How to Cultivate the Best Possible Culture for Your Association

How to Cultivate the Best Possible Culture for Your Association

A positive work culture achieves more than just happier and healthier employees; it increases productivity, improves outcomes, and leads to long-term growth and success. However, cultivating this kind of culture and a workplace where employees want to grow and succeed isn’t easy. With a new trend of resignations and disengagement, it is now harder than ever to keep the best talent at your association.

To ensure that you are creating a place that people want to work and to put in their best efforts, it is crucial to recognise the importance of culture and to implement a holistic approach to making your association a positive place. From recruiting the best people to retaining talent through methods such as offering flexibility, prioritising mental health, and practising empathetic leadership, building a great workplace culture means empowering people to do their best and feel great about the work they are contributing to.

The Great Resignation and ‘Quiet Quitting’ 

In the wake of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, industries around the world have seen a so-called ‘Great Resignation’, as employees re-evaluate their priorities and develop new expectations around work-life balance. In addition to this, recent months have seen the rise of the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon, increasing the challenges faced by organisations looking to retain and foster talent.

In the last two years, organisations have seen the loss of employees on an unprecedented scale. Multiple factors have contributed to this: organisation’s approach to work during the pandemic, unrealistic expectations around work-life balance in a remote work environment, and even employees deciding to pursue different careers or life paths as a result of the upheaval. Due to this, many organisations have needed to recruit in larger numbers than ever before.

In addition to the loss of employees, organisations are facing a crisis of disengagement within the workforce. ‘Quiet quitting’ is usually used to describe employees putting in the bare minimum at work, maintaining their jobs while not putting in any extra effort or becoming invested in tasks or projects. Often, this attitude towards work in the result of a perception by the employee that the organisation they work for does not care about them. Employees are unlikely to want to go the extra mile for a business if they feel underpaid, undervalued, and under-stimulated at work.

While this mindset can be understandable, it is extremely detrimental to both the employee and the organisation that they work for. Workers with no investment in their work are more likely to feel bored and burnout. Similarly, organisations with a disengaged workforce cannot achieve positive business outcomes.

Managing the trend of disengaged workers, and rising difficulties in retaining staff, are serious challenges facing associations right now. 

Managing Recruitment in a Competitive Market

We are currently in one of the toughest markets ever for companies hoping to find new employees. An over-saturation of positions means that employees have greater choice and can choose organisations that better align with their values, interests and the kind of work-life balance that they want. To attract the best employees, an association needs to offer a competitive and appealing package that entices new applicants for the positions. 

Hiring the best people contributes to a positive work culture where everyone is striving towards the same goals and is motivated to achieve optimal outcomes for the association. The first step to a successful hiring process is a strong job advertisement the delivers multiple potential new recruits. A great job ad will:

  • Be specific. Job seekers don’t want to be left wondering what a role will entail after reading a job ad. Including detail like day-to-day activities, overall goals, lines of reporting and more will make your job ad more appealing.
  • Include benefits. Anything from a monthly RDO to professional development opportunities can help to entice applicants in a competitive market.
  • Avoid too many requirements. You may think that you want someone with five years of experience, but including this on the ad may mean you miss out on an excellent applicant who is newer to the industry.

It can be a worthwhile exercise to ask your current and long-serving employees what it is that they love about working for your association. These conversations can offer invaluable insights into what staff view as the best features of your workplace culture – and can even begin a discussion about what could be improved.

Retaining Talent in the Workplace

Recruiting great people for your association is only one half of the equation when it comes to cultivating a positive work culture. Retaining talent and building upon experience and expertise is crucial for long-term success. In a culture of frequent resignations and easy movement between jobs, leaders need to recognise the best ways to keep employees engaged, motivated, and feeling happy at work.

Flexible Working Arrangements

Across workplaces, industries and around the world, employees are saying the same thing: they want the flexible working arrangements brought in by COVID-19 to stay.

The pandemic began a new workplace trend of working from home, heralding an era of remote work for many organisations and industries. A lot of people found that working from home suited their lifestyle, allowing them to be more productive, care for family members, and maintain a better balance. Others missed the structure of an office environment. Leaders need to recognise the advantages of both and cater for people’s preferences accordingly.

Although there are some people who prefer an entirely in office or entirely remote working arrangement, majority of employees have said they would like a hybrid, with some days in the office and some at home. Associations can accommodate this through measures such as grouping meetings on days in the middle of the week and asking people to be in the office for these, with days at home focused on individual and autonomous work.

Maintaining Productivity in Remote Work

If remote work is remaining a part of your employees’ working life, it is important to ensure that it is done in a way that is beneficial to both the employee and the association. By now, we are well-versed in how to optimise working from home so that it continues to deliver excellent results. Continuing these trends will ensure that workers remain engaged and satisfied. 

Some tips for maintaining productivity in a remote work environment include:

  • Frequent connection. Whether this is a weekly team video call, an ongoing ‘group chat’ on Slack or Microsoft Teams, or another method for checking in with team members, maintaining open lines of communication is key to ensuring the success of a team.
  • Using a comfortable workspace. Associations need to encourage their people to work in an ergonomic and productive setting at home. For example, setting up a proper desk at home rather than working from bed or from the kitchen table.
  • Taking breaks. Too often, workers will skip their lunch break or work during what would normally be their commuting time because they are working from home. But these breaks provide important opportunities to unwind and reset for more productive work later on. Association leaders should remind employees to take the time to relax.

Managing a Return-to-Office Strategy

Many associations and other organisations are now requesting that workers return to the office in some capacity. This transition needs to be carefully managed to avoid resentment in employees who have enjoyed the benefits of working from home, and to ensure that you don’t lose good staff members because of this requirement.

Working in the office offers myriad benefits, including stronger bonds between team members, the ability to have spontaneous ‘water cooler’ conversations which spark ideas and deliver solutions, and reducing the tech fatigue that can occur from endless meetings held online.

The first priority when implementing a return-to-office strategy should be communicating the “why”. Association leaders know why they would prefer their people to work in person, but often this message gets lost or confused when being conveyed to employees. If workers don’t see the benefits to them or to the association, they are unlikely to buy in to the idea of back to office working.

Secondly, it is best for employers to listen to employees and recognise what their preferences are. Would they like a hybrid approach to work? In person meetings grouped on a particular day? Half days in the office, or flexible start times to avoid traffic? Catering for these needs will make employees far more interested in working with the new in-person work requirements.

Finally, leaders should avoid an ‘all or nothing’ approach when it comes to return-to-office strategy. Ultimatums will always alienate people and result in resignations – which in a tough recruitment market, will only cause more problems. Instead, take a slow and balanced approach to in-person work and make sure you get your employees on board.

Mental Health

Mental health is important in all aspects of life. Increasingly, employers are gaining a better understanding of the risks of unhealthy work practices and implementing new ways to promote a better work-life balance and a positive work culture. Awareness of mental health issues – such as burnout, anxiety, depression and stress – is increasing across industries. However, some people managers remain uncertain on the best ways to support their employees, and what to do if someone reaches out for help.

There are five key ways that association leaders can encourage good mental health:

  • Managers should never be afraid to be vulnerable in the workplace. Talking about your own mental health challenges normalises them and reminds people that it can happen to anyone.
  • Prioritise individual check ins with team members. Frequent casual contact will help you understand what is going on with your staff and provide support when it is needed.
  • Remind employees that you work as a team and everyone is there to support each other. This will help to build a strong team culture and avoid individuals feeling that everything is their responsibility, which can create pressure and stress.
  • Ensure that employees are putting in place appropriate boundaries and sticking to them. Discourage sending emails late at night or working beyond business hours on a regular basis.
  • Recognise mental health awareness days, such as RUOK? day. This opens up conversations in the workplace about mental health and makes people feel more comfortable about sharing.

Empathetic Leadership
Increasingly, we are seeing the importance of work as a place where employees can feel comfortable being themselves and able to be vulnerable about the challenges they are facing. As association leaders, it is important to understand that this empathetic culture starts at the top.

Being an empathetic leader means showing your people that you understand and care about them on a human level – not just in terms of their productivity and work output. There are lots of ways that leaders can demonstrate this, such as:

  • Offering flexibility. A more flexible working environment is often preferable for people that want a better balance between life and work.
  • Considering life outside of work. Your employees are most often many things to many people – parents, spouses, friends, carers, and more. It is understandable that these different roles can sometimes mean they need to take some time away from work.
  • Treat your workers with respect. No one wants to spend every working hour feeling like a disposable cog in the wheel. Instead, recognise the unique skill sets, talents and ideas of your employees. Encourage them to take on projects that interest them.
  • Encouraging open and honest communication. Open lines of communication are key to ensuring people feel listened to. When employees provide feedback about how they are feeling about work, it is important for leaders to listen and be proactive in making changes as needed.

More Questions?

This is just a quick run-down on how to build a supportive, productive association culture. AES offers comprehensive services in this area. Simply contact us for further information, or book a free consultation.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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