Concept of Workplace ‘Culture’ Has Been Around a Long Time and It’s Still as Important as Ever

In the business world, one hears a lot about “culture,” the quality of the work environment established by business leaders that allows their employees a sense of belonging, a sense of inclusion, or a sense of comfort at work.

Culture has been a big talking point in meetings, lectures, roundtable discussions and webinars designed to help leaders develop a better one. It’s been talked about so much since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, that you’d think it was something leaders just discovered since March 2020, when COVID hit.

But as Steve Lowisz, the founder and CEO of Qualigence International, a Livonia, Mich.-based talent recruitment consultant, will tell you, the concept of “culture” has been around a long time and it’s more than just a buzzword. It’s just as important now as it’s always been.

“It is a buzzword because most cannot define what it means,” Lowisz said. “But it also drives people to quit or not even join a company. It’s been a buzzword and a reality for the 30 years I’ve been in the business.”

According to Lowisz, there are four areas (of culture) where employees feel disengaged:
• Work – what needs to be done.
• Manager – who they work for.
• Team – who they work with.
• Company – how they do things – “aka, the culture,” Lowisz said.

“Culture is created by the who and the how in a company — who is there and how they get things done,” Lowisz said. “Is the culture one of ‘cover your butt’ or ‘we learn from our mistakes?’ It usually starts at the top. Culture is very important in retention, because people leave. It’s very important in hiring because people post about poor cultures all day long on social media.”

Lowisz, who has three decades worth of experience in the recruiting field, offered his perspective on a variety of recruiting and retention issues:

Corp! Magazine: Statistics show there are millions more jobs than there are workers looking for jobs. Why is that?
Steve Lowisz: There is a significant shortage that has multiple causes:
• Different skillsets needed. Not just professional skills, such as engineers for electric cars, but also the highly needed skills of a plumber, welder, etc.
• There has been a shift to “knowledge workers,” leaving millions of skilled trade roles open.
• Unemployment is still pretty easy to get, thus many entry level positions are left unfilled by those not looking.
• Companies could not keep up with the demand for products, services, and innovation prior to rising inflation — that has caused a significant delta still today.
• Many roles are still not remote, yet so many employees are holding out only for fully remote.

Corp!: Statistics show 2.5 million workers have left the workforce, but only about 500,000 are due to COVID illness or death. What accounts for the rest?
Lowisz: I mention some of them above, but in addition to that:
• Many workers are seeking fully remote work because it’s all the rage.
• Many entry-level workers are taking advantage of unemployment benefits and other subsidies.
• The number is skewed, as I believe a certain percentage of those are part of the Gig economy — working through platforms like Upwork or on the side, some not claiming the income and thus not working.

Corp!: What effects have phenomenon like the “Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting” had on recruiting and retention?
Lowisz: These are new terms for age-old problems. The Great Resignation seems to be more the Great Re-evaluation of what was important to people and what they were willing to put up with at work. Retention becomes more difficult because of the “grass is greener” mentality that seems to be pervasive.
Recruiting has been a challenge because of the sheer number of resignations — that is being tempered with the slowing economy. Companies are focused more on retention than prior to COVID — spending more time and money than before.

Corp!: The worst of the pandemic seems to be past us. Is it still affecting recruiting and retention?
Lowisz: Sure! Many still believe that working from home should be 100% for most positions. This is still making filling roles difficult. This was brought on because of the pandemic. Some individuals still are wary of public places — insisting they work from home.

Corp!: Has what potential employees are looking for in terms of work model, benefits, etc., changed?
Lowisz: Of course. So many are looking for 100% remote or highly hybrid models. Even if working from home is not ideal for someone, many are still seeking those opportunities for fear of missing out. More time off has become front and center. Leaders who care and focus on the worker’s development and not just handing out commands was already changing, but is a big deal now.

Corp!: Is it possible COVID has been a positive in terms of showing business leaders there are new and different ways of doing business?
Lowisz: For many, yes. Even my companies adopted a more remote-friendly environment for those who can handle it — different discussion for another time. Many companies are also focusing more on employee connection, development and wellbeing. These are positive moves.

Corp!: What’s the best thing companies can do to facilitate recruiting/retention success?
Lowisz: There are several:
• Be 100% clear on their expectations and requirements for remote work.
• Be 100% clear on their expectations and requirements for each job — focus on measuring results, not just activity.
• Be honest — not just market aspirations to candidates, market the reality of where you are and what you need them to change — workers like a challenge when they are aware.
• Do not assume that everyone wants or needs the same thing. Treat each candidate/employee as an individual first. I always say, teamwork is an individual sport first.
• Train leaders on how to really lead, not just manage. So many in positions of managing others are driving their teams and not guiding their teams.
• Be intentional about connecting with their team members, especially remote workers. Video never supports the same level of relationship.
• Have each employee and candidate define what is important to them. Stop assuming “career advancement” means the same to everyone.

Corp!: What’s the worst thing they can do?
Lowisz: Assume things will “get back to normal” and raise compensation without addressing all of the other issues. People still leave if the boss is unpleasant or the culture is toxic.

Corp!: What’s the biggest challenge now facing business leaders, as it relates to recruiting and retention?
Lowisz: Finding workers with some perseverance, who don’t run at the first sight of challenge at work. It used to be people were willing to help make the changes; now they just change jobs.

Corp!: Final thoughts?
Lowisz: Here are a couple:
• Covid was not the cause of our recruiting or retention challenges, it was the great exaggerator.
• The pendulum is shifting slowly toward an employers’ market because of the economic conditions, inflation and layoffs. Workers need to be careful with quiet quitting and the like, as they will be the first to be laid off.
• Employers need to be cautious about forgetting all they learned about the value of people during this time, as they begin to gain the upper hand as the economy slows. We cannot go back to treating people as a means to an end — they are people who are valuable and need to be treated not as assets, but as investments.