6 Steps to Build a “Got Your Back” Company Culture. About a third of Americans have been working from home during the pandemic, and many say they are happier and more efficient as a result. Almost 60% of Americans think that COVID-19 has changed the way we work for the better, according to a new WalletHub survey.
Despite those positive findings, the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on many workers concerned about losing their jobs, catching the virus, or just feeling isolated and lonely working from home. A third of Americans are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression in response the pandemic, the US Census found.
We are living in a time of massive uncertainty, and that has left many people feeling vulnerable. Whether they are working from home or out in the world, people are anxious about what the future looks like — for themselves, their companies, and the economy.
Right now, the most important thing leaders can do is instill, through simple words and actions, the notion that people in their employ are not in this alone. People have to believe that others in the organization have their backs. Otherwise, we end up with “watch your back” cultures and organizations, where people are focused on self-preservation rather than the greater good.
As leaders, we have the opportunity to create a culture of selfless service. This is a lesson I learned this when I was 19 and working as a lifeguard on the south shore of Long Island.
The pounding surf there was often very powerful, with big waves and strong rip currents, and the beach was often very crowded. On busy summer days more than a hundred thousand people could be out there.
One day we heard three whistle blasts, signaling a swimmer was missing. Our team of lifeguards quickly deployed, searching the surf up and down the beach. After more than an hour, we were called out of the water to face the terrible fact that the swimmer had drowned. It was a terrible realization for a bunch of young people who had trained hard to save others.
After the beach closed for the day, our leader told us we had to learn something from this horrible experience. To make sure no one went down on our watch again, we would have to be impeccable. And to do that, we had to watch each other’s backs.
Out of that loss and failure we grew stronger and more united as a team. Whenever we were called to make a rescue, we knew there were people from our crew who had eyes on us. Without knowing we had backup at all times, we couldn’t have gone back into the water and put our lives on the line again and again.
Today people need to feel the same kind of confidence and support, whether they are working from home or venturing back into an office. Here are six ways to instill a “got your back” culture in your organization:
- Adopt Language of Selfless Service. As a leader in your organization, this means genuinely caring about the people around you and creating language and actions that support them. This does not mean giving people carte blanche to perform in a subpar way. As lifeguards, we could show up unprepared, lackadaisical, or late to relieve the person on the stand. There were consequences if you violated the rules. But as long as you did your job to the best of your ability, you were never in jeopardy, and there were always others to help you.
- Embrace Real Feedback. Encourage people to ask and answer questions such as: What’s working for me? What’s not working for me? What could be done differently? When people are given an open invitation to be transparent, and feel emotionally safe to express themselves freely, that builds trust.
- Build Resilience Rituals Into Your Culture. Establish support systems to help employees build resilience and integrate those into company culture. This could include encouraging employees to practice mindfulness and take breaks, as well as organized training programs that are tangible, meaningful, and show people what the organization stands for
- Reevaluate Everything. There should be no sacred cows. Something may have worked in February and stopped working in March. Every procedure, standard, value, or battle cry of the past should be up for some form of reevaluation.
- Acknowledge and Support Employees Suffering Loss and Grief. There are a lot of people who have been traumatized by this pandemic — who have lost friends and family members. They will need kindness and patience and understanding as we re-form bonds and redefine what success means and what performance looks like.
- Create Ways to Celebrate Together. When I look back at my time as a lifeguard, even though it was a serious environment, we laughed and joked and smiled. We kidded each other and challenged each other, and we celebrated together after the day’s job was done. That kind of camaraderie builds strong bonds.
All organizations have either a “watch your back” culture or a “got your back” culture. By putting these steps into practice, you can help your people become more resilient, so they can thrive through the challenges they face now, and in an uncertain future.
Commentary by Adam Markel. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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