It was a year ago this week that we first entered lockdown. Little did we know at the time that 12 months on, restrictions would still be in place for many workers and employees with others still facing uncertain futures amidst ongoing economic and business challenges. On the other hand, the rapid roll-out of the vaccination programme has given us grounds for cautious optimism and this hopefully will act as a much-needed catalyst for businesses and economic recovery.
Although 2020 was the worst year for the economy since harvests failed after the “Great Frost” of 1709 more than 300 years ago, there are predictions that we will soon enjoy an upturn. The Bank of England deputy governor, Andy Haldane, recently described the economy as like a “coiled spring”, ready to release pent-up energy once confidence is restored.
But this optimism needs to be balanced with caution. We’re still in the midst of global pandemic with a need for hybrid and flexible working practises which are developed with kindness, empathy and understanding. And at the heart of this is the need for every to make sure company culture is a priority and people are well-supported.
SME productivity in 2020
We recently published Breathe’s 2021 Breathe Economy Report and this includes the results of research we conducted at beginning of the year to understand how small businesses owners have coped during the last year and to gauge how optimistic they and their employees are feeling at the moment.
In particular, we wanted to see how strong company cultures have helped companies and their teams remain productive in a year like no other.
Our report also includes the stories of other SMEs who have faced similar challenges and made the welfare, wellbeing and safety of their people a high priority at a time when so many people have had to adapt to flexible working practices and remain productive.
We’ve also told our story and explained how our culture has been central to our ability to work and collaborate effectively, all the while making sure that our colleagues have been actively supported throughout the crisis.
Key research findings
Turning to our research, we found that of the 500 SME business leaders we surveyed, 87% of employers say their staff have remained productive while working from home – a large majority, disproving any stigma that many roles cannot be done at home.
We also spoke to SME employees to see how they are feeling and how this correlates with the view of their employers.
The full Culture Economy Report 2021 includes more insight about how SME employers and employees are feeling at the moment, including their concerns about the future.
Worryingly, only half (51%) of employees satisfied with their employer’s efforts in maintaining positive remote culture during the pandemic. Almost a third (27%) quit due to culture, emphasizing the importance of work community and impact on employee retention. We have calculated that staff churn and toxic workplace culture costing UK economy £20.2 billion per year.
Please download the full report for more information about this figure and how we calculated this.
Our research findings underline the fact that to ensure employees continue to be well motivated and productive, businesses leaders cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball and let company culture slip down the priority list. Recovery in the remainder of 2021 (and beyond) will take time and effort.
Rethinking mental illness
In the early days of the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics reported that one in five Britons have experienced symptoms of depression, compared with one in ten before the crisis.
In the Culture Economy Report 2021, we have included a chapter which explores the practical measures we and other SMEs have taken to protect people and look after their physical and mental wellbeing, at a time when remaining fit and healthy has been so challenging.
We combined our Opinium survey data with findings from a poll we ran during a webinar we co-hosted with Sarah Murphy, Associate Director of Advice, Information and Training of Rethink Mental Illness, one of the largest charitable providers of services for people living with mental illness.
During the webinar, we surveyed 429 SME owners and managers who attended the webinar. The Culture Economy Report 2021 includes the full results from our survey with our analysis of the findings and examples of the steps the SME business leaders have taken to provide employees with mental wellbeing support.
So many peoples’ mental health has been under siege throughout the pandemic which many having experienced their own illnesses and those of loved ones, alongside bereavements, job losses and financial disruption.
Recovery will take time, care and understanding and businesses will need to do everything they can to provide mental health support on a long-term basis and it is imperative that this is at heart of company culture.
Culture and the road ahead
Last year’s fall in GDP was the biggest since statisticians began calculating the figure in the 1940s. The last fall in output of comparable scale was in 1921 as the nation dealt with the aftermath of the First World War. Business leaders and their employees face challenging times ahead.
Hopefully, by this time in 2022, we’ll be looking back at a year in which many businesses have successfully rebooted and are well and truly on the road to recovery.
We believe that positive company cultures have never been so important to businesses and the UK’s economic recover. Business leaders who make company culture a priority now are laying down the foundations for recovery after a year of the biggest challenges most people and employees will face in their careers.
We'd love to know your thoughts about company culture and how important this is to your business. Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Author: Nick Hardy