(Article by Heidi Lynne Kurter originally appeared in Forbes)
One of the greatest challenges CEOs and HR professionals face today is changing the culture of the workplace. It’s no surprise the new generation of workers are disrupting the status quo and influencing the way we view diversity and create inclusive cultures. Yet, businesses are struggling to differentiate themselves from their competition.
Deloitte recently conducted a study focusing on the impact of organizational culture on one’s identity. The study found 27% of respondents admitted cultural expectation to extremely impact their loyalty and commitment to a company.
Companies and leaders are starting to recognize the impact company culture has on employee retention. HR professionals are centering their strategies on how they can shift away from traditional taboos and create inclusive cultures to retain top talent.
It’s crucial company leaders understand culture focuses on more than the appearance of an office alone. Self-expression comes in a myriad of ways from physical appearance to music choices and the way one decorates their office space.
Here are 2 ways companies are encouraging self-expression and embracing individual differences to create cultures of diversity.
Abandoning Traditional Taboos
Air New Zealand recently made headlines when they announced they are ditching their tattoo ban for all employees starting September 1st. Christopher Luxon, CEO of Air New Zealand, told BBC he was committed to liberating his employees across the company “to express individuality or cultural heritage” by proudly displaying their non-offensive tattoos while wearing their uniforms.
Tattoos have been the longest standing taboo in the workplace with the topic remaining controversial across businesses today. Pew Research Center surveyed 2,675 people and learned 76% of respondents feel tattoos hurt a candidate’s chance of being hired. However, the Harvard Business Review published an article with research conducted by the University of Miami debunking Pew’s initial research. Michael French surveyed more than 2,000 people throughout the U.S. and found those with tattoos were no less hirable for customer-facing jobs than those without.
Some estimate 40% of young adults have at least one tattoo today. As tattoos are becoming more prevalent, employers are forced to become more accepting. In a candidate-driven market, employers understand they risk losing out on quality candidates by discriminating against body art. Even the U.S. Marines allows recruits with visible tattoos as long as they’re not visible on their face or neck.
Empowering Through Autonomy
Culture isn’t only about appearance, it’s about creating a space for employees to make important decisions where they feel they’re contributing to the greater purpose of the company. One of the first challenges the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, tackled was reducing the auto manufacturers 10-page dress code policy into two simple words “dress appropriately.” This new dress code policy was the start of many organizational changes that have given employees the autonomy to make decisions and be accountable for the outcome.
Employees want to be seen and respected for their individuality, distinctive personalities and unique talents. Managers who empower their employees to be themselves at work lead to increased productivity, motivation and engagement. Leaders who take the time to build relationships with their employee’s experience stronger and more loyal bonds.
Successful relationships are built by getting to know employees on an individual level by learning something personal about them through their interests and better understanding their goals. Forbes contributor, Shep Hyken, said it best: “ Happier employees make happier customers .”
Sean Pour, co-founder of SellMax encourages his employees to decorate their office space with pictures, posters, murals, trophies and anything they want with the trust that it’ll be office appropriate. When speaking with him, he mentioned how the decorations create topics of conversations between customers and his team. He’s noticed this has created stronger relationships because it creates a point of common ground for clients to build relationships and relate to their employees seeing them more than just a salesperson.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania published a study by three top university professors from London Business School, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The study focused on comparing an individual’s personal identity with the identity of their employment relationships. Daniel M. Cable, Francesca Gino and Brad Staat found customers had better overall experiences with employees who have the freedom to work in their own way and are encouraged to openly express their personalities.
Minimalist working environments are found to be more harmful to productivity and happiness. Therefore, employers are recognizing the importance of creating happier workplaces to increase productivity and overall morale.
Limeade, an employee experience company, is a classic example of a company adamant about creating a culture of inclusion where employees feel comfortable to express their true, authentic selves. Lauren Franklin, head of inclusion, states “we strongly encourage people to express who they are and bring their authentic selves to work. In fact, we think that makes us better.”
Last year, the employee experience company launched an internal Diversity and Inclusion campaign called “Limeade Kaleidoscope.” This campaign encouraged each employee to share parts of themselves with a picture they felt best represented an aspect of their identity. This collage of diverse identities sparked true and meaningful conversations between employees leading to new perspectives and strengthened relationships.
Companies such as Zappos, Limeade and Air New Zealand are a few of many who are paving the way by giving their employees the freedom to express their cultural identities and embracing differences.