5 Expert Tips to Navigate HR Challenges and Forge a Thriving Company Culture

 Employee looks disengaged from his work
If the idea of refining your company's environment has you feeling overwhelmed, consider this: each challenge presents a unique chance to reshape and elevate the culture, ultimately leading to a more thriving business.

Changing company culture Employee Experience

Feeling disenchanted about improving your workplace culture? Turn obstacles into an opportunity to foster a better company culture and more successful business.

Creating a positive company culture can seem like a daunting task. Lack of buy-in, budget constraints, and competing priorities can all make the process overwhelming.

According to our research, a great workplace is one where employees trust the people they work for, have pride in their work, and enjoy the people they work with.

A strong company culture is a catalyst for improving employee retention and fueling innovative thinking. When working with employers, we consistently hear about these five pervasive challenges.

Fortunately, our new research on overcoming common HR challenges to cultivate a company culture offers precise strategies to address these issues and pave the way for a thriving workplace environment:

1. Obstacle: I don’t have time

While building trust does take time, the results will be worth it — for your employees and for you. Investing in people pays off in productivity and loyalty, as high-trust cultures have half the turnover of their competitors and see accelerated rates of innovation.

In our 2023 study, we found that workplaces that earned Great Place To Work Certified™ status — a certification only granted after meeting stringent employee experience benchmarks — had only half the turnover of the average U.S. workplaces. This is even more striking in the hospitality sector, a field where the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 69% turnover rate; in contrast, Certified workplaces average a 20% turnover.

Imagine the savings in costs and recruitment time if you could halve your turnover rate.

The bottom line is that companies that invest in their workers deliver stronger financial results over the long term. 

Solution: Reward new habits with praise, bonuses, and other forms of appreciation.

Powerful changes in company culture don’t necessarily require more time, just small shifts in habits. Encourage positivity and thank employees for their good work.

Hilton recognized team members with their Hilton’s Heard at Hilton social media campaign, which shares inspiring messages from guests around the world so employees could see first-hand the impact they were making.

Recognition programs encourage team members to recognize their peers. But Capital One’s Spot Awards also awards points that can be redeemed for gift cards or cash. And people managers are notified each time a team member is recognized.

Use the time you have in the workplace strategically and dedicate one lunchtime a week to meet with your team or people one-on-one. A more informal setting helps you get to know each other and gives you space to voice your appreciation of them.

Saying “thank you” takes only seconds, but its positive impact lasts much longer.

2. Obstacle: My operating environment is too different

Many issues are not as unique to an industry as you might think. One thing your business has in common with other industries is people. At the heart of creating a positive company culture is ensuring your employees feel a sense of meaning, belonging, and value.

Whether yours is an international IT company or a healthcare start-up, our research shows that meaningful work will drive retention among your employees — across all industries and generations.

Solution: Keep an open mind to new ideas and solutions.

Avoid defaulting to thoughts such as, “that would never work here.” Instead, observe what other companies are doing to cultivate a thriving company culture.

At times, your environment can be an obstacle. With hybrid working, flex hours, and globally integrated teams, bonding over the water cooler is more of a challenge.

Jess Ramos, a learning and development team manager at NVIDIA Corporation solved the problem of engaging remote teams through “Friendship Fridays,” where colleagues hop on a group call for a virtual catch-up, including folks outside their immediate team.

Rocket Companies understands that sometimes you must stop working on everyday tasks to innovate. The Detroit-based fintech company introduced Hack Week, a week every quarter when teams meet to look at ideas in a new way and create prototypes. Some of the projects that have come out of Hack Week included rethinking passwords, a better way for clients to get their tax transcripts, and a way to give partners better visibility into the loan process.

Soliciting ideas from every level of your workforce can help solve unique industry challenges and foster a culture where employees feel valued and heard.

3. Obstacle: It’s not the right time

Mergers, layoffs, and global events can create uncertainty in the workplace. However, they can also be an opportunity for positive change. Great Place To Work’s research into these five most common challenges to a thriving company culture shows that when leaders foster trusting relationships, employees are better able to embrace change.

A period of disruption is not only the perfect time to reinforce company culture, it’s the right time to listen to your employees, address their fears, and outline next steps.

Solution: Communicate with and check in on employees, ad hoc and with surveys.

Caring people leaders understand the importance of surveying employees during a time of crisis or change. Some of the ways listening to employees can benefit businesses include:

  • Unmasking hidden concerns
  • Decoding resistance to change
  • Informing strategic decisions
  • Building trust

During the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, DHL continued to actively seek feedback from its employees, illustrating the benefits of ongoing communication in maintaining a positive company culture despite disruptions and layoffs.

Responding to a survey question asking what they would change about DHL, one UK employee noted little room for improvement, stating:

“Very little, as the company regularly asks for feedback and continually asks, 'Is DHL still a great place to work?' And the answer is: yes, it is. DHL has done an amazing job during this pandemic in keeping us all up to date and safe.”

This feedback underscores the positive impact of DHL's persistent efforts to foster a responsive and supportive work environment even in the midst of a global crisis.

4. Obstacle: My employees aren’t on board

While managing people is rewarding, it’s not without its challenges. If you’re struggling with a team that’s disengaged, the best path forward is to re-examine your approach, and then look for creative ways to rebuild trust.

In our experience, companies who respond to employee feedback and take at least one action on the most important issue build a sense of trust that employees can continue to expect to be heard.

Solution: Listen to employees and help them see the value of creating a great workplace.

Employees never get tired of feeling heard and understood. Our research shows the best workplaces share similar practices in implementing employee listening strategies:

  • Leverage employee resource groups and committees
  • Ensure authentic follow-up on employee feedback
  • Create engagement through multiple channels 
  • Send periodic employee engagement surveys

Texas Health Resources, Inc., understood that listening to their employees was vital to their business. The organization talked with more than 150 employees across its hospitals and physician clinics to ask, “What gets in your way of creating a phenomenal experience?”

From that, the company identified more than 400 pain points, classified them into 160 unique pain points, and then prioritized 42 of those to work on over the next three years to improve its care team experience.

Veterans United Home Loans helped to provide opportunities for confidence-building in employees so if someone has an opinion contrary to the crowd, they can find their voice and feel comfortable knowing that speaking their mind is valued and appreciated.

5. Obstacle: My boss isn’t interested

Unfortunately, not all leaders immediately see the value of creating a thriving company culture. Or if they do, they don’t see it as critical to running the business. However, according to 2023 research from FTSE Russell, companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list outperform the market by a factor of 3.36.

If the math doesn’t sway management, you can always start with your own department.

Solution: Focus on what you can change, not what you can’t

In every organization, there are departments, divisions, and locations where employees enjoy a great workplace experience. Start cultivating a pocket of greatness within your company by adopting these practices:

  • Create a strong sense of identity in your department
  • Adopt a healthy mindset that treats cognitive obstacles as issues to be overcome
  • Use whatever power and position you have to build a supportive environment
  • Lead by example and use your influence to inspire employees

Sheetz, Inc., helped build a supportive environment by creating “Show the Love” kits for its stores with thank-you cards, posters, celebration pins, and appreciation coupons to recognize outstanding efforts. Posters are used to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries and have plenty of space for co-workers to sign and add personal messages — a common and beloved practice among their employees.

This is an example of a program that doesn’t need executive buy-in and can be implemented at the team level. Stay focused on those things that you can influence — in time, your sphere of influence will increase and open doors that were once closed.

Get Great Place To Work’s white paper on how to overcome common HR challenges to learn more strategies for creating a thriving company culture.

Claire Hastwell