How to Build a Healthier Corporate Culture

Toxic work cultures have been in the news lately – from Ellen to NBC and Uber. Bad experiences in the workplace can be a daily nightmare for employees. And for businesses, it is a financial disaster. Negative workplace cultures lead to low productivity and high turnover, costing companies $223 billion in the past five years.

Every business wants a healthy culture – where employees feel welcomed, respected, and heard. Those businesses become successful, respected, and profitable.

At Fleet Response, we’ve earned a reputation as a “best in class” business and a great place to work. Nearly 40% of our employees have worked for the company more than five years and another 15% have been with us more than 10 years. We’ve got a lot of happy employees.

 Awards? We’ve got a few.

In 2020 and 2021, Fleet Response was among the NorthCoast 99 winners representing the best workplaces for top talent in Northeast Ohio. Judges use an intensive process, combing over each applicant’s HR practices — from organizational strategy and talent attraction to employee well-being, talent development, rewards, diversity, and inclusion.

We also earned a spot on the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Top Workplaces list for the sixth time. This one really means a lot to us because it’s based entirely on employee surveys. On top of all that, we received a 2020 and 2021 Family Business Achievement Award, recognizing successful family-owned businesses growing for the next generation.

Other companies ask us – “What the heck are you guys doing over there?”

 That’s why we decided to share the Fleet Response “secret sauce.” These are five practices that help us create and sustain a healthy corporate culture.

1. Create a family culture

You don’t have to be a “small business” to develop a family culture, one where employees feel a sense of belonging, loyalty, trust, and support. Any business can intentionally build an atmosphere that feels like family. It helps when that begins at the top of the org chart.

Denise Grimes is a Claims Representative and has been with Fleet Response for 12 years. “It is the best company I’ve worked for. The company is much bigger now than when I started in 2008, but the feeling of family remains. The company truly is just like an extended family and employees care about each other.”

While Fleet Response has grown from just three employees in 1986 to more than 250 employees, our  CEO Scott Mawaka has remained committed to fostering a close-knit sense of family inspired by his father, Fleet Response founder Ron Mawaka, Sr.

“We are in the service industry and when you sell services, everything starts with people,” says Scott. “Our hard-working employees are the lifeblood of our organization and showing them, they’re appreciated is crucial when making superior customer service a competitive advantage in the industry.”

Scott is known for being employee centered. The company has a frequent practice of rewarding employees with Paid Time Off days to supporting a wellness program to decrease stress. Within the last year, there was a breakfast created which allowed for Scott and the Executive Leadership Team to get to know more about his employees and vice versa, called “Breakfast with Scott”.

2. Recognize and reward your employees

Fulltime employees spend most of their waking hours on the job. Companies with a healthy culture honor that commitment. They create formal ways to show appreciation for high-performing employees. Your efforts to build loyalty and create a sense of satisfaction just naturally lead to happier employees who want to do their best and stay on the job.

At Fleet Response we chose to focus our Facebook page primarily on our employees, rather than a marketing tool. We use the social media platform to highlight both company and employee achievements, such as an Employee of the Month feature, employee work anniversaries, and a Legacy of Knowledge series with positive employee thoughts about the workplace.

Our biggest recognition of our employees is the Ron and Fran Mawaka Employee of the Year Awards. Employees are nominated by their peers, and finalists are chosen by the Fleet Response Executive Leadership Team. Five finalists are presented with a $1,000 check and the winner receives a $5,000 check. This award recognizes and rewards Fleet Response employees who show exemplary individual achievement, contribution, and performance in their jobs.

3. Help your employees grow and advance

Human beings are wired with a natural desire to learn and improve. No one wants to do the same job day after day, without an opportunity to grow. Healthy cultures respect that very human desire – and make the most of it. When you develop skills and leadership in your employees, they feel empowered – and often choose to stay with your company, adding to “intellectual capital” that grows over the years in a strong business of tenured employees.

James Ruffing is Client Engagement Coordinator and has been with Fleet Response for 18 years. He appreciates a culture that provides opportunities for growth. “This includes not just promotions or new positions, but also personal growth. Interaction with long tenured and new employees alike allows us to learn from the knowledge and experiences, professional and otherwise.”

Fleet Response values and encourages professional mentoring for new employees in all our departments. We also created our own Leadership Education and Development (LEaD) Program to foster growth and development in high potential staff. For an entire year, selected employees connect with executive leaders to learn more leadership skills, define personal and professional goals, and discover their own strengths and how to apply them at work and in the community.

“A lot of companies preach culture but do something different. But here, it’s real. We take care of each other and the best interests of our client,” says Jeff Gates, Regional Sales Manager. “Our LEaD program is great because every department is involved at every level of experience. It’s a mini-MBA program on how our business works. It gives everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard and make real change.”

4. Listen to your employees and give them a voice

In an unhealthy work environment people feel they are not heard or empowered to make a difference. They are afraid to speak up or there is no venue to talk about important issues. Any business can build a healthy culture by encouraging honest conversations within formal groups or meetings. That should begin in the teams where people work daily.

“We are all able to work as a team and move forward together. Everyone is given a sense that their voice matters, and they are fully empowered,” says Erin Allen, an Analytics Engineer who has been with Fleet Response for 16 years.

At Fleet Response, we recently formed a new employee committee on Diversity & Inclusion to express concerns, gain understanding and start initiatives. Members rotate through six-month terms, allowing for new voices to be heard and new employees to lead efforts to build an inclusive culture where every employee feels empowered and proud to succeed.

5. Adapt communication for a remote workplace

How do you sustain a healthy culture when employees are no longer working side-by-side? It demands a whole new “pivot” to connect with people working at home due to COVID-19. Even if the situation is temporary, your business may always have some employees working remotely. When you create a healthy “virtual culture” they feel connected and supported.

To protect the health and safety of our employees, in March 2020 all Fleet Response workers went remote in less than a week. Our IT team worked that miracle while our communications team kicked into action with an entirely new platform called “Communicator,” sending out daily messages of support on everything from working at home to reducing stress, staying focused and sharing the experience.

Jeff Gates was impressed with the company’s seamless transition to working remotely – and appreciates the daily Communicator. “I’ll never forget one week they asked us all to send in our favorite songs and they put together a playlist that Friday. I took them all and made my own Amazon playlist! It does not seem like a big deal, but it’s a reminder we’re all in this together. We’re here to support each other and our clients.”

Apply these practices to your organization

These five practices make for a healthy culture and happy employees at Fleet Response. But any company can use and adapt these to improve the workplace environment. It’s worth the effort. Because in the end, culture determines the rise or fall of any company.