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As more organizations debate the merits of returning to the office and contend with the Great Resignation ravaging their teams, strategy quickly turns to perks as a tool to lure staffers back. Whether that’s relaxing hangout areas, snacks or even completely new office space, the idea of trophy offices is quickly gaining traction. 

However, the reality is that this focus on perks is likely causing organizations to miss the actual cause of their rising resignation rates – bad culture.

Is the Age of Perks Over?

Office perks are not a new concept. They have often been a way to attract talent and range from the subtle snacks in the kitchen to the ostentatious massages and gourmet meals from Google. For years, these perks have had a stranglehold on the modern workplace and helped keep workers motivated and complacent. 

But for many organizations, those perks were likely hiding a bigger problem. Tom Gimbel, founder & CEO of LaSalle Network, says, “Don’t get me wrong, perks are great, but if there are beanbag chairs and no one likes each other, that doesn’t accomplish much.”

And to complicate matters even further, the pandemic turned office perks on their head once workers could no longer access them. Instead, it helped them realize that there was plenty of satisfaction to be found outside of the office, that office perks were potentially harming work-life balance and that staffers needed more from their employers. 

Toxic Culture’s Impact on Staffers

So if perks can no longer keep your staffers’ attention, what are they left with? Potentially problematic and toxic work environments. 

According to an MIT Sloan Management Review study, “a toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation.” Additionally, while many may think that the industry has an impact (and in some cases, such as retail, it does), culture was often the significant difference between companies in similar industries with a disparity in attrition rates. 

“Not surprisingly, companies with a reputation for a healthy culture, including Southwest Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and LinkedIn, experienced lower-than-average turnover during the first six months of the Great Resignation,” the study continued.  

The Signals of Toxic Work Environments

So how can organizations determine if they have a toxic work culture? It starts with self-reflection and identifying warning signs, including:

  • Constant office drama
  • People aren’t really excited to be there
  • Everyone blames each other
  • Stress levels are extremely high
  • No one ever asks for help
  • Leaders lead with fear 

Many of the signs above can be qualified as “jerk behavior” and can have lasting effects not only on your staff but the reputation of your organization too. 

5 Ways to Create Good Work Culture

“When your company has good perks but a toxic culture, you create a golden-handcuffs situation where employees only join for the perks,” says Mohammad Anwar for Forbes. “Then, they realize how terrible the culture is, but they don’t want to leave because they’ve grown used to the benefits.”  

So how can associations find the balance between perks and culture? 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Retaining Talent Learn More >

It starts with a concerted effort to disrupt an environment that has likely been the “norm” for years. 

1. Invest in employee training 

In the last few years, a focus area for just about everyone has been professional development. As associations, education is already a value you’re likely providing to members, so why not shift to your staffers? Investing in employee training helps your staff and organization by creating an environment for new ideas and a leadership track for staffers. 

2. Open lines of communication

One of the most significant issues with understanding what problems there are in your organization is a lack of communication. While you should always be doing your part to check-in, staffers also need to feel like they can openly communicate without fear of retaliation or discrimination. 

Whether this is an anonymous poll, routine check-ins or even a town hall-type meeting, associations should focus on becoming transparent and working on being comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

3. Don’t ignore burnout 

Stress levels are on the rise, and it may be one of the leading causes of burnout in your association. While there are limits to how big your staff can be, that doesn't mean staffers should be overworked. 

If your staff is voicing concerns about being overworked or stressed, listen and look for solutions. Whether that means moving deadlines, hiring additional staff or building a team so tasks don’t fall on only one person, addressing stress before it turns into burnout can mean the difference when battling attrition. 

4. Build leaders 

Because managers and leadership often have the most significant impact on staffer’s day to day, ensuring the right people are in place is vital. That means routinely checking in and making sure they’re doing things correctly and treating staff appropriately. 

Additionally, all associations should be investing in leadership training and mentorship programs that create compassionate leaders. Whether we realize it or not, there are leaders at every level in your organization, and finding them is key to a healthy work culture. 

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5. Support staff in and out of the office 

While many staffers want to keep their office and personal lives separate, there is still an opportunity for a more nurturing culture. In an article for Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran suggests that leaders need to take the time to learn more about their staff as this can identify opportunities to empower them. 

“If an employee is passionate about writing but doesn’t get to do much of it in their current position, a manager might offer to send that person to a writing class instead of a traditional conference,” she said.  

Perks + Culture = Retention

Again, perks are never a bad thing. They help your employees feel more relaxed and appreciated, but they can’t be the only thing your organization provides. Focusing on developing an innovative and nurturing culture can go a long way to keep your staffers happy and your organization growing. 

Implementing things like an educational program and leadership tracks for your staffers can help them feel invested in your organization and empowered by it. Additionally, addressing the signals of toxic behavior can keep things moving in the right direction while signaling to your staffers that culture is a top priority.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
April 12, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.