The Changing Nature of Office Culture

‘Good Leaders Are Attuned to Their Employees’ Needs’

An illustration of a mom trying to balance a baby, while doing yoga and trying to look at her laptop.

(Illustration: Dani Choi)

By Kenna Caprio

A quarter of employees in New Jersey are not going back to the office, even once the pandemic potentially wanes. Seventy-seven percent of working parents in the Garden State report that their jobs were impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting childcare complications — with 16 percent of respondents actually leaving the workforce.

Workplace culture is changing. Again. Still.

These recent findings from the FDU Poll, coupled with decades of research into the needs, responsibilities and wants of both employers and employees, reveal deep fractures in the office.

Today’s changes are characterized by a cavalcade of factors, including: employee desire for flexible hours and hybrid schedules; gender, racial and structural inequities; the ongoing global pandemic; and fixed generational preferences and ideologies.

The stark reality is that work-life balance continues to be elusive and a real struggle for many employees.

An illustration of a stack of items related to work-life balance: a coffee mug, a baby bottle, workout weights, an alarm clock, a rubber duckie toy and more.

(Illustration: Dani Choi)

“Without a supportive and responsive work environment, organizations will be in a tight corner and will lose their profitability and competitiveness,” says Ajay Garg, associate professor of administrative science and associate director of the Master of Administrative Science program at FDU’s Vancouver Campus. “But, if the work and life of an employee are balanced, then maximum productivity, efficiency and profits for the organization — and full satisfaction and career achievement for the employee — are possible. If employees feel that an employer is with them in prioritizing their needs, they will work with extra effort, initiative and more zeal, resulting in a more profitable organization and excellent organizational culture.”

Here, FDU faculty and staff — experts in career development, women in the workplace, parental leave, human-resource management and more — break down in their own words what’s happening now.

Diane Wentworth

“With someone to guide them, an employee can really understand: What’s important in this organization? How do I get ahead? What is valued here?”

Diane Wentworth, professor emerita of psychology, recently retired from teaching full-time at FDU after 29 years, but still teaches classes as an adjunct. She’s studied leadership and organizations, women at work and remote work. Over the years, she has taught classes in general psychology, social psychology, industrial/organizational psychology and managerial psychology.

When companies say, “people are our most important asset,” much of the time, they don’t really act on it or really support their people.

We need to get away from that idea that only shareholders and the bottom line are important. We need to value our employees and spend more money on them, in terms of development.

I’m a big believer in mentoring programs, particularly for new employees, with mentors assigned to each and every person to guide them, provide resources, give them information about who to talk to or what to read or what networks to join. All of these sorts of things can be tremendously helpful, particularly when you’re first joining an organization and getting the lay of the land. Most of the time, you have to figure it out on your own. And that can take a while, and you can make a lot of missteps, because you just don’t know.

With someone to guide them, an employee can really understand: What’s important in this organization? How do I get ahead? What is valued here?

Specific mentoring is a really important benefit. But there’s also offering hybrid work schedules; providing good health insurance plans at a reasonable cost; matching 401(k)plans or other retirement plans; and extending professional development opportunities.

We need to look at the workplace as a reflection of the world, and the rights and wrongs of the world. That means we need to hire people based on knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies. And value them.

Organizations need to ask: How can we develop this person? How can we retain them over a long period, so that they’re doing a good job and so that they want to stay with our organization and eventually work at a higher level?

Spend more time on each employee and invest in your people.

Scott Behson

“Employees aren’t just valuable assets. They are people. Employers owe it to them to provide an environment where they can thrive, both at work and in the rest of their lives.”

Scott Behson, professor of management and Silberman Global Faculty Fellow, has worked at FDU for 22 years and is an expert in paternity leave and work-life issues, having written books about both. He teaches classes in human resources management, organizational behavior and career strategies.

Work and life cannot be fully separated. If employees are struggling with physical or mental well-being, or with child- or eldercare needs or other challenges, it’s hard for them to thrive at work. The reverse is true, as well — if work is burning you out or crushing your body or spirit, it affects the rest of your life.

Employers are facing more uncertainty than ever, making it hard to plan too far ahead or to feel secure in financial success. It also makes it all the more imperative to build flexible, resilient workplaces.

The best way to build resiliency is to value employees as whole people, listen to their concerns and build an agile workplace that is considerate of employee stressors as well as the bottom line.

During the pandemic, I wrote my most recent book, The Whole-Person Workplace: Building Better Workplaces Through Work-Life, Wellness and Employee Support, and interviewed representatives from small businesses and multinational corporations. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Sometimes, simply employers being more flexible with schedules, or supporting professional development or volunteerism can be really impactful. BASF, Costco and Uncommon Goods extend the same benefits to both their salaried and hourly employees. Gravity Payments established a $70,000 minimum salary.

The best way forward is to lead with values. This will help you make more considered, more consistent decisions over time while creating an agile, sustainable culture.

Companies must also become places where all employees are valued and can bring their whole selves to work — because even well-meaning individuals have blind spots about race, gender, sexuality, family responsibility, religion, accessibility and age that can lead to unconscious bias. So, for instance, ensuring that women and people of color have integral roles in top-level decision-making makes it much more likely that a company will consider a full range of perspectives before taking action. That’s the difference between diversity and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Fundamentally, work can be just a transaction — time and effort for money — or it can be a mutually beneficial relationship between employer and employee in which both sides try to do right by the other.

For all my students, I’d like them to find workplaces that will value them and that are consistent with their priorities. For those who will work in HR or as managers, I hope they will build better workplaces that work well for everyone involved.

Donna Jackson-Robertson

“Salary’s important, but the ability to work from home, plus hours and corporate responsibility, are going to be deal-breakers with the newer generations of workers.”

Donna Jackson-Robertson, the University director of career development since 2015, offers advice and guidance to student and alumni job seekers. She works closely with employers to establish relationships and bring companies to campus to recruit. Her office also hosts seminars, conducts assessments, reviews résumés and provides interview tips.

The baby boomers and the Generation Xers came along at a time when there really was a more traditional work culture — going to work Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break.

Once you start getting to the millennials, the concept of what a workplace actually is has changed, especially with the evolution of companies like Google and others in Silicon Valley. Work-life balance became more important. More women entered the workplace, which started with Gen Xers, but there’s even more of a drive toward the female professional with millennials. This is the idea of having it all, being a professional and parent, with some flexibility.

Now, with Generation Z, they don’t buy into traditional work environments, having seen parents and grandparents in those. And then came COVID-19. They saw multiple generations in multiple industries pivot to get the job done and to be able to still manage life. The attitude is, “Who cares if I do part of my job from 6–10 a.m. and then I go for a run, do whatever I need to do, come back at noon, and work until 8 p.m.? I got the job done. I’m meeting people.”

There’s this clash in the multigenerational workplace now over company culture.

Salary used to be the biggest negotiation point, but now I think the bigger point is going to be flexibility. Salary’s important, but the ability to work from home, plus hours and corporate responsibility, are going to be deal-breakers with the newer generations of workers. Where do companies land on Black Lives Matter, Me Too and LGBTQ+ movements? Those values are important to the students I talk to.

We’re coaching students and alumni on how to be more proactive and intentional in their outreach and networking.

Being the best candidate means doing your research. If you value flexibility, certain industries or companies might not be for you. Job hunting is about finding a mutual fit.

Isabella Krysa

“I am convinced that it is possible to have both a career and to be a present and attentive parent. Supportive policies and employers are crucial.”

Isabella Krysa, assistant professor of management at the Vancouver Campus, started studying motherhood and work once she became a parent herself. She joined the FDU faculty back in 2016 and teaches courses in organizational behavior, international management and human resources management.

What happens in the workplace is a crucial focus in determining, overall, how equal a society is.

We spend a significant amount of our waking hours occupied with work.

Organizations that create an inclusive culture do themselves a favor — employees want to work for supportive employers, and are more likely to feel committed and to remain loyal to them. Employers benefit from well-rested, healthy and vital employees. Good employers are attuned to their employees’ needs.

Work-life balance has been an issue for quite some time now, especially for women, but COVID-19 has forced employers and employees everywhere to rethink how work should be conducted. The pandemic has shown people that work can be redesigned, without the loss of effectiveness or productivity, thanks to technology.

Thus far, globally, during the pandemic, women’s job losses are 1.8 times greater than men’s.

And at the same time, the closure of schools and daycares has left many women to take on the extra burden of care responsibilities, along with having to deal with oftentimes inflexible employers.

Employers play a pivotal role in helping women alleviate some stress caused by the pandemic. Allowing both parents more flexible work schedules, so that both mothers and fathers can share care duties, is one example. Destigmatizing care duties, and not interpreting them as lack of commitment to the employer, is another important step in dealing with the burdens of the pandemic.

Women have been fighting for a long time to be financially independent, lead autonomous lives and be able to reach their full potential outside of their homes.

Societal norms and governmental and organizational regulations should all ensure that women are protected from workplace marginalization, stigmatization and discrimination when they become parents.

Employees have complex personal lives and should be given the organizational support to be able to cater to life circumstances, such as parenthood or eldercare, within reason. The same goes for accommodating disabled employees.

Workplaces that make all groups feel equal and included in organizational processes improve the work environment, ultimately leading to better outcomes.