Who’s the Boss of Workplace Culture? HR, Managers, and Employees Disagree, Says New Workforce Institute Study

CHELMSFORD, Mass.--()--Today, in the second study released in The Employee Engagement Lifecycle Series1 commissioned by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated and WorkplaceTrends.com, survey data shows that human resources (HR) professionals, people managers, and employees have very different opinions about workplace culture, who drives it, what’s important to creating a great one, and what can destroy workplace culture.

More than 1,800 U.S. adults responded to the online questionnaire and were segmented into three different survey groups – HR professionals (601 respondents); people managers (604 respondents); and full-time, non-managing employees (602 respondents) – and their answers were compared based on how each group responded to questions about various aspects of workplace culture and employee engagement. All data points in the press release are based directly from these survey responses.

Survey News Facts

  • Who defines workplace culture? Us, not them. When asked who at their organization most defines the workplace culture, HR professionals, managers, and employees each felt they were most important:
    • About one-third of HR professionals said that the head of HR defines the culture, while only 10 percent of managers and three percent of employees agreed.
    • Twenty-six percent of managers said their executive team defines the culture, while only 11 percent of HR professionals and nine percent of employees felt the same.
    • Finally, 29 percent of employees said it is the employees who define workplace culture, with only nine percent of HR professionals and 13 percent of managers agreeing. Interestingly, a full 40 percent of Millennial employees feel that employees define the culture – an indication of an evolving view of workplace culture where employees feel they have more power.
    • Troublingly, 28 percent of employees feel that no one defines the workplace culture, whereas only five percent of HR professionals and seven percent of managers feel this way.
  • What culture attributes matter most to employees? HR and management strike out.
    • Employees listed their top three most important attributes of workplace culture as “pay” (50 percent), “coworkers who respect and support one another” (42 percent), and “work-life balance” (40 percent).
    • Unfortunately, HR and managers struck out on the top three culture attributes that matter most to employees. HR professionals believe “managers and executives leading by example,” “employee benefits,” and a “shared mission and values” were the top three things that mattered most to employees; while managers guessed “managers and executives leading by example,” a “shared mission and values,” and “emphasis on taking care of our customers” would top employees’ lists.
    • Only 25 percent of HR professionals and 29 percent of managers thought pay would be a top concern for how employees view workplace culture.
  • What kills culture? Again, each party tells a different story. When it comes to what has the most negative impact on an organization’s ability to maintain a positive workplace culture, HR professionals and managers differed significantly from the employee view:
    • HR professionals and people managers said that “a high-stress environment” and “company growth” were the two elements with the biggest negative impact on workplace culture.
    • Conversely, employees felt that “not having enough staff to support goals,” “unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well,” and “poor employee/manager relationships” were the major obstacles to maintaining a positive workplace culture.
    • These findings indicate that HR and managers might be able to reduce the perceived stress their work environment causes by focusing on hiring the right people, appropriately staffing, and ensuring managers have the proper management training to help their teams thrive.
  • Technology, job hopping, and Glassdoor-like pressure has changed culture.
    • Forty-three percent of HR professionals and 39 percent of managers said that “using technology to foster and improve culture” is the biggest difference in managing workplace culture today compared to a decade ago.
    • This increased use of technology comes with a price: 40 percent of HR leaders indicated there is more pressure today to maintain an attractive culture for recruiting purposes than in the past, presumably because more information about organizations can be easily found.
    • Along those lines, nearly a quarter of HR professionals (23 percent) and managers (22 percent) say that their employees switch careers/jobs too much to establish a solid culture.
  • How are leaders strengthening culture? Training, development, and acting on feedback.
    • When asked what they do to preserve and strengthen workplace culture, HR professionals and managers were on the same page, listing “training and development” (72 percent and 61 percent, respectively) and “getting feedback from employees and acting on it” (45 percent and 46 percent) as the two top strategies.
  • How can organizations keep their culture relevant over time?
    • HR professionals and managers indicated that using technology across the organization to improve communication and efficiency (59 percent and 49 percent, respectively), and paying closer attention to feedback from younger employees (50 percent and 41 percent, respectively) were critical components to evolving culture to remain relevant when recruiting.

Supporting Quotes

  • Joyce Maroney, director, The Workforce Institute at Kronos
    “It is surprising, and frankly alarming, to see such a wide gap between how employees view and experience workplace culture versus their managers and HR professionals. There is very little common ground concerning who defines the culture, what is important to creating a winning culture, and what can ruin it. This survey provides insight to HR professionals and managers about how their employees really feel about workplace culture and how they can change their thinking and actions to improve the workplace in meaningful ways.”
  • Dan Schawbel, founder, WorkplaceTrends, and New York Times Bestselling Author of “Promote Yourself”
    “Among all of this interesting data, what struck me most was that 40 percent of Millennial employees believe that employees create the workplace culture, compared to 29 percent of employees overall. This is important. Each generation changes the workplace as they rise up the ranks and Millennials are making it clear that they believe the power to impact workplace culture lies predominantly with the people who do the work. HR professionals and people managers should take note of this, look for ways to involve employees in the development of workplace culture, and be on the lookout for those disengaged workers who may be poisoning the well – they wield more power than you may think.”

Supporting Resources

About The Workforce Institute at Kronos

The Workforce Institute provides research and education on critical workplace issues facing organizations around the globe. By bringing together thought leaders, The Workforce Institute is uniquely positioned to empower organizations with the knowledge and information they need to manage their workforce effectively and provide a voice for employees on important workplace issues. A hallmark of The Workforce Institute’s research is balancing the needs and desires of diverse employee populations with the needs of organizations. For additional information, visit www.workforceinstitute.org.

About Kronos Incorporated

Kronos is the global leader in delivering workforce management solutions in the cloud. Tens of thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries — including more than half of the Fortune 1000® — use Kronos to control labor costs, minimize compliance risk, and improve workforce productivity. Learn more about Kronos industry-specific time and attendance, scheduling, absence management, HR and payroll, hiring, and labor analytics applications at www.kronos.com. Kronos: Workforce Innovation That Works.

About WorkplaceTrends.com

WorkplaceTrends.com, launched by Dan Schawbel, Future Workplace Partner & Research Director, is largest curator of HR research in the world, with over 160 sources of primary and secondary research on the topic of the future of work. All WorkplaceTrends.com research is summarized in an easy to read abstract and categorized in areas highly relevant to HR professionals, such as recruiting, employee benefits, diversity & inclusion, innovation, learning & development, management & leadership, and economic trends. In addition, WorkplaceTrends.com offers podcast interviews with HR executives, CEOs, and futurists, as well as case studies, high quality infographics, and other tools that an HR team can put to use immediately.

Footnote 1: Survey Methodology

Research findings are based on a survey fielded in the U.S. between July 14 and July 22, 2015. For this survey, 1,807 respondents were asked about their thoughts regarding various aspects of workplace culture and employee engagement. The study surveyed three separate groups: HR professionals (601 surveys); people managers (604 surveys); and full-time, non-managing employees (602 surveys). The survey was completed through Lightspeed GMI’s Global Test Market double opted-in panelists who have registered to participate in online surveys. All sample surveys may be subject to multiple sources of error (i.e. sampling error, coverage error, measurement error, etc.).

© 2016 Kronos Incorporated. All rights reserved. Kronos and the Kronos logo are registered trademarks and Workforce Innovation That Works is a trademark of Kronos Incorporated or a related company. See a complete list of Kronos trademarks. All other trademarks, if any, are property of their respective owners.


Kronos Incorporated
Domenic Locapo, +1 978-947-4777

Release Summary

The Workforce Institute released its 2nd study in the Employee Engagement Lifecycle Series, which shows the disconnect between employees, managers, and HR pros when it comes to building culture.


Kronos Incorporated
Domenic Locapo, +1 978-947-4777