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The Art of Culture Building

by Shandy McLean ASEBP | August 2 2018

What does it take to be an organization people seek out and choose to work for? This is something we take very seriously at ASEBP. As a benefits organization, we focus on supporting healthy employees and workplaces, not only for our covered members and employer groups, but for our own employees too. After all, if we have healthy, happy and productive employees, we are better positioned to provide high-quality supports and services to those we serve. 

Over the last several years (seven years and counting!) we’ve been very fortunate to be recognized as a top employer in Alberta. A few months ago, I attended a national event that brought together past winners and prospective applicants to learn about, and get inspired by, some of the best practices in this space. Here are a few ideas focused around how to create and nurture cultural and social unity—think positive social connections—that stood out for me as ones that could be easily adapted to a workplace wellness strategy in virtually any environment:

Create a Real-Life ‘House System’

We all know how well this worked at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry (Team Gryffindor, anyone?) and we think this is something you can apply to your own workplace. If resources permit, provide a small budget for each ‘house’ (or cross-functional learning group, as we call them at ASEBP) and an assigned date for organizing and hosting one fun, workplace wellness-related activity per year. With the goal of building new connections between staff who don’t associate much naturally in their daily roles, the act of forming a group, choosing a fun mascot and shared identity and working together to plan an event for their colleagues can be an effective way to improve social culture (with the added bonus of sharing the workload!).

Let Coffee do the Heavy Lifting

Before coming to your next staff meeting, ask your colleagues to privately reflect on who they regularly, infrequently or rarely collaborate or socialize with at work. During the meeting, ask people to match themselves to someone who falls into the latter two groupings. Over the following weeks, provide each pair a coffee card or schedule space and time (…and coffee! Can you tell I REALLY love coffee?) for them to meet informally and find out more about each other. At a subsequent meeting, ask them to share with the larger group one interesting or new thing they learned about each other through the activity. Not only does the coffee duo get the chance to make a personal connection, the rest of the team or organization also gets to be reminded about what makes their colleagues awesome and unique. 

Get your Geek on, Together

Work with your colleagues to create a shared list of wellness-related topics that you are passionate about, either for personal or professional reasons. Develop a schedule for an informal group roundtable event once per month and assign a different topic and resource to read, listen to or watch in advance. Then, as part of a professional development day, during a lunch period or a shared prep time, gather with your colleagues to debrief and discuss together. Tip: Adding food—and dare I say, COFFEE!—always makes a group event like this even more enjoyable for all.

I think the simplicity of these ideas is important. Companies recognized as employers of choice don’t get the status because they develop and implement expensive or highly complex strategies or interventions. I believe they’re acknowledged because leaders create the space and time for staff to try ideas like the ones above—those designed to simply connect and build human relationships at work. Even though I wish coffee could do ALL of the work, these intangible assets—social culture and positive connections—are the foundation for success when/if it comes time to do heavy lifting to address wellness or other workplace challenges in the future. Happy connecting everyone!

Shandy McLean

With a background in social work and a masters in health promotion, 'Shamu' (yes, like the whale) is a tireless advocate in the public health arena and ASEBP’s former director of Health Strategies and Stakeholder Engagement. We know that her questionable claims of being 'related' to actress Claire Danes is a way of coping with her crippling fear of sharks. But it’s okay—we’re all in this together, Shamu.