Special Report
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Workplace changes are for the better – and it’s down to positive corporate cultures

Great Place to Work CEO John Ryan on health, inclusion and progress in the workplace

Over the past few years, it has been fascinating to witness changes at workplaces all over Ireland, as they adapt and respond to predictions about the future of work. At the Great Place to Work Institute, we have access to a global network of knowledge with affiliate offices across the world. We’re deeply embedded in the national fabric of the workplaces – meeting, brainstorming, and learning with employee populations, senior teams and boards – and it doesn’t take long for culture to come to the top of the agenda . It’s clear that while some companies have a firm grasp on the importance of their corporate culture, others don’t and the distinction is tangible.

It is merely a matter of reading the news to find chilling examples of poor work cultures and the devastating impact they can have: the cervical cancer screening controversy showed a series of detrimental individual decisions, rooted in a culture of poor decision making. Additionally, former Garda sergeant Maurice McCabe suffered a dysfunctional organisational culture that attempted to defend itself by undermining a distinguished whistleblower.

The best organisations are passionate about creating the right culture; and then articulating it, supporting it, and maintaining it. They engage with criticism and justify their values. Moving beyond grey corporate language, these organisations have moved to an authentic form of communication, revealing what makes them truly worthwhile. By doing this, they’ve managed to engage in an honest dialogue between employee and organisation.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are becoming more frequent and more visible. Although usually initiated with good intent, there can be much talk of diversity but little substantial inclusion in practice. Travellers, former prisoners, and people with disabilities would welcome further representation.


Political engagement by organisations is an interesting trend coming to the fore in recent years. The marriage-equality referendum in 2015 was an early example of corporations nailing their colours to the mast. Watch this space as new hires begin asking about the political views of the CEO, or cite previous examples of organisational activism in interviews.

Corporate responsibility for our environment has been emphasised by younger workers as they understand that individual actions will only get us so far. There is a huge push from those aged under 25, who are leading the charge in workplace initiatives to make meaningful changes towards sustainable environmental practices.

A few years ago, customer experience was the main obsession for organisations. Now they’re realising that the only way to actually deliver on this is if employees are passionate about their work.

Keep an eye out for employee experience strategies: particularly ones built on a continuous learning environment. Employee loyalty to the organisation is being replaced with interpersonal loyalty to a team, a leader, or a project. “Co-creation” and “plasticity” will be key terms in 2019, as the main driving forces of a recruitment process that will increasingly value adaptability, curiosity, and the application of interdisciplinary know-how.

There is still a long way to go but, from a historical perspective, could it be the best time yet to be a woman in the workplace? Many organisations are working hard on gender pay equality, mentorship programmes, the removal of barriers, and accelerated leadership tracks to deliver much-needed top female talent to boards and senior teams.

Four or even five generations are becoming increasingly common in one workplace. It looks like the oldest of those aren’t going anywhere, especially with the government extending the compulsory retirement age to 70. The “greyennials” are here to stay.

As predicted, health and wellbeing have taken centre stage for workplaces that are keen to retain talent. Yet most are still getting this wrong. The old-fashioned “tick box” initiative-based wellness programmes need to be dumped immediately. Only strategic evidence-based programmes will deliver real results. Surveys show that financial worries continue to weigh heavily on employees, affecting their health and performance. “Your wealth is your health” is genuinely the new truism.

A 5 per cent unemployment rate means the most competitive talent market in years. Organisations need to get smarter and more strategic in creating spaces where people can collaborate, innovate, and perform at their highest level. Organisations still managing by fear are destined for extinction. In our hyper-connected world, only those with an authentic offering will survive.

Congratulations to all the organisations listed today. Each and every one of you is leading the way, and providing your employees with a trusted Great Place to Work.