Do island vacations, retention bonuses, trendy break rooms and company chefs truly create good workplace culture? When distribution companies attempt to transform their organizational culture using only fleeting perks, they don’t often see the sustainable payoff they seek. That’s because building great company culture requires strategic planning for the future and a holistic appreciation for your employees.
To change company culture for the better, sponsoring employees to pursue higher education through tuition reimbursement is one of the most authentic investments in workplace culture that distribution companies can make.
In a survey of more than 2,000 professionals across 16 industries, Hays found that 47% of jobseekers leave their job because of company culture. Their study finds that focusing on training and development should be a priority for companies and that perks and benefits don’t hold up against a culture of open communication, strong leadership and company values.
Here are five ways sponsoring higher education benefits your distribution company’s culture:
1. Fosters a mutual commitment
If a retention bonus feels like a contract, sponsoring employees’ higher education feels like a covenant. Tuition, especially for an industry-specific program, quantifies your investment in your staff more meaningfully than cutting a check. It communicates that the employee’s value and expertise are recognized as an important part of the company’s future.
It’s difficult to build company culture with high staff turnover, and with the millennial generation changing jobs more frequently than previous generations, it’s the company’s responsibility to attract and retain quality professionals by building in growth opportunities.
Higher education programs, particularly those that are specialized to the industry, equip students to return to the company with projects that can immediately solve problems. Distribution companies that implement such projects not only see ROI on the results, they also experience increased engagement among its graduated employees. The graduates return to the workplace with a greater sense of purpose and ownership over their work. It strengthens their commitment to the company.
2. Allows professional autonomy
There are few things that are worse for company culture than employees who feel stuck and stunted professionally. Investing in higher education creates room for employees to change the scenery of their daily roles, whether they have goals for moving up in the company or even if they want to make lateral moves among different departments or understand the business in greater depth.
After graduating with a specialized master’s degree, students return to their workplaces with a more defined sense of their industry and their role and interests within it. Many choose to pursue leadership positions with their newly honed skillsets while others create their own positions or excel in their existing positions by being able to communicate better across departments.
Many students report an increased confidence in the workplace driven by a better understanding of the bigger picture.
3. Encourages engagement
Curiosity and problem solving cannot be manufactured, but they can be inspired. Sponsoring staff to earn a higher education puts them in positions to make new connections within the industry and return with fresh ideas and refined critical thinking skills. Graduates come back with newfound initiative when problems arise and begin to naturally lead and teach their teammates.
Specialized higher education programs that equip students to develop projects to be immediately applied to their workplaces also invite the opportunity for students’ coworkers to help steer those projects, creating new opportunities for collaboration. Graduates see how to bridge gaps of communication among different departments and often become invaluable problem-solvers, initiating cohesion with new and better company-wide systems.
Deepened engagement, in turn, creates more loyalty and trust between the distribution company and employees while delivering tangible returns to the business. Graduates report increased personal fulfillment in becoming part of the conversation and being able to communicate with C-level executives confidently.
4. Creates trust in times of transition
When it becomes part of a company culture to sponsor employees through an industry-specific higher education program, employees adopt the same language and patterns of critical thinking due to the common language and knowledge gained through their common educational pursuits. As a result, a unique level of appreciation and camaraderie grows organically around solving problems and communicating.
Graduates report an increased ability to respond as a team during times of crisis and transition as one key benefit of multiple employees who have achieved the same specialized degree. A common technical understanding begins to grow within the workplace and becomes its own kind of retention tool as coworkers, even from different departments, understand one another better.
5. Develops leadership
When employees graduate from higher education programs, they become leaders within the company. Whether they are officially promoted to leadership positions or take greater initiative within their current roles, their gains in knowledge and confidence have a dual effect within the company.
First, this leadership results in more streamlined, efficient systems and processes that often improve hiring and procedural efforts. Second, the emerging leaders are newly invested in their revised roles, therefore increasing employee longevity metrics.
Before long, graduates will be referring their younger distribution colleagues to the program to gain information to fill their former positions and so the role of higher education within your company becomes a self-sustaining ecosystem of positivity, curiosity and engagement.
Imagine a workplace where employees feel that their skillsets are valuable to the company’s immediate success — a staff that feels invested and worthy; challenged, but not exploited; engaged, but not burnt out. You can offer meal plans, island vacations and ping pong tables, but those momentary incentives will never create the kind of deep fulfillment many employees are seeking. By sponsoring higher education, employees are equipped to bring their best every day, are motivated to bring competencies learned and apply them within the company, and by default these things help companies build an authentic, long-lasting workplace culture.
Kourtney Gruner, M.Ed., is the assistant director of student services and capstone coordinator for the Master of Industrial Distribution program at Texas A&M University. She is also a doctoral student in Higher Education Administration at Texas A&M University. Contact Mark Lorenzo at email@example.com for more information about the MID program.