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Cultural Symbols That Make or Break Employee Engagement

We’ve all been there. You walk into a store’s dressing room and see the following warning in big, bold letters: “Shoplifters will be prosecuted!”

No doubt, the intent of the sign is to deter potential shoplifters from stealing. Yet, I wonder if leadership considered how customers and employees might assimilate this insinuating message. Will shoppers wonder if store leaders trust them? Does the message negatively impact a customer’s beliefs about the business? In my experiences, the sign doesn’t give me a warm, inviting feeling. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s these kinds of tangible symbols that reflect the embedded values and beliefs of an organization. If your goal is to improve employee engagement, you must pay attention to the environmental clues around your building and make sure they align with the values leadership is preaching. When leaders recognize a “disconnect” between organizational values and visible symbols, they can make changes that align symbols with values.

What messages are the cultural symbols in your building conveying? Here’s a checklist of things to observe and assess. Use it the next time you walk through your facility and consider the potential messages these organizational symbols are communicating to employees.

  • Employee break room: Is it inviting and conducive to helping employees relax and renew? What does it say about the value you place on employees?
  • Employee bulletin board: Are materials dated or current? Is the information motivating or discouraging?
  • Tools and supplies: Are resources easily accessible? Or do employees have to take valuable time to find them?
  • Employee orientation: Are materials easily readable, clean, and presented in an organized way?
  • Restrooms: Are employee (or visitor) restrooms clean and well-maintained? Or does it appear as though a tornado came through a few minutes ago?
  • Experiences: What do employees notice the most about your organization? Ask new employees about their experience working in your facility.

As you start to think through this experiment, the dots will likely connect and you’ll start to see how environmental factors play an important role in the engagement of your employees. While no one thing tells the whole story about your culture, when combined, they represent the value you place on employees. Consequently, these cultural symbols certainly impact employee engagement. For an organization focused on improving engagement, it is in your best interest to reflect on the messages your cultural symbols are communicating.

Read More: The importance of culture and employee engagement

June 19, 2017