects talent engagement, retention and even consumer trust and loyalty.

At one time the culture of a business was something many leaders thought of as a soft, additional aspect of business that might be created through a combination of easy access to leadership, pizza and beers (often in exchange for overtime), gym passes and maybe even workshops on world mental health day.

At this point it feels important for me to point out that access to healthy supports such as gym and workshops are valuable, but if they are not part of a healthy ecosystem, we might think of them as the equivalent to the occasional tree being planted in an attempt to offset the emissions of a daily fleet of jets. In short, what’s needed is systemic change rather than sticking plasters.

Thankfully today more businesses are adopting a systemic, preventative approach. In various industries a wealth of brilliant leaders and HR specialists are working to bring employee wellbeing in alignment with their inclusion and overall business strategies. For them and for others interested in this work, understanding the what and how of fostering healthy cultures is vital.

So what is a healthy culture? And how do you create one?

Let’s start with a healthy culture…

In a healthy work culture, employees feel heard, respected, and valued. There’s a sense of communal ambition. Open channels of communication foster transparency, enabling employees to engage in constructive criticism and idea sharing. Leaders not only set the tone but also walk the talk, embodying the values they wish to instil in their team. Employees look forward to coming to work, not just for the job but for the enriching experience and the relationships they form.

In contrast, an unhealthy culture often feels stifling and oppressive. Communication is usually top-down, with little room for feedback or discussion. The atmosphere is fraught with mistrust and fear, discouraging innovation or any form of risk-taking. Employees are often disengaged, without much investment in their tasks or in the broader mission. Leaders may be disconnected from the realities of the workplace. In these environments, turnover rates are high, and the costs- both tangible and intangible- are significant.

So how can you create a healthy culture?

In our strategic Illuminate & Lead programme, we create healthy ecosystems. We start with data and insight and then together with the client we create a Bright Blueprint – a strategic roadmap that encompasses policies, processes and the people who drive the change.

Within Illuminate & Lead we create strategies around 4 key pillars of a healthy culture that have proven to create measurable results for people and businesses.

1. Psychological Safety
There is great evidence to support the benefits of psychological safety. A workplace environment that prioritises psychological safety is one that encourages employees to express their ideas without fear of negative consequences. These environments result in increased creativity and innovation, as employees feel confident to challenge and navigate conflict, bring new ideas, offer thoughts and take risks that can give a business a leading edge.

2. Cultures of Care
Incorporating the mental health strategy within the organisational framework is good business practice. Accepting that mental health is everyone’s business is best practice. Too often cultures of care are seen as the responsibility of HR or Wellbeing groups and Mental Health First Aiders. Every single person in an organisation can play a meaningful role in fighting stigma- the key barrier that means many do not access vital support. Companies that foster a caring environment underlined by policies and processes experience reduced absenteeism and enhanced productivity. In fact, investment in tailored mental health programmes has been shown to deliver ROI of more than 5 times.

3. Inclusive cultures
By now we’ve all seen the data and so we’ve all been informed that ‘diverse companies outperform those that are not diverse’. One problem with this often used statement is the emphasis on diversity rather than inclusion. There simply cannot be meaningful diversity without inclusion and without inclusion you do not have a culture that is healthy where people feel like they belong. In these instances, we may see bullying, presenteeism and mental health issues and the company will lose valuable talent.

4. Resilience
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last four years, it’s that change can be inevitable and unpredictable. In our work, we’ve noticed that where businesses cultivate resilience, they can navigate change more easily. A resilient culture enables adaptability, ensuring the company remains robust in the face of challenges, whilst also acknowledging that resilience does not equal immunity to the effects of undue pressure.

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping healthy cultures by bringing these pillars to life. ‘Healthy Leaders’ embody authenticity, empathy, inclusion, and resilience. By role modelling these traits, they set a precedent for the entire organisation, driving the creation of a nurturing and high-performing culture.

And so, simply put, healthy cultures are good business. At a time where evidence shows that Gen Y&Z place a culture of care at number one on their top three list of workplace expectations (after remuneration) investing in wellbeing is an investment in the future of your business.

If you’d like to know more about creating healthy workplace cultures, we’d love to hear from you. Say [email protected]

Emma Mainoo
Founder, Bright