Insights & Ideas

Culture shock: Rethinking workplace culture after COVID

Woman with glass of wine waving hello to computer

Workplace culture usually evolves subtly over time. Even when a company intentionally tries to update its culture, change usually takes a while to take root. But, 2020? That was cultural whiplash. Long-held company policies, expectations, and behaviors were upended faster than you could say, “I’ll take another quarantini.”


Workplace culture is at a crossroads

COVID didn’t just impact your company polices; it deeply impacted your employees. Their values, goals, and expectations are different now. Employees are armed with a whole new understanding of what’s possible in a workplace—from remote work and flexible schedules to DEI initiatives and mental health policies.

2020 forced employers to focus on employee needs—giving employees a bigger voice than ever before. Employees won’t be satisfied going back to the status quo. To keep employees engaged (and attract top talent) organizations need to find long-term ways for employees to participate in evolving the company culture.


Culture is innate and ever evolving

Culture is how people in a group behave and interact with each other. Even if a company advertises specific cultural values, a lot about a company culture goes unsaid. People just feel it. Psychologists say we respond to cultural cues instinctively—almost instantaneously understanding what’s acceptable or not. And, to make things more complicated, culture is constantly changing as the organization and its employees react to ideas, events, and challenges they face.


Culture is a balance

Although it might seem hard to wrangle, you can create a healthy culture by finding the right balance between three major factors:

  • Company strategy and direction: Leaders used to focus exclusively on strategy to drive culture. But, as management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While a compelling strategic direction can energize the culture; when employees aren’t aligned with their leader’s vision, strategy can be a culture killer.
  • Company purpose and values: During the past decade, mission, purpose, and values have taken center stage as guardians and guardrails of the culture. However, often employees see values as just words on the wall, instead of living values in action.
  • The employees’ voice: Now, in 2021, it’s the employees’ time to shine. Culture has always been inseparable from employees, but now they know it. They want a say in company strategy and they want to see how company values can evolve along with employee priorities.

All three factors are important to a healthy culture and healthy company. Elevating the importance of the employee voice doesn’t make strategy, purpose, and values obsolete—it makes them better.


The key is to keep listening

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we need to keep listening to each other. When both employers and employees have a willingness to listen—and really hear each other—companies (and their cultures) will soar.

At Salo, we empower people and companies to do purposeful work by matching senior HR, finance, and accounting experts with organizations that need their help (on a contingent, project, or permanent basis). Contact us to learn more.

Colleen Frankwitz

Colleen Frankwitz

Talent Connections Director

LinkedIn