Financial meagerness cripples company culture, here’s how
One of the most critical features of a deliberate and healthy company culture is also one of the most difficult: Encouraging direct, objective dialogue across the organization, where every team member has the courage and encouragement to speak directly and candidly to anyone else at the organization on any topic relevant to the work to be done.
Ideally, with this kind of dialogue, the most junior team member would feel comfortable and empowered to objectively and respectfully challenge other team members regardless of title, including the CEO. This free flow of communication creates healthy tension and connection through dialogue that helps keep the organization from becoming stagnant, siloed, and stuck in echo chambers.
This level of candor in communication is naturally challenging for humans due to the deeply rooted self-preservation nature in our biology, where one of the core purposes of our midbrain function (where all emotion is managed) is focused on keeping us safe and out of harm’s way. Without any additional external factors, humans are already predisposed to avoid risks found in conflict, which is an inherent part of having candid communication.
When this already inherent resistance to risk is amplified by powerful external forces, it can make it highly improbable that necessary healthy dialogue is flowing within an organization, eventually leading to a stagnating and potentially sterile or toxic culture.
One of the most powerful, yet often unrecognized external forces is personal financial meagerness within an organization’s workforce. If the people operating within a company are struggling financially, the fear of losing their livelihood in response to challenging the status quo or challenging an influential team member will make it almost certain that they will keep quiet. The result is that the critical conversations, vital for keeping a healthy ethos, running an innovative operation, and delivering amazing customer experiences will likely be silenced.
In short, people who are constantly worried about their financial position tend to resist candid conversations. Unfortunately for your company, this does not mean that their opinions don’t get aired and are forever kept secret, it just means their opinions don’t get aired through a healthy forum, which can foster crippling dissatisfaction across the entire company.
Organizations can anticipate and fix this problem in a number of ways, like encouraging objectivity and creating an environment where objectivity in discourse is expected at all levels of the organization. If given repeated permission in company communication channels, people will see that being candid is normal.
Another thing that leaders should do is practice transparency. Leaders should be willing to bring up moments and results that aren’t necessarily flattering. People will see from example that it’s less risky to be direct than to not be direct. Additionally, it’s crucial to position your people to have a shot at financial strength. Look at your compensation model and take into account how team members are compensated for performance and high integrity. It’s also important to offer financial tools to think about their financial wellness. Package this with health and physical wellness benefits — consider implementing a workplace financial wellness program or financial health days. By offering a strong 401(k) match and have people start contributing, they have already opted in.
To ensure your culture thrives, you must limit external stressors as much as possible. After all, when most of your workforce is living paycheck to paycheck (as is the case with most Americans), they care about survival above everything else and will therefore hesitate to make waves that could cause them to lose their job. This isn’t taking into account productivity concerns as a result of absenteeism or presenteeism.
So companies must work on two fronts: First, they must help establish a culture of personal accountability, where people feel the stewardship to objectively communicate their point of view without fear of financial ruin. And second, they should offer solutions that encourage financial strength by helping team members save and spend smarter. This will provide individuals with a strong personal foundation from which they will have greater courage to practice objectivity in discourse organization-wide.