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4 minutes

How to Improve Company Culture Through Anthropology

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

When you think of anthro­pol­o­gy, you like­ly think about the study of ancient cul­tures and peo­ples. Maybe you have a flash­back of a class you took back in col­lege. You prob­a­bly don’t think of how anthro­pol­o­gy relates to busi­ness or com­pa­ny culture.

Dr. Alex Gapud, a Cul­tur­al Anthro­pol­o­gist at scar­let­tab­bott, an employ­ee engage­ment com­pa­ny in the UK, works with anthro­pol­o­gy on a busi­ness lev­el every day. He says that his per­son­al mis­sion state­ment is to ​“make work not suck for peo­ple.” Work is such an impor­tant part of most people’s lives, and Dr. Alex believes that your job shouldn’t make you feel mis­er­able. For bet­ter or worse, work is inte­gral to our identities.

A huge part of Dr. Alex’s work involves vis­it­ing orga­ni­za­tions to deter­mine whether employ­ees are hap­py and if the com­pa­ny cul­ture is healthy. He takes his find­ings and gives exec­u­tives advice on what they could be doing bet­ter. Busi­ness­es of all shapes and sizes can ben­e­fit from what he has to share.

Looking Beyond Percentages

When you curate your orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture, you’re curat­ing an expe­ri­ence that can lead to bet­ter out­comes. Once you lean into it, you’ll real­ize that it is pos­si­ble to be prof­itable and also take care of your people.

Much of what Dr. Alex does for busi­ness­es is around ethnog­ra­phy. It’s a qual­i­ta­tive research method that is essen­tial for anthro­pol­o­gists. It enables them to immerse them­selves in the world of who­ev­er it is they’re try­ing to under­stand and research.

Sur­veys can give you a wide view of what’s going on in your com­pa­ny. That said, no one lives their lives think­ing, ​“I’m 68% sat­is­fied with my job today,” or ​“I feel a 78% sense of pur­pose at work.” While sur­veys can be help­ful, it’s unre­al­is­tic to employ strate­gies that are based sole­ly on those arbi­trary per­cent­ages. You need to get to the heart of the issues and the only way to do that is to actu­al­ly talk to your employees.

Dr. Alex loves to say, ​“Num­bers have faces and sta­tis­tics have sto­ries.” Remem­ber: there’s a lived human expe­ri­ence on the oth­er side of that statistic.

Ethnog­ra­phy is all about being on the ground to deter­mine what it’s real­ly like to work in an orga­ni­za­tion. This ​“fly on the wall” per­spec­tive is what helps Dr. Alex help HR depart­ments and exec­u­tives alike.

Building Trust With Your People

If you want your com­pa­ny cul­ture to improve, you need to first build a bet­ter rap­port with your team mem­bers. If they don’t already, they need to know that they can trust you and come to you with any thoughts or con­cerns. Trust is everything.

You can also imple­ment oth­er meth­ods for your peo­ple to share how they’re feel­ing if anonymi­ty and con­fi­den­tial­i­ty are a con­cern. You could hire an out­side cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist, like Dr. Alex, if you have the means for it.

If you don’t, make sure your HR depart­ment is well-versed in log­ging com­plaints and con­cerns. And as a busi­ness leader, make sure that you’re will­ing to take con­struc­tive crit­i­cism and make changes when nec­es­sary. If you show your team that you take their thoughts and opin­ions into account and then advo­cate for them, they will grow to trust you more.

The most impor­tant start­ing point is to have the intent to lis­ten and understand.

Bringing Humanity Back to Remote and Hybrid Workplaces

As orga­ni­za­tions shift from in-per­son to remote to a hybrid of both, com­pa­ny cul­ture and employ­ee engage­ment are apt to come into ques­tion. That’s not to say that cul­ture will dis­ap­pear, it just means that it’s chang­ing, and you must learn to adapt and change with it.

If you’re decid­ing whether to bring your team back to in-per­son full-time or stay remote, Dr. Alex believes that there is a lot of ben­e­fit in a hybrid solu­tion. He stress­es the val­ue of face-to-face inter­ac­tions. From an anthro­po­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, there is some­thing pow­er­ful in being in the same place and expe­ri­enc­ing things togeth­er. After all, humans are social creatures.

On those days when your team is work­ing remote­ly, resist the urge to book calls and meet­ings back to back. Before work­ing from home became the norm, there were prob­a­bly days that were jam-packed with meet­ings. The dif­fer­ence? You most like­ly had to phys­i­cal­ly change meet­ing rooms, there was a defined lunch break and when you passed col­leagues in the hall­way you were like­ly to stop and chat.

These small moments — and breaks through­out the work­day — are essen­tial for com­pa­ny cul­ture. That’s not to say that this can’t hap­pen in a hybrid work­place but you do need to be more inten­tion­al about it.

How You Can Use Anthropology To Improve Culture

It goes back to remem­ber­ing that it is essen­tial to lis­ten, take the time and rec­og­nize the impor­tance of actu­al­ly hear­ing your team’s feed­back. Imple­ment sur­veys, but remem­ber to take into account the peo­ple behind those per­cent­ages. Bring in experts like Dr. Alex if you can and, if you can’t, make sure that your HR team is up to par with what you’re try­ing to accomplish.

Fig­ure out what kind of com­pa­ny cul­ture you hope to build and deter­mine what behav­iors are impor­tant to you and what is impor­tant to your employ­ees. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly of all, resist the urge to try to build every­thing yourself.

Com­pa­nies that have done well and cre­at­ed a brag-wor­thy cul­ture are the ones that have tak­en the time to lis­ten to their teams. They’re inten­tion­al and hum­ble in admit­ting that there is still a lot they need to fig­ure out. And they go to their peo­ple and ask: what does a brag-wor­thy cul­ture look like to you?

When you take the time to lis­ten to the response, you’ll be glad that you did.

Check Out the Full Episode

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Alex and he’s lever­ag­ing anthro­pol­o­gy to improve com­pa­ny cul­ture, lis­ten to our full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.

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