5 methods to building healthier employee culture

A boutique recruitment firm owner shares what employers and employees are prioritizing regarding hiring, engagement and retention.

By Kacey Larsen      
building healthier employee culture

Camille Fetter, founder and CEO of digital business executive search firm Talentfoot, likens her work to being an “agent to professionals,” comparable to agents for professional athletes. The firm also serves as advisors and strategic partners to employer hiring teams, giving Fetter a unique perspective on hiring and workplace culture trends from both the employer and employee view. Not to mention, being a business owner herself for the past 11 years.

Camille Fetter

Talentfoot has a team of roughly 30 people, comprising more than 70% who are dispersed and remote, and who Fetter says did not skip a beat at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve always believed that you hire the best regardless of where they are located and you’ll have the best outcomes,” she adds.

When it comes to clients, Fetter notes that cost-of-vacancy and concerns generally around the Great Resignation—or as she calls it, “the never-ending game of musical chairs”—may have led some employers to hire too reactively rather than thoughtfully. This includes considering candidates’ locations and determining how important it is for that role to be in the office. These days, Fetter says, a search for candidates in a specific location necessitates reaching out to roughly four times the amount of talent to fill the role.

Employees in the driver’s seat

From the employee perspective, Fetter is also seeing some reactive responses to the moment, especially with rising inflation and requests for compensation increases. She cautions there could be a downside to that request from a long-game view, especially when factoring in the potential employee savings from not going into an office every day.

“We’re advising both sides of the desk to not be so reactive. The employee who is demanding a significant increase and even gets the increase, they’re going to be seen as over-paid six, 12 months from now, and guess who’s going to be replaced, right?” she says. “We’re coaching employees to showcase your accomplishments and why those accomplishments have made an impact on the organization and therefore the value that you’re driving.”

While employer-employee negotiations typically have some give and take, compensation is not the only thing that matters to employees these days.

“It’s been some time since the employees were in the driver’s seat. It’s obviously happened historically, and there’s always shifts of who’s in the driver’s seat. Is it the employer or employee?” Fetter says. “It’s now the employees as we all know, and that’s a beautiful thing. Employees in the driver’s seat make for better organizations. It forces hiring teams, leadership teams to be really thoughtful and intentional about culture-shaping. Healthier cultures make for happier people. Happier people are only a good thing for humanity and the world, so I think this is all a really good thing.”

Thoughtful culture shaping

As for building healthier cultures, Fetter identifies five benefits or approaches employers should consider as they look to recruiting, hiring and beyond.  

1. Packaging employer branding and connecting that to employees.

Fetter notes that knowing and communicating an organization’s mission, values and culture is very important to employees who want to know that where they work stands for something—and find meaning in their own work by extension.

“Gen Z and pretty much most of humanity right now, we’re all looking for more meaning in our lives. We’ve been through a lot, and these have been very taxing times on a lot of people’s mental health. And there’s this inflection point for humanity,” she explains. “A lot of where we spend our time as humans is at work, so a lot of people are realizing that life is short,and they want to fall in love with their work again, they want to feel fulfillment and have meaning in their work, and that they’re contributing to a mission that actually matters and resonates with them. So really packaging that employer branding is important, and then asking employees what matters to them and finding out what matters to them.”

Part of determining what matters may require talking to employees about what Fetter calls “legacy building,” which is finding what legacy an employee wants to leave behind and helping on that journey. This could mean supporting employee-recommended philanthropy efforts, for example.

2. Provide educational and training opportunities.

“The biggest reason employees call us to make a move is they feel stagnant, they feel complacent, they feel like they aren’t growing anymore, especially [with] not being in the office with other people,” Fetter says. “They are just kind of going from one tactical meeting to the next and constantly just blocking and tackling, and people want to grow. Most people know growth leads to fulfillment, fulfillment leads to happiness [and] people just want to be happy.”

3. Location flexibility allows for work-life harmony.

Many workers who have gone remote or hybrid since the pandemic have formed whole new routines in their lives, and because of that many are resistant to being told where they physically need to be on a certain day. Case in point, Fetter had an employee candidate decline a job offer from an ad agency only to call back five days later to ask if the offer was still available. It turned out that her then-employer announced a two-day a week in-office mandate. “And that same organization she works for has thousands of employees,” Fetter says. “Within, not kidding you, 20 minutes of the organization communicating this mandate, we were inundated with phone calls.”

The work-life integration many people have found with say grocery shopping at noon on a Tuesday or picking kids up straight from school rather than having them in an after-school daycare has become very important to employees.

“You can’t compartmentalize the different parts of your life, and the organizations that are allowing their employees to find that harmony of work and life and being able to allow them to really balance both lives simultaneously, those are the organizations that are winning on culture and winning talent,” Fetter adds. “And employees are expecting it now.”

4. Mandated mental health days as the norm.

These mental health days are something Fetter has seen entire companies or just teams do more and more. It’s something she also put in place at Talentfoot.

“Like our own organization, we have two days a year for mental health, and we call it a ‘brain break day,’” she says. “They are supposed to go do something just for themselves and no one else, and then we send photos to each other hiking and just all over the country doing fun things. And no one feels guilty for taking the day off.”

5. Connecting at off-site destination gatherings.

While there’s an ongoing grappling with the importance of an office, Fetter suggests it’s time to broaden that thought process: “They are saying it’s the evolution of the three-office model approach. It’s home office, it’s headquarters and then it’s off-sites. And sometimes maybe there’s a fourth where it’s a satellite office depending on the organization.”

The off-site “offices” then are places where a team can gather to connect, work and maybe have some fun, too. As an example: a team meeting in Colorado for three days to have work sessions and then go skiing to have some fun, which can bring a dispersed team together.

Fetter points out that all of this really comes down to asking employees what matters to them—and then helping “fuel” that. “The amount of loyalty that comes from an employee who feels supported by an employer who’s helping them pursue their hopes, dreams and helping them find that inner fulfillment is everything from a loyalty standpoint.”


Want even more on workplace culture? View The Virtual Cultural Dilemma: Are Your Managers Ready to Shape & Reshape Culture in a Hybrid World? workshop presented in partnership with Peppercomm.