How to create an exceptional workplace culture

Female employee hugs male employee with a big smile on her face, as other coworkers surround them, clapping in celebration.
September 22, 2020 | Claire Hegstrom

Year after year, Alliant has been named a great workplace by Great Place to Work. This designation is earned through analysis of employee feedback on our workplace culture, which is provided through a series of anonymous survey questions. While it’s always an outstanding achievement knowing your teammates truly enjoy coming to work, it isn’t by chance that we have such a wonderful environment to work, collaborate, and provide solutions for our members every day.

We’re sitting down with Arek Gazda, our transformation and internal communications manager, to discuss the process behind building an exceptional workplace culture.

Top five must-haves for a winning work environment

There are so many impactful ways to make employees feel valued, respected, and included in the workplace. It’s easy to start brainstorming lofty changes to dramatically shift your work culture immediately, but don’t order a breakroom foosball table just yet!

According to Alliant’s most recent Great Place to Work survey, our employees agreed that the culture, people, and benefits are the three characteristics that they enjoyed most about working here. While no company will ever be 100% perfect, there are always opportunities to improve the employee experience.  

Gazda has five attainable goals you can start implementing immediately to make a huge difference for your team.

1. Celebrate special events.

People want to be seen, cared for, and appreciated. There are so many ways to do this, some requiring more leg work than others. If you’re looking to start simple, create a birthday calendar on your intranet so that teammates know when to virtually sing Happy Birthday. If your goal is to make a bigger deal out of daily accomplishments, creating an employee recognition program is a wonderful way for teammates to be able to thank each other publicly with real rewards!

Another cost-effective option is to share stories that recognize team members on your intranet! A spotlight on a job well-done can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated.

2. Offer your employees flexibility.

If you work in an office where you aren’t interacting with customers, changing the dress code to casual attire could be a quick way to boost your teams’ happiness.

Another way to offer flexibility is by offering a variety of locations your team can work from. Our employees agreed that “Alliant is a physically safe place to work,” and they feel like their individual wellness is seen as a priority to their leaders. “Being adaptable during unforeseen circumstances is a huge way to make employees feel valued and cared for. We’re grateful to be able to provide a safe working environment and the ability to work remotely with the equipment our people need to do their jobs well,” stated Gazda.

3. Involve employees in decision making.

Often, the people with the best insight into your products and services are those directly working with the customers that use them (think call center phone operators and service representatives). They can be one of your greatest tools to uncover pain points your customers are experiencing, and they can share insights directly from the source.

When you foster a collaborative work environment and work cross-functionally across the organization, employees can feel like their opinions and expertise are valued, and you’ll be able to serve your community even better.

4. Provide a deeper sense of purpose.

“It’s quite special that our employees feel good about the way we contribute to the community,” said Gazda. At Alliant, employees are allotted paid volunteer hours every year to contribute their time and talents to a cause that is near and dear to their hearts. But providing meaningful volunteer opportunities isn’t enough.

Employees must find their purpose in their day-to-day duties so that they can truly internalize that what they do every day matters.

5. Offer meaningful benefits

Snacks and comfy couches in the break room do make the gig better, but it isn’t enough to keep your best talent. Providing benefits like affordable health insurance, a generous 401(k) match, and paid parental leave can bring peace of mind and make employees' lives more enjoyable so that they can show up wholeheartedly to the job.

Three things you should stop doing

As you’re checking off the list of steps you’re taking to increase employee engagement and wellness, it can also be helpful to look at some possible habits you can shift to better support your teammates. The following are a few immediate changes that can be made in the office today!

1. Don’t forget employees’ lives outside of work.

We know you’ve heard this one before, but any company can’t emphasize work-life blending enough. Don’t forget who your individual teammates are outside of the office. They are family, mentors, friends, and so much more.

Gazda says that creating work-life balance starts with creating an inclusive space. “In creating an inclusive work-life environment, managers focus on who people are as individuals, not just what they bring to the table at work.”

2. Don’t discount your millennial and Gen Z teammates’ ideas.

It’s easy to forget to ask the opinions of employees that are new to the industry. While it’s true that they are just starting to learn the ropes, they are also bringing the newest, cutting edge insights that they learned in school and their first few years on the job. Asking for their input helps them to know that they are a valued member of the team, and helps instill their purpose in the organization.

3. Stop building the culture for your people. Build it with them.

People leaders are usually at the forefront of creating cultural change in an organization. But remember, these leaders are only a small group of individuals with a set idea of what they think employees seek in a workplace.

Create employee-led programs and initiatives to get a better understanding of your peoples’ needs and desires. “When employees can bring ideas to the table on how they’d like to see Alliant move forward, it creates a culture of inclusivity where folks are comfortable with sharing who they are with others.”

Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.

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