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Podcast: Employees, Managers, and HR Differ on Who Owns Culture

2015 WFI ChapterIntroWe recently released the results of part 2 of our  Employee Engagement Lifecycle Series research.  This study, conducted with, shows that human resources (HR) professionals, people managers, and employees have very different opinions about workplace culture, who drives it, what's important to creating a great one, and what can destroy workplace culture.

More than 1,800 U.S. adults responded to the online questionnaire and were segmented into three different survey groups - HR professionals (601 respondents); people managers (604 respondents); and full-time, non-managing employees (602 respondents) - and their answers were compared based on how each group responded to questions about various aspects of workplace culture and employee engagement.  On almost all fronts, their responses to questions differed significantly.

These results indicate that many organizations may be struggling to get on the same page with their employees about what matters most to them.  We believe that it's difficult for organizations to thrive if they aren't tuned in to what matters most to employess.   To better understand the results, I interviewed Dan Schawbel, founder of - and now Partner & Research Director at Future Workplace.  Dan is a recognized expert on workplace issues, especially those that are most important to Millennial employees, now the single biggest cohort in the workplace.

You can listen in on my conversation with Dan here.  And read on below to learn about the highlights of the research.  And if you want to learn even more about strategies for engaging your employees, you can check out our most recent book, It's All About Bob/bie - Strategies for Winning With Your Employees.

Podcast recording of my interview with Dan Schawbel:


Highlights of Research Results:

  • Who defines workplace culture? Us, not them. When asked who at their organization most defines the workplace culture, HR professionals, managers, and employees each felt they were most important:
    • About one-third of HR professionals said that the head of HR defines the culture, while only 10 percent of managers and three percent of employees agreed.
    • Twenty-six percent of managers said their executive team defines the culture, while only 11 percent of HR professionals and nine percent of employees felt the same.
    • Finally, 29 percent of employees said it is the employees who define workplace culture, with only nine percent of HR professionals and 13 percent of managers agreeing. Interestingly, a full 40 percent of Millennial employees feel that employees define the culture - an indication of an evolving view of workplace culture where employees feel they have more power.
    • Troublingly, 28 percent of employees feel that no one defines the workplace culture, whereas only five percent of HR professionals and seven percent of managers feel this way.
  • What culture attributes matter most to employees? HR and management strike out.
    • Employees listed their top three most important attributes of workplace culture as "pay" (50 percent), "coworkers who respect and support one another" (42 percent), and "work-life balance" (40 percent).
    • Unfortunately, HR and managers struck out on the top three culture attributes that matter most to employees. HR professionals believe "managers and executives leading by example," "employee benefits," and a "shared mission and values" were the top three things that mattered most to employees; while managers guessed "managers and executives leading by example," a "shared mission and values," and "emphasis on taking care of our customers" would top employees' lists.
    • Only 25 percent of HR professionals and 29 percent of managers thought pay would be a top concern for how employees view workplace culture.
  • What kills culture? Again, each party tells a different story. When it comes to what has the most negative impact on an organization's ability to maintain a positive workplace culture, HR professionals and managers differed significantly from the employee view:
    • HR professionals and people managers said that "a high-stress environment" and "company growth" were the two elements with the biggest negative impact on workplace culture.
    • Conversely, employees felt that "not having enough staff to support goals," "unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well," and "poor employee/manager relationships" were the major obstacles to maintaining a positive workplace culture.
    • These findings indicate that HR and managers might be able to reduce the perceived stress their work environment causes by focusing on hiring the right people, appropriately staffing, and ensuring managers have the proper management training to help their teams thrive.
  • Technology, job hopping, and Glassdoor-like pressure has changed culture.
    • Forty-three percent of HR professionals and 39 percent of managers said that "using technology to foster and improve culture" is the biggest difference in managing workplace culture today compared to a decade ago.
    • This increased use of technology comes with a price: 40 percent of HR leaders indicated there is more pressure today to maintain an attractive culture for recruiting purposes than in the past, presumably because more information about organizations can be easily found.
    • Along those lines, nearly a quarter of HR professionals (23 percent) and managers (22 percent) say that their employees switch careers/jobs too much to establish a solid culture.
  • How are leaders strengthening culture? Training, development, and acting on feedback.
    • When asked what they do to preserve and strengthen workplace culture, HR professionals and managers were on the same page, listing "training and development" (72 percent and 61 percent, respectively) and "getting feedback from employees and acting on it" (45 percent and 46 percent) as the two top strategies.
  • How can organizations keep their culture relevant over time?
    • HR professionals and managers indicated that using technology across the organization to improve communication and efficiency (59 percent and 49 percent, respectively), and paying closer attention to feedback from younger employees (50 percent and 41 percent, respectively) were critical components to evolving culture to remain relevant when recruiting.


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