How Company Cultures Improve With Meaning and Care
“Talented people are attracted to those who care about them.” – Adam Grant
Something shifted in company cultures during the COVID pandemic. It wasn’t just a desire for flexibility, which is still up there with jobseekers. It was a reassessment of every aspect of an employee’s experience of their workplace culture.
As we showed our colleagues and peers our “human” side during lockdowns and Zoom calls, wellbeing became a natural part of our workplace conversation. That widened out so that wellbeing began to encompass, for many employees around the world, a need for autonomy, meaningful work, and a caring workplace.
Adam Grant, one of the world’s most renowned organisational psychologists and authors, wrote about the impact of all this on company culture in the Wall Street Journal.
“We started rethinking what we wanted from work,” said Grant. “Yes, people want to decide where they work, but they also want the freedom to decide who they work with, what they work on, and when they work.” (1)
Ahead of his in-person tour to Australia in early 2024 Adam Grant LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife, we look at why Adam Grant says real autonomy is having the freedom to choose your people, your purpose, and your priorities.
The Power of Meaning
As one of our favourite quotes by Adam Grant goes: “Your antidote to burnout is not necessarily less work. It could be more meaning.”
Grant's work often centres on the concept of meaning in the workplace. He argues that meaningful work not only leads to higher job satisfaction but also boosts employee engagement and productivity.
Grant's book Give and Take touches on the idea that when employees find purpose and meaning in their work, they become more invested in their tasks and tend to go the extra mile to contribute to the organisation's success.
This is a theme resonant with the All Blacks rugby team, transformed with 15 mantras to improve team culture.
Grant suggests that leaders can foster a sense of meaning by aligning employees' work with their values and passions. This involves acknowledging their unique strengths and allowing them to use those strengths to make a positive impact. It's about moving beyond the traditional model of simply trading time for pay and creating an environment where people genuinely believe in the mission of the organisation.
Cultivating a Culture of Care
In addition to meaning, Adam Grant emphasises the importance of care within workplace cultures.
“People are afraid of being vulnerable and of being a burden to others,” he writes in The New York Times. “They want to look competent and self-reliant. To make sure people get the support they need, it helps to remind them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a source of weakness."(2)
“Focus attention and energy on making a difference in the lives of others, and success might follow as a by-product," he says.
Grant's wish for workplace cultures is to prioritise care, recognising that employees are not just assets but human beings with complex lives outside of work. This includes offering mental health resources, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding.
Understanding Workplace Culture
Workplace culture, also referred to as company culture or working culture, encompasses the shared values, beliefs, practices, and norms that shape the work environment within an organisation.
As you can see from Adam Grant’s wish for workplace culture, it goes beyond mere buzzwords and slogans, permeating every aspect of an employee's experience.
A strong workplace culture can be a significant asset, while a toxic work culture can have detrimental effects on both employees and the company.
The Impact of Toxic Workplace Culture
One of Adam Grant's key insights centre on the dangers of a toxic workplace culture. In fact he includes toxicity in his 4 Deadly Sins of Work Culture.
Generally, toxic cultures arise when psychological safety is low or absent.
Toxicity can manifest in various forms, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, and excessive stress. In such an environment, employee morale plummets, turnover rates rise, and productivity suffers.
The negative ripple effects can be far-reaching, impacting not only individual well-being but also the company's reputation and bottom line.
Building a Positive Workplace Culture
To counteract the negative impacts of toxic workplace culture, Adam Grant emphasises the importance of cultivating a positive workplace culture.
A positive workplace culture is one that promotes trust, collaboration, and well-being among its members. It encourages open communication, values diversity, and prioritises employee development and growth.
Creating an Inclusive Work Environment
Inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of a positive workplace culture. An inclusive work environment ensures that every employee, regardless of their background or identity, feels welcome and valued.
Adam Grant's research highlights that diverse teams tend to be more innovative and adaptable, making inclusivity a key driver of success in today's competitive business environment.
Adapting to the Hybrid Work Culture
In recent years, the rise of remote and hybrid work arrangements has presented new challenges and opportunities for workplace culture.
Adam Grant acknowledges the need for organisations to adapt to this changing landscape. Leaders must find ways to maintain a positive workplace culture, even when team members are geographically dispersed.
This might involve embracing technology for virtual collaboration, setting clear expectations, and fostering a sense of belonging among remote workers.
Types of Work Culture
Workplace culture can vary widely from one organisation to another. Some common types of work culture include:
- Collaborative Culture: This culture emphasises teamwork, open communication, and a collective approach to problem-solving.
- Innovative Culture: Organisations with an innovative culture prioritise creativity, experimentation, and a willingness to take risks.
- Customer-Centric Culture: Companies with a customer-centric culture (as Amazon famously attests to being) put customers at the centre of everything they do, focusing on delivering exceptional service and products.
- Results-Driven Culture: In this culture, the primary focus is on achieving measurable results and meeting performance targets.
- Learning Culture: Learning cultures encourage continuous development and growth, with a strong emphasis on training and skill-building.
- Inclusive Culture: An inclusive culture values diversity and fosters an environment where everyone feels heard and respected.
Take a look at your own culture, what is the "theme" in your workplace culture right now?
Cultivating a Good Work Culture
Creating a good work culture requires a proactive and ongoing effort from leaders and employees alike. Adam Grant advocates for leaders to lead by example, embodying the values and behaviours they want to see in their teams.
Additionally, organisations should regularly solicit feedback from employees and make data-driven improvements to the culture.
In Adam Grant's view, the ideal company culture is one that strikes a balance between productivity and well-being. It promotes a sense of purpose and belonging while encouraging innovation and growth. An ideal culture is able to adapt to changing circumstances and be resilient in the face of challenges, all the while remembering the needs and wishes of the people at the heart of the organisation.
1. Adam Grant, The Real Meaning of Freedom at Work, October 8, 2021 “Wall Street Journal.”
2. Adam Grant, Burnout Isn’t Just in Your Head. It’s in Your Circumstances, 2023, The New York Times Company
See Adam Grant in person in 2024
Don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast, with some sections already sold out.
About Adam Grant
Adam Grant is a renowned organisational psychologist, bestselling author, and global influencer. As Wharton's top-rated professor for seven consecutive years, his expertise in motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking has made him a leading authority in his field.
His five New York Times bestselling books Think Again, Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves have resonated with millions of readers in 45 languages. His latest book is Hidden Potential.
With hugely successful TED talks and his TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking, plus a substantial social media following and popular monthly newsletter, Adam Grant is one of the world's most inspiring thinkers and speakers.
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