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Human Resources

Social climate – what it is and how does it impact employees’ behaviour?

By Dorota Grudzień Molenda, managing partner, Arthur Hunt Consulting Polska
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Nowadays most organisations have started focusing on workplace surrounding and the welfare of the employees.

They invest in smart workspaces, with flexible and colourful design, launch various well-being programmes to make workers more motivated and interested in staying within the organisation for a longer time. Essentially, organisations today are trying to make their staff more loyal and connected with the company on various levels: material, mental and social. Companies are chasing each other with creative ideas how to become more agile and successful in attracting new generations of workers. They look for sophisticated tools, while the thing people really care about is a workplace atmosphere – or rather social climate – that makes them feeling good at work.

The perception of success or failure among employees depends not on creative surrounding or the job position but mainly on a role the individuals play in the workgroups and how they – as a group, feel being treated by the organisation. People are motivated by social needs – they seek meaning in social relations on the job, and this is even more important to them. This is much more than the atmosphere at work. This is social climate that is a set of group emotions, attitudes, perceptions, ways of reacting and presenting the group views or behaviours. The organisation is perceived by them as a ‘social system’ that in some aspects follows the official paths or rules and, in some others, doesn’t, creating its own ways of behaviours (like trade unions).

Social climate is nothing new. Today, however, it becomes more relevant to management as it has an impact on motivation, engagement and productivity as well as loyalty to the organisation.

To better understand the topic let’s first look at the factors that create ‘social climate’.  Money – compensation and benefits are the key ones. The lower the job position individuals have, the more important is this aspect for employees. Working conditions and occupational health & safety are crucial to keep the good climate. Satisfaction with the job done and social relations with peers and managers make people feel important and noticeable to the organisation.   Work-life balance, independence and self-development raise motivation and engagement. And one more factor – crucial in my view – is the management style that creates the behaviours and attitudes in the organisations.

According the great expert management Peter Drucker, there are four important aspects of management: planning and making decisions, organising work for others, managing others and controlling/monitoring them. Yet people expect much more – a good leader, who will not only inspire them but also be truly interested in them. What does it mean? That the leader knows its people not only by name – but also their family situation, their challenges and passions, their aspirations and competencies. The leader becomes mentor and advisor. One of most influential leaders and leadership teachers, John Maxwell, says “leaders touch the hearts before they ask for hands. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. And it can be done by knowing, understanding and communicating with the team. Vincent and Mayers – industrial sociologists say that industry managers and employees have the same motivation. The manager controls the means of satisfying needs, while the employee seeks self-development to go on their own to improve the financial status of their family. Remember this while implementing any changes to your teams; they will have the impact on both – subordinates’ work and private life.

For some time, I have been delivering workshops on social climate to managers in production plants. One of the modules is about the change management. The managers are given a case study and are asked to identify hot topics that may influence the social climate and suggest some solution. It is very interesting when they reveal how good they are in identifying business challenges (such as squeezed machines on the production hall, changes in the shift plans, broken windows) and giving the solution using different methodologies such as continuous improvement, Kaizen or others.  At the same time, they almost forget about the social aspects of those changes. Changes in shift work do not only mean that some people are asked to appear on different shifts – but it may also mean those people may be in trouble as they have a colleague who drives them to work and back home on this shift, or the whole system of taking care of the kinds is based on that plan. If the machines are too squeezed it may not only influence the safety but also financial rewards or bonuses – as the productivity of those people decreases in such circumstances.  If such aspects are not taken into consideration – the social climate may dramatically worsen as any change implemented or any decrease of current conditions in the organisation requires social-aspect analysis. Individuals bring to perceptual situation their attitudes, needs, motives and expectations and those interact with organisation and its social climate.

As the social climate is a wide topic and there is no space for more in this article, I would like to give some tips at the end:

  • Social climate is a group perception – how does your organisation treat group thinking?

  • Group thinking focuses on unified opinions, group strengths and perception of power. It is difficult to change it. Therefore, good prevention is crucial.

  • In the organisation there should be an ‘actor map’ – identifying people who play key roles in building social climate such as opinion leaders, out-of-control people, turned ones, those who are for and against change. It is important to know this map and have a good plan to manage them.

  • Social climate is a dynamic phenomenon, it changes like the weather. Some aspects are to be predicted; some are not. Vigilance is advised.

  • It may be good or bad. There is nothing between. If it is bad – all the changes planned are subjected to failure.

  • Finally – never ignore the small annoying things that are being mentioned to you three times or by three different people, or just they seem irrelevant to you. They may make a huge fire.

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