The Data Behind Building a Better Workplace
By Josh Corman

At this stage of the spa industry’s battle with ongoing staffing challenges, pointing out that workplace culture is an important aspect of recruiting and retaining good employees is roughly equivalent to explaining that water is a big part of what draws people to swimming pools. That said, it is sometimes challenging to determine exactly which components of a strong culture are most appealing to existing and potential employees. This challenge is a meaningful one because, for many spas and resource partners, overcoming it may be the difference between a fully staffed business firing on all cylinders and an understaffed business straining to keep up.

Thankfully, a raft of recent data shared by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides clarity about exactly how culture can and does affect workers and their behavior in 2021. SHRM’s survey asked executives, people managers, HR professionals and working Americans to share their feedback on the role culture plays in their workplaces, and the results offer powerful evidence of its significance, both today and going forward.

No Doubt: Culture is Crucial
Exactly how important is workplace culture to job seekers? According to Rocki Basel, PhD, a senior researcher at SHRM, the answer is simple: very. “We asked working Americans what the three most important factors were when accepting a job (excluding salary and benefits), and the top three answers were stability of the company, long-term potential for career growth and organizational culture fit,” she says. “So, we know workplace culture is something that candidates are considering when selecting a workplace.”

As Basel notes, employers seem to be catching up to those priorities, seemingly spurred on by the growing emphasis workers are placing on culture. “Prior to the pandemic, 38 percent of working Americans used the word ‘adaptable’ as one of the top three words to describe their organization. Fifteen months into the pandemic, 45 percent rank it as one of their top three adjectives,” she says. This shift may be unsurprising due to the pressure that the pandemic put on organizations to become more flexible, but for job seekers, it’s a welcome change nonetheless.

It’s difficult to overstate how critical these kinds of improvements to culture can be, especially in the spa industry, where staffing is already a significant challenge. The so-called great resignation that has seen millions leave their jobs during the pandemic in search of greater flexibility, better pay or a more attractive work-life balance, and a huge portion of them work in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes spas and other related businesses. In April 2021 alone, nearly three-quarters of a million people who quit their jobs worked in leisure and hospitality.

Though not every employee who leaves their job does so because of a bad workplace culture, Basel notes that a bad culture significantly increases the likelihood that good employees will seek out other opportunities: “We found that over half of working Americans (52 percent), have thought about leaving their organization,” she said, “and, when we focus on working Americans who rate their culture as poor or very poor, we find that 78 percent indicated that they have thought about leaving their organization.”

At a time when employee retention is among spa leaders’ highest priorities, these figures should leave no doubt that developing a strong workplace culture is critical to reducing turnover by preventing the sorts of frustrations that may lead employees to consider other opportunities.

Managing Workplace Culture
Developing an effective, desirable culture is not as simple as flipping a switch, of course. Indeed, dozens of factors contribute to a workplace’s culture, and it can sometimes be challenging for spa leaders to know which aspects to prioritize, given their often limited time and resources. SHRM’s research provides some clarity. “Spa leaders should think about the importance of people managers,” says Rocki Basel. “We found that more than half (53 percent) of working Americans who indicated that they have left a job due to workplace culture in the last five years did so because of their relationship with their manager.”

This statistic makes it clear that good relationships between employees and their managers are key to retention. In theory, that knowledge should make it easier for spas and resource partners to keep good employees, but as Basel points out, there are often sizable gaps between the way that managers view their relationships with employees and the way that employees feel about those relationships. “Working Americans notice that their people manager doesn’t always encourage a culture of open and transparent communication, even though the managers think they do,” Basel explains. “Ninety-five percent of people managers agree that they encourage a culture of open and transparent communication, yet 27 percent of working Americans do not think that their manager encourages a culture of open and transparent communication.”

Obviously, that kind of gap in perception can lead to trouble. Because the relationships between managers and those who report to them are so useful in predicting employee satisfaction, Basel advises organizations to invest in leadership training to give people managers the best chance at building solid working relationships with their teams. “More than one in four people managers (26 percent) indicated that their workplace doesn’t provide leadership training,” says Basel. “With such a large number of employees indicating that their relationship with their manager drove them to leave a job, it only makes sense to provide people managers the opportunity to learn about how to be a great leader.”

Whatever training leaders receive, it is especially important that it offers sound guidance on effective communication because of its outsized impact on employees’ perception of workplace culture. A significant majority of those who say their workplace culture has improved since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic cite communication as the reason why. Conversely, 51 percent of Americans whose workplace culture has worsened during the pandemic point to poor communication— ahead of changes to their workload—as the top reason why.

Different Perspectives
Of the groups SHRM surveyed, working Americans were the least likely to indicate that their workplace culture has improved since the pandemic began, while a much higher percentage of executives (72 percent) said the same. For their part, 38 percent of people managers and 21 percent of HR professionals reported an improved workplace culture in that timeframe. As with the gap between workers and managers regarding communication practices, these starkly different viewpoints on the progress organizations have made regarding culture may indicate a cause for concern.

If executives believe that workplace culture is improving, but other members of their organization do not, it may be likely that the disconnect will lead to the same levels of employee dissatisfaction and turnover that have persisted throughout the pandemic. Improving communication, as noted above, can go a long way toward getting leadership and other employees on the same page. One effective way to strengthen communication between these groups is to hold regular, informal stay interviews to determine where employees could use more support or what career path they envision for themselves. Even an old-fashioned idea or suggestion box specifically dedicated to issues that affect workplace culture could be another good way to break down communication barriers and bring important issues to executives’ attention. Finding methods of communication that work for your team is crucial for every group in your spa or business. After all, as Basel says, “Although executives might be the most optimistic about their workplace culture during the pandemic, I think it’s more important to note that everyone agrees that communication was the catalyst behind that improvement”.

Work can also be done on the front end, of course, to minimize the likelihood of a bad cultural fit between business and employee, notes Basel. “HR professionals understand the importance of hiring the right candidate for the organization,” she says. “Eighty-five percent of HR professionals agree that workplace cultural fit is an integral part of their hiring strategy and 95% agree that it is important to choose a candidate who shares the company’s values.”

For the spa industry, a dearth of qualified candidates in many areas may bring the old adage “beggars can’t be choosers” to mind, but there are ways to increase the likelihood of a good fit without enlarging the available talent pool. “One way that companies can recruit candidates who will fit the organizational culture is to advertise their values in job ads,” Basel says. Because employees place such value on that fit, it’s wise to leave no doubt as to the kind of employee most likely to flourish in your spa or business’s existing culture.

Of course, that last sentence is only true if the culture you’ve built is clearly defined. But even if your organization’s culture is still a work in progress, being honest about that during the hiring process (and emphasizing to your strongest candidates that they can be a part of building a better culture) can be an early way to establish that transparency of communication that so many workers find so important.

If developing a stellar workplace culture were easy, then everyone would do it. Even spa industry businesses that had a strong culture prior to the pandemic may have seen things change over these last 18 or so months. SHRM’s research indicates that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of HR professionals agree that maintaining workplace culture has been more difficult during the pandemic. Nevertheless, its importance cannot be doubted, and those who want to minimize employee turnover and other staffing challenges should do everything in their power to improve it wherever they can.

THOUGH A POOR WORKPLACE CULTURE AFFECTS EVERYONE, SHRM’s research found that women and non-white racial groups felt the effects more keenly. “Our research found that people who identify as Black are most likely to indicate that they leave work feeling exhausted,” says Rocki Basel, PhD. Not only were Black Americans (76 percent) more likely than Hispanic (58 percent) and white workers (54 percent) to leave work exhausted, but they were also more likely to report that workplace culture makes it difficult to balance work and home commitments (51 percent) compared to their white colleagues (26 percent).

Similarly, 64 percent of women reported being exhausted when they leave work, compared to just over half (54 percent) of men, and 36 percent of women agree that their workplace culture makes them irritable at home, compared to only 25 percent of men.

“These differences mean that there is work to be done to create an effective workplace culture for everyone,” Basel says. “Organizations need to examine the employee life cycle to find and eliminate bias.”