The Tip of the Iceberg Tips the Scale

Published: July 24, 2012

"I just received word that all of our 4000 employees received donuts this morning as part of our spirit week celebration," announced the hospital H.R. Director with pride, speaking as part of an award-winning healthy workplace panel. The donut gift was part of an effort to improve workplace culture.

A few minutes later, in answer to a question about programs that have been controversial, the H.R. Director talked about the backlash from requiring employees to be weighed by company representatives for health and wellness programs.

How can a company that promotes health and wellness to the extent of requiring weigh-ins also provide fat-laden treats to promote workplace culture? The two actions do not match and do not provide a clear, cohesive corporate identity.

Workplace culture lives in the invisible portion of the iceberg, the part submerged under water. The words many organizations plaster on their posters and mission statements live in the tip above the waterline for everyone to see. The essence of the organization, however, is forged beneath the surface where influence and meaning are anchored. When day-to-day actions match up with the stated vision, employees and culture sing in harmony. Wellness takes many forms – lifestyle, health, learning and, perhaps above all, the way we choose to conduct our interpersonal exchanges.

Communication is an action verb that has valence. We either strengthen or weaken our partners with every interaction. Wellness is more than nutrition and exercise. Wellness lives in the practice of civility, kindness, listening, supporting, challenging, and energizing. Wellness is something we give to others before it becomes something we get.

Tip the scale of your workplace culture. Find balance by matching the visible part of the iceberg with the portion submerged. Make your actions fit your words. In other words, if you’re going to weigh your employees, perhaps provide apples instead of donuts.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.