How to achieve an employee-centered culture

Company culture is a hot topic right now. In my experience, there is a substantial difference between saying you have a great employee culture and having one in real life. Our company, like most, has many different departments, and, like most, we found that camaraderie was fine inside a department but between departments it was lacking. When issues arose, an us-against-them mentality came out, which was contrary to what we had hoped for. We had our once-a-year holiday party and a summer picnic on occasion, but even at these events individuals tended to cluster together with the co-workers inside their department.

I hear quite often that employees don’t leave their job, they leave their manager. Feeling like you are a part of the overall team is a critical component of employee job satisfaction. Being a leader, I know that self-discovery is the most effective way of teaching. Our leadership team decided to embrace building morale from an inside-out approach and asked our employees to build the morale themselves. Thus, our Sunshine Committee was created.

The Sunshine Committee is made up of eight employees from all different departments. The committee meets once a month to strategize, plan, and prepare employee-engagement opportunities. Each seat on the committee is a two-year commitment. After two years, the employee gives up their seat so another employee can serve. Those in a leadership role are not allowed to serve on the committee, as this is an employee-led initiative. After they serve for two years, they must be off the committee for at least 12 months before they are able to volunteer to rejoin. We have staggered when committee seats turn over so there are always people on the committee who know what’s in the works. Two employees who are in their second year step up to serve as chair and co-chair of the committee.

We realize that not every person is going to enjoy or want to participate in every activity. We all have different interests and passions, so the committee is encouraged to plan a wide variety of activities. The committee receives a budget from the company for events, and we also hold a sample sale each year and the proceeds from the sale support the committee activities.

Some events are small, like walking around on a hot summer day with popsicles. Some events are bigger, such as our opening day potluck to kick off the spring. We host a chili cook off each fall and a baking competition in March with brackets, just like the college basketball tournament. Around homecoming time, we get into the spirit of competition with theme days and a penny drive, with employees separated into four teams, each led by a member of the leadership team with all the proceeds going to a committee-selected charity. Lastly, each year our president hosts a holiday party for all employees and guests to show appreciation for all that the employees do to make the company successful.

Since moving the planning and execution of employee events to the hands of the employees, we have found participation has risen and barriers between departments are falling. Overall, employees are getting to know each other (both at the events but also through serving on the committee). We have found that we have a happier workplace where teamwork isn’t just something we say we want, it’s something we live each day.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.