Rise in Attrition:Is Work Culture Responsible?

Where causes of increased attrition in organisations are concerned, issues like remuneration or work atmosphere are slowly being replaced by external factors as the cause for increased attrition as the economy transforms itself into a services-oriented one. What are these? What should a manager do to overcome these? To understand such issues, read the following article.

A highly qualified management graduate from one of India’s reputed institutes was always overlooked during promotions at a leading Engineering firm. He rarely accompanied his colleagues on their weekend recreation activities.
A gifted copywriter bid goodbye to a satisfying advertising job because she was treated like a pariah. She always refused offers to accompany her colleagues for movies and dinners.

A talented market researcher, who had a bright career ahead of him, left a very good job with a leading firm because he could not blend with the other employees. He was from a small town and the others were socialites.

Welcome to the actual world where work culture has got more to do with what happens outside the workspace and less within.

Organisations are made or broken depending on what they consider priorities. While profitability fuelled ambitions in the fifties, quality determined fate in the seventies, the customer was king in the eighties and employees are now acknowledged as an organisation’s true assets.

Today one can see a change in the mindset of organisations with respect to employee relationship management with organisations across the world conducting employee satisfaction surveys regularly. Among other parameters of evaluation, work culture has begun to play a major role in determining employee satisfaction.

Surprisingly, today, compensation and rewards are no longer the bones of contention. Rather issues such as ‘Work culture’ determine the level of comfort an employee experiences and this in turn determines the strength of loyalty and commitment. It influences the decision of the employee while recommending the company to a prospect. In simple terms it determines whether working in that organisation is a pleasure or a pain.

Definitions & manifestations – the whats and how’s of work culture
A host of terms could be used to describe work culture – camaraderie, teamwork, cooperation, coordination and so on. All these definitions are not only right but also underline the contemporary definition of work culture.

The eagerness with which team members work with each other; the smoothness with which colleagues adapt to each other’s work styles; the ease with which contentious issues are prevented or addressed are all instances of work culture in practice.
While what ‘work culture’ embodies and how it is defined is to a large extent subject to individual assessment, what can be unanimously accepted is that ‘Work culture’ is acknowledged as a parameter with far-reaching effects on employee morale and company image.

‘Work culture’ – Hygiene factor or Motivation factor?
At this juncture, it would really be worth considering where ‘Work culture’ figures in Fredrick Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivation Factor theory. Hygiene factors are those whose absence lead to dissatisfaction and results in lack of motivation among employees. Herzberg lists company policies, administration, working conditions, interpersonal relations, salary and security as hygiene factors. It is easy to see that presence of hygiene factors only ensures that employees are not dissatisfied. Presence of hygiene factors does not necessarily ensure delight or motivation among employees. Common motivation factors on the other hand are those whose presence result in motivated employees. Motivation factors are achievement, recognition, additional responsibility and growth. Presence of motivation factors in the absence of hygiene factors could yet result in dissatisfaction.

From what we understand about ‘work culture’, it is clearly a hygiene factor, a factor, which to reiterate is fundamental in (hygiene) that it determines the level of satisfaction among employees, a factor, which if is not monitored and managed can lead to disastrous consequences with regard to employee morale and loyalty.

Metamorphosis of workspaces
The last few decades have been witness to changes in organisational structure and group dynamics. Typical hierarchical structures were modified and the emergence of ‘flat’ organisations became the norm. Top management became more approachable and accessible to the lower rungs of the pecking order. Management and leadership discarded the disciplinarian ‘Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty’ approach and adopted a milder ‘Captain Ricky Ponting’ approach. ‘Sirs’ and ‘Ma’ams’ gave way to first-name addresses. The way we work today would surely give the aristocratic stiff- upper- lip British a shock.

Suddenly teamwork is no longer an eight-letter word relegated to the depths of HR textbooks, it has witnessed a paradigm shift in the way group dynamics was being evaluated and measured. The focus has gradually shifted from being result oriented to effort oriented and employee interaction has risen in precedence.

This emphasis on teamwork has had an impact on various functions of the company such as recruitment and employee performance evaluation.

A worker today is evaluated more in terms of whether he ‘belongs’ as against whether he ‘delivers’…

Work environment dynamics more than ever before are being set at the cigarette shop across the street and not at the work desk… Team ‘spirit’ is being measured more in terms of the participation at the local pub and less in terms of a worker’s eagerness to get done with the job and go home early…

A quick survey among professionals in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi has shown that ‘hanging out’ and ‘chilling out’ is no longer college speak. These are popular means of getting along well with one’s colleagues and accepted means of advancing one’s career in a firm.
This phenomenon is increasingly being observed in India’s fastest growing sector – the Service Industry. Call centres, Advertising agencies, Media houses, Consultancies, Software companies are only a few of the plethora of companies that have been afflicted with the “corporate peer pressure”. Even in traditional industries such as Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing the management cadre is highly prone to this unfortunate syndrome.

Dictums for the Future
Without doubt, today it is very clear that office culture is increasingly being defined and evaluated outside the office. Teamwork and teamwork-spirit are losing their significance with respect to job duties and responsibilities alone. What are the questions facing corporates now?

  • Can they afford to lose qualified employees who don’t ‘belong’ to the culture of their colleagues?
  • Should corporates alienate capable and skilled colleagues who are incapable of socialising?

There is a need to study this phenomenon to ascertain its gravity. There is a need to take a fresh look at the new group dynamics that have entered the work place. What then, should the roles of new managers be?

Managers today would have to ensure that the college student mentality stays where it belongs and doesn’t enter the workplace. While it is always welcome to make the office a refreshing, interesting and lively place to be in, managers have to set the limits of informality and be able to differentiate between and redefine key result areas and productivity parameters.

Managers need to understand that there will still be some individuals who will continue working despite this issue. What needs to be analysed is to what extent is this loyalty dictated by helplessness and lack of other options and to what extent does job satisfaction rule the decision to stay. While it is clear how the former is detrimental to the organisation’s interest, managers need to pause and give a thought about how much longer a star employee will put up with the stress to “belong”.

The last word
The difficulty is of course understandable in getting along with introverts and recluses. But it would be criminal to force a colleague to ‘blend in’ in the name of being a ‘sport’. It is acknowledged that given the demands of the workplace and the stress that comes along with them, one would like to relax and unwind at the end of the day. But it would be unfair to assume that every employee would prefer to unwind in the same collective way. It is accepted that colleagues would like to socialise. But it would be unjust to compel someone to make an attempt to ‘belong’.

Many a hand would go up, many a voice would be raised in protest to the above statements. Many readers would disagree that they compelled an unwilling elitist colleague. Probably they are right. But the fact remains that once a colleague declines, for the rest of his stay in the office, the behaviour of others should not always be driven by his decision.

It is here that tomorrow’s managers have to step in and ensure that efficient employees are not being isolated and condemned by their teammates. Managers have to see to it that the ‘day after’ (a party or a movie), a non-participating employee is still treated as before – and that is on the basis of his performance in office and not outside it.

Finally, there is an old adage that says ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. But there are lot of skilled Jacks who would like to play alone. There are many efficient Jacks out there who would like to play with their families. There are many more sincere Jacks who have a life beyond the place of their livelihood. These Jacks need to be respected and allowed to be. These Jacks need to be respected and accepted as what they are – thorough professionals.

In the name of group dynamics, corporates should not end up compromising on productivity attributable to the attrition of a thorough professional who simply couldn’t fit in. Or else corporates should institutionalise formalised fora for interaction and exchange of thoughts and bonding.

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