A Holistic Approach to Maintaining a Union-Free Culture

A holistic approach to building a union-free culture is a comprehensive strategy to support the whole employee – physically, mentally, socially, and financially. And in keeping with the Proactive Erawe also add authentically. This is quite different from the past, when our employees were expected to come to work, follow the way "it's always been done or been told to do," and leave their authentic selves at the door. 

Today's new generations of workers don't see themselves as employees but more like free agents with personal and work needs and a desire to thrive in a positive, supportive organizational culture. Unionization contributes to a culture that is the opposite of what workers want because they control the employee experience.   

Why the Holistic Employee Experience is Central to Staying Union-Free 

When talking about empowering employees, the discussion can sound very esoteric. No doubt, some of your leaders believe it falls mainly on Human Resources (HR) professionals to create the best employee experience because the supervisors at the frontline have other responsibilities to worry about. While HR plays a huge role in the employee experience, the HR professionals can't create a holistic employee experience simply because they aren't the people interacting with employees daily in terms of work completion, maintaining a positive department culture, and direct engagement with leaders.

It's the managers and supervisors directly communicating with their employees daily who directly impact retention, employee satisfaction, the organizational culture, and the ability to stay union-free. Developing a holistic experience for employees requires ALL leaders to get on board – from the CEO to HR to frontline supervisors. 

Developing a holistic experience for employees requires ALL leaders to get on board – from the CEO to HR to frontline supervisors. Everyone needs to be involved. #employeeexperience #HR #leadershipdevelopment

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Most of us seem to have no problem recognizing that each person outside the workplace is unique. When your managers assign the label "employee" to a person, there are frequently subtle shifts in how the individual is viewed. Instead of being seen as a person who experiences a full range of emotions, has different life experiences, brings a desire to succeed, wants to meet personal and work goals, and wants the organization to honestly care about their success, the "employee" becomes a person who produces something to make a profit. The holistic employee experience begins with a shift in perspective to embrace the whole person, and it has become more important than ever to avoiding unionization.

One of the primary arguments labor unions present to potential union members is that the employer really doesn't care about them or their families, saying the employer just wants to stay profitable. For example, just recently, former labor organizer and now congressional representative Andy Levin discussed how the pandemic led to rising wages, hiring bonuses, and more employment options for people. He went on to say the "gains of workers will be evanescent" and won't last because the labor market will stabilize and employers will "claw back value from workers." Levin adds, "For it [the gains] to be durable, they're [employees] will have to regain the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively." 

employee experience

Levin wants Congress to pass the PRO Act and the minimum wage and non-union workers to join together and pressure employers over the long term. The Unite Here labor union represents 300,000 frontline workers in service industries. The President of Unite Here, D. Taylor, says the power of workers is limited, and they cannot ask for more health care or retirement benefits or flexible schedules. "It's a clarion call to the labor movement to organize," Taylor said. "We need to put an enormous amount of resources to start organizing again, all the unions, to change the economic balance of power in this country. Until we do that, it's only going to get worse." 

Another issue is the shift in employee focus in many cases. Projections and the Society for Human Resources have pointed out that recent labor unrest has not been about traditional issues like wages and benefits nor adhered to typical industries and employee types. Unions organized Gawker and university teaching assistants, for example. At Wayfair, the employees walked off the job to protest the company's decision to sell beds to federal detention centers holding. Google employees protested over the treatment of contract workers and the development of artificial intelligence for the U.S. defense department. These are social issues. Workers want a voice on the job, says Jeffery Buchanan with Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions, workers, community groups, and religious organizations.  

Begin with the Holistic Culture 

In many organizations, the approach to developing employee engagement is piecemeal. The company has a menu of benefits, a solid compensation schedule, and a good communication system. But your leaders need to ask themselves some questions and give honest answers to pinpoint employee engagement gaps needing closing to develop a genuinely holistic culture. Only then determine a strategy to create a holistic employee experience.  

  • Do your employees feel genuinely appreciated?  
  • Do you know the unmet needs of employees? 
  • Do you know what your employees are really thinking about the company's goals and strategies and their role in business success?  
  • Do your employees feel recognized.
  • Do your employees believe their work is meaningful
  • Do employees believe they bring value to the organization?  
  • Do employees feel they have a voice and fully utilize the organization's communication system? 
  • Do employees have a sense of belonging
  • Do employees believe they are supported as people with personal and work lives? 
  • Do employees have positive employee relations with management?  

A January 2021 Gallup survey found 39 percent of employees are engaged, but 14 percent are actively disengaged (have miserable work experiences and share their unhappiness with coworkers). During the COVID-19 disruption, employers strived to keep their employees engaged and learned many lessons about the importance of developing a holistic culture in which all workers believe they are valued as employees and individuals. All workers are those in the office or on the plant floor and remote workers and field workers. After COVID-19, the effort needs to intensify.  

That's the main quality defining a positive holistic culture as opposed to a positive culture – people feel they are appreciated as individuals as much as they are appreciated as employees. A holistic culture takes a positive organizational culture to the next level. 

Inclusion is Essential to the Holistic Employee Experience

Recognizing all employees need inclusion in the holistic employee experience, some of the gaps today result from the COVID-19 impacts. For example, there is now a larger remote or hybrid workforce. Some companies did a great job of keeping the remote employees engaged. Some didn't, meaning part of their workforce is no longer as engaged. It's been a learning year during the pandemic.  

The Gallup survey mentioned earlier found that 44 percent of employees want to continue working some or all of their workdays remotely, but 39 percent want to return to the office. As you develop the holistic employee experience, you have to discover and address the unique needs of the individuals of your employees. It also said that employee engagement is at risk if wellbeing is low. This once again points out the importance of developing a holistic employee experience. Gallup writes, "Engaged employees who are struggling or suffering in their overall lives have a 61% high rate of burnout often or always." 

holistic approach to stay union-free

Developing a Holistic Employee Experience 

The holistic employee experience blends life and work, and your organization as a whole and your leaders specifically help support them. People are complex, but there are elements that all people are concerned with, and your leaders can address. The goal is to create a holistic employee experience in the Proactive Era or labor and employee relations. Your reward beyond a happy and productive workforce is that success will make labor unions unnecessary.  


SurveyMonkey and Bonusly partnered to ask more than 1,500 workers about recognition. The results found 82 percent are happier when recognized at work, 68 percent think public recognition impacts their ability to get a promotion or raise, and 32 percent believe recognition improves the way their coworkers interact with them. Importantly, 43 percent of the unrecognized people are extremely likely to look for work elsewhere. Without recognition, your turnover is higher, and the unrecognized who stay are the people most likely to contact unions for attention.

The recognition you give your employees must go beyond trivial mementos given on work anniversaries. A Better Leader trains leaders to strategically recognize employees on an ongoing basis because recognition should be regular, sincere, and reinforcing a positive culture. They include giving employees regular feedback; employee communication systems enabling continuous communication for collaborative purposes; highlighting individual employees and employee teams on the company website or via texts or social media; bonus and benefits programs; encouraging peer-to-peer recognition; etc. 

The #recognition you give your employees must go beyond trivial mementos given on work anniversaries. It should be regular, sincere, and focus on reinforcing a #positiveculture. #employeerecognition #employeeexperience

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Recognition programs can embrace all employees wherever they are located. This may take some customization of the effort to accommodate people working in different geographic locations. Excluding groups of employees because they work remotely, for example, is likely to harm efforts to stay union-free and is not the behavior of laborwise leadership. There are also different recognition forms, including cultural, career benchmarks, exceptional performance, and team performance.   

Building trust and loyalty

The brand-building company Edelman conducted a global survey on employee trust. A coefficient of 2.0 or higher is significant. Edelman found the top communication topic most important to increasing employer trust was the societal impact or the organization's contributions for the betterment of society (3.78), followed by the organization's values (3.24), the organization's vision for the future (3.12), the organization's mission and purpose (2.85), and operational decisions that may affect an employee's job (2.62). 

The survey also found that meeting employee expectations builds resilient trust; employee expectations now include societal change, and employee trust cements the employer-employee partnership. Employees were concerned with wages keeping up with the cost of living, interesting work experience, training programs, and career opportunities.  

The survey also found employers are falling short on employee engagement, with only 38 percent of employees saying their employers communicated effectively to employees about changes; 36 percent of employers were honest about changes employees would face; 34 percent gave employees opportunities to give input, and 31 percent communicated consistently. Building employee trust relies on building employer-employee positive personal relations founded on honest communication about the top communication topics mentioned earlier, change that is nearly constant today, and the employee's role and value. 

Health, wellbeing, safety, and mental health

Every discussion on the holistic employee experience includes employee health and wellbeing. Employers who offer wellness programs and good benefits show they care about their employees' health. Benefits have always been a top focus of unions, with them always promising union members will get more benefits than non-union workers.  

The company, Wellable's survey, researched how employers are investing in benefits. It found, in 2021, employers are investing more in mental health (88 percent), telemedicine (87 percent), stress management and resilience (81 percent); mindfulness and meditation (69 percent); and COVID-19 risk intake/wellness passport programs (63 percent). Notice that three out of five concern mental health.   

The survey also found that employers will focus on physical safety beyond COVID-19; increased caregiving benefits for the care of dependents and children that includes flexible schedules; expanded benefits to accommodate remote workers, like virtual wellness programs and virtual employee engagement activities; and increased employee access to mental health and behavioral services. They will also require leadership training to help identify and support employees experiencing mental health challenges. 

Personal and professional growth

Your employees have never had more power in their work relationships with your leadership team than they do today. They are using that power to demand employers help them access learning and development opportunities, so it's important to take a proactive approach to deliver those opportunities. Recognition and rewards are one element, and so is real-time feedback. 

One study on performance management found a large disconnect between employees and business leaders. The current state of performance feedback and management was due to a lack of real-time feedback and development. Most employees believed the performance review process was outdated (61 percent), too generic (22 percent), or too infrequent (6 percent), and often incomplete (62 percent). Employees (90 percent) prefer their manager or supervisor to address mistakes and opportunities in real-time because it offers coaching and behavior change opportunities

Inclusiveness and belonging

Unconscious bias continues to be an issue because it can be expressed in subtle ways. A Deloitte survey found that 39 percent of respondents experienced bias frequently, and 83 percent said it was subtle and indirect or microaggressions. Developing an inclusive culture may not eliminate the expression of all biases. Still, it will greatly reduce them because many times, people don't realize they are biased, i.e., jokes they grew up telling or eliminating people from hiring lists because their name is foreign-sounding, and so on. Harassment comes in many forms.  

Work Satisfaction

The Frontiers in Psychology published a study on the possible link between job satisfaction and life satisfaction from the perspective of the satisfaction of basic psychological needs. The link exists. The study found that a key strategy for employers to have happier, more engaged, and productive workers are to help satisfy employee needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.   

A holistic employee experience would be one in which your leaders help workers feel they are able to decide what to do, are effective and efficient, and feel connected, appreciated, and understood by others. They don't need unions. Employees who are satisfied with their jobs and effort and happy in general may also feel more satisfied with their personal lives. You can offer employee training resources on things like career advancement and resilience in the face of change and offer your leaders training on soft skills like emotional intelligence. 

flexibility in the workplace

Work-life balance

Grand Canyon University conducted a study on work-life balance in the business environment. The biggest barriers to achieving work-life balance identified were:  

  • Personal perfection (32.8 percent) 
  • Company culture (24.2 percent) 
  • Burnout (16 percent) 
  • The work itself (13.8 percent) 
  • Bosses and supervisors (13.2 percent) 

Poor work-life balance has a direct impact on the quality of the lives of your employees. The study found 48.8 percent of employees said their relationships with family suffered, and 47 percent said relationships with friends. Employees also had more problems with self-care habits, mental and emotional health, physical health, hobbies, and community service. 

Corporate environmental and social responsibility  

Employees want to trust their employers to act as responsible corporate citizens, and some have already walked off the job to bring attention to employers they believe are doing so. Corporate responsibility includes issues like environmental sustainability, reducing pollutant emissions, human rights violations, free speech, and so on. The Wayfair and Alphabet walkouts mentioned earlier are good examples. 

Financial wellbeing

Financial wellbeing is as important as physical and mental health, and even overall workplace well-being. Many employers offer retirement programs, but even if they are unable to afford them, there are other ways to show you care. One is to offer financial education services that help employees with financial decision-making and directs them to resources.   

Financial wellbeing includes paying a fair wage, budgeting, and dealing with unexpected financial stress. The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) says that 88 percent of Americans experienced stress on their personal finances due to the COVID-19 pandemic – health care bills, loss of savings, inability to pay housing and utility bills. Even post-pandemic, there will be continuing employee stress over job security. 

Today, human interaction involves utilizing technology to make connections across groups of people. Your leaders can use it to engage employees. Employees use it to communicate with each other. Near continuous digital communication can cut across departments and functions, and sometimes discussions can shift from work to non-work topics of interest. This is one aspect of the social nature of digital communication. This moves non-work topics into your company's issues and workplace conversations, i.e., pollution, social justice, racism, etc. Your leaders can learn a lot about what is important to their employees by utilizing an effective communication system.  

Reimagining the Employee Experience to Stay Union-Free 

The holistic employee experience begins during the recruitment stage and extends until the person leaves or retires. People are defining themselves more holistically at work and home, striving for a sense of purpose. It's been a struggle for some employers to shift their perspective from looking at employees as "workers" versus "individuals." It may seem overwhelming because a holistic HR approach requires thinking about a lot more than just who shows up to work on time, their productivity rates, and the cost of wages/salaries and benefits. 

The unions are shifting their perspective. They are trying to attract new members by focusing on things like social justice, employer environmental performance, employee voice, and training and development, and reskilling or upskilling, to name a few. The shift is needed, though for many reasons, and one is to stay union-free. It's time to reimagine the employee experience.  

How can you shift your approach to take full advantage of the Proactive Era of positive employee relations? Projections has developed a guide we call Your Roadmap to the Proactive Era: The Future of Positive Employee Relations. The five step roadmap is a clear and direct path to developing holistic positive employee relations. Click here to chat with us and get your copy.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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