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The cultural symbols of an engaging workplace

Recently I was in a department store fitting room trying on a sweater. A sign on the fitting room wall stated in big, bold letters: Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted!

Two thoughts immediately came to mind as I absorbed the message:

  • “Store leaders are sending a message that they don’t trust their customers!” (The message clearly assumes that some customers are shoplifters.)

  • “When their employees see that sign every day, I wonder if it impacts how they treat customers.” (Are they wondering which customers are going to shoplift?)

Of course the intent of this sign is to deter would-be shoplifters from stealing. But I have to wonder how customers and employees assimilate this insinuating message, perhaps sub-consciously, and how it impacts their underlying beliefs and ultimately their behaviors. I started thinking about the various signs, images, and other visible messages in our nursing facilities and assisted living communities. Although many things impact a facility’s culture, it’s these kinds of tangible symbols that reflect the embedded values and beliefs of the facility and its leadership. These symbols, in turn, shape how employees think about the organization and ultimately how they behave in the workplace.

When leaders recognize a “disconnect” between organizational values and visible symbols, they can make changes that align symbols with values. Here are some examples:

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