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Julie Cameron

DRIVE Engagement

Managing Director

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Why you should not cut your engagement and culture budgets in the current climate

Now is the time to take stock and looking at how to build back better.

Times are tough, budgets are tight and business uncertainty is at an all-time high. As a result, many organisations may be inclined to cut certain functions within their business to reduce their overall costs. Rather unfortunately however, some of the first functions that are typically reduced in organisations consist of marketing, training, employee engagement and the company culture budget. In my opinion, cutting these functions could just about be one of the worst things a company can do right now.

Organisations should see employee engagement and company culture as fundamental tools to ensure longer-term survival and success.

A knee jerk reaction to cut these functions may well free up some cash in the short term, but it is likely to do far more harm long term to a business. In fact, the way a firm manages their cost decisions now will determine how well they sustain performance during this crisis and indeed, emerge from it.

In this article I will contend that during these difficult times, it is essential to focus on longer term rational strategies that will sustain a business and ensure the longevity of their most important asset – it’s people. Now is the time for companies to double-down on their commitment to the health, wellbeing and engagement of their people.

Responsibility is in the limelight

The pandemic has bought forward a more responsible behavioural shift when it comes to organisations looking after both their employees, and of course, their customers. In fact, delivering on the mental and physical wellbeing of team members and more notably, ensuring that the end customer sees this is paramount. Research backs this up too. In a recent report by Gobeyond Partners and Webhelp, 78% of directors believed that customers are paying more attention to responsible business practices since the pandemic.

It’s no different for employees. They want to work for purposeful firms who do good, firms who treat their people well and that deliver a great culture alongside learning experiences. With 52% of workers admitting that company value and culture were their top influences when accepting a job in the current climate – even behind compensation at 61% – it’s clear that organisations need to stop thinking of employee engagement as an expense or indeed a fluffy bolt on. Instead, organisations should see employee engagement and company culture as fundamental tools to ensure longer-term survival and success.

Inclusive engagement

Now is the time for businesses to focus on techniques to give all employees a real voice and allow them to find solutions to the everyday problems they face themselves and as a team. Finding improvement themes, efficiencies and cost savings should be the responsibility of every employee.

By providing structured opportunities, a firm can provide all employees with greater autonomy to drive the company forward by collaboratively problem solving, rather than feeling like the company is pushing them along or worse, that they are unable to make a valid contribution. Not only will this engage each and every team member, it will give them greater confidence in their abilities and bring them closer together.

It will also improve the bottom line too as they find solutions to the everyday problems within the company that are so often missed by leadership. It’s this kind of real engagement that really is win/win too, because it continues to pay back year after year making it entirely free to implement.  

Keep culture front and centre

With everyone working from home, social distancing or indeed, on furlough, it’s easy for employees to start feeling cut off from their peers and line managers. This is especially true if these employees are used to working closely in an office or manufacturing environment. All the small interactions in a workplace often ladder up to create a culture and any minor impacts to this can make a real difference to employee motivation.

Regular communication is vital to give employees a sense of unity, more clarity around the wider business and reassure them. Maintaining morale and togetherness during this time will be paramount to foster a more resilient team and maintain an engaging culture long term.

Make something positive out of the crisis

In saying this I don’t in any way underestimate how terrible this time has been for many people, but there is something to be said for using this situation for good and bringing people together. In fact, by helping employees give meaning to this crisis and by making sense of it together, companies can build up employee resilience and foster greater team spirit. Not only this, but in doing so, organisations can also build up social capital with their people. They can use this time to truly connect their employees to their organisation and of course to each other too. Perhaps it is something we might not have been able to achieve pre-pandemic in the routine of everyday life or if it had been achieved would have taken a number of years.

In times of crisis, people turn to leaders to give them hope and certainty that this pain is only temporary, and they also turn to each other for moral support. Organisations that facilitate these things (hope, certainty and team collaboration) will maintain high engagement at a time when it is needed the most and they will likely benefit from it for a much longer time thereafter too.

Take stock, retool and build back better

Now is the time for businesses to really consider how they would like their ‘new normal’ to look and, quite frankly, retool and build back better. How a business resets is also a good opportunity to incorporate plans to reaffirm company values and work culture too. Traditional reward systems tend to fail to motivate and inspire employees long term and certainly what is required – now more than ever – is meaningful intrinsic motivation.

Providing an opportunity for employees to get involved in an activity designed to reinforce brand values and give fresh focus, will help reconnect teams and co-worker bonds, provide a little light relief from the inevitably more regimented way we’re all going to have to go about our daily roles and responsibilities and help to re-affirm business culture and drive employee engagement longer term.

There really is no better time for leadership teams to champion and instigate a stronger engagement mindset initiative and truly drive the work culture forward.

Interested in this topic? Read Culture transformation: changing behaviours in the post-pandemic workplace.

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Julie Cameron

Managing Director

Read more from Julie Cameron

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