Business Impact Culture Manifesto

When was the last time you were trying to reach someone and you had an automatic response or were told on the phone “ I am on sick leave until….” meaning I can not be reached? Even during the pandemic, these were very rare messages. Have we stopped being sick (enough) not to work or is the situation more complex (and scarier)?

In our experience, throughout the years, one of the most neglected aspects, in organizations in general and social impact organizations specifically, is planning and managing internal impact. The impact we have on our employees and our working community.

At this point in the blog, I must kidnap a bit of space to thank two very important people, not just for the content of the blog but for making me aware of the issues of internal impact and making me, hopefully, a better employer/boss/colleague/mentor. One of these people is of course my therapist, that has spent numerous years in gentle and emphatic and I must emphasize very patient walk-beside-me-and-occasionally-hold-me-up as I limp towards personal growth:) And secondly, I have the privilege of having a sister that is also a therapist (not mine!) and one of the greatest and wisest mental health experts, that as soon as the pandemic hit told me – Tamara, you know what this means? A worldwide mental health pandemic in six months to a year. Both inspired me and made me think a lot about what we could do to preserve mental health at work and ensure we manage and measure our internal impact. Because having an impact means being responsible for it, whether we acknowledge it or not.

In those very early days of the pandemic, I sat down and developed an experimental internal impact management and measurement system that we refer to as “Business Impact Culture”. It was a very well-defined, monitored, and measured Impact Business Culture as a mix of existing and innovative measures, that has been, to a large extent, tested and implemented in our (small!) work community.

  1. Old-school – benefits of our socialist heritage do include a human-centric work environment and should not be discarded based on the decision to leave socialism behind. Many mechanisms such as public health, public kindergartens, maternity (and recently paternity) leave are what made life easier for employees. In our company this means:
    a) ensuring maximum health coverage (we are currently working on the most encompassing health plan including annual health checkups that are not covered by our public health insurance)
    b) ensuring housing (we are currently experimenting with providing a percentage of the rent to be covered by the company for the employees that have to move to Zagreb (relocate) in order to be employed as is likely their expenses of seeing family or traveling back home will be increased)
    c) preferred long-term employment contracts
    d) insisting on sick leave and vacation days (non-negotiable)
  2. Demographics – we ask ourselves not just whether are we truly open to employing diverse groups of people (gender-wise, ethnicity-wise but also people with mental or physical disabilities) but also what kind of working conditions are necessary to be truly open and inclusive and not just tick-the-box inclusive. What are the invisible, hidden obstacles for employing marginalized individuals, individuals struggling with issues that make it almost impossible to gain regular employment or to do their work without the additional stressful requirement to fulfill protocols and goals made for the majority. From people dealing with anxiety or depression to people having dysgraphia, to people coming from different cultures and backgrounds, having a diverse work community must include checking our own privilege and redefining rules and procedures. For larger companies, that of course also means making sure presence and representation and correlated and thought-through.
  3. New World – innovative measures. As our societies and our worlds speed up, so do our professional communication and workload. As technology revolutionizes information in our pockets it to brings work closer to home and into our family lives. This is a great risk for mental health and stress-related illness. We are testing several concepts to prevent burnout and stress such as:

a) Working hours are 6 hours per day plus 1 hour of planned and unplanned work. Planning for 6 hours of work a day and leaving one hour to resolve piled up, or unplanned work, i.e. quiet time allows us to keep the stress levels down in an era of super-fast communication when we can never know what and how much (emails) are coming our way. This also serves to protect us from being overloaded and not able to be agile and flexible for those who need us professionally.
b) We forbid work-related communication before 8:30 am and after 4:30 pm and during the weekends unless there is an extraordinary circumstance (such as if we are running an all-day event) so that we know that time off work is truly that.
c) We make sure, especially for senior staff to de-glorify being busy. We don’t work hard and play hard, we don’t promote being professionally accessible all the time but rather productivity that’s based in health and humanity.
d) We are testing having monthly quiet days that are dedicated to reading and discussing professional issues within the team. These have been the hardest to implement.
e) We demand employees take sick days (when they start feeling sick not when they are already unable to work) and forbid communication during colleagues’ sick days, with coworkers taking on their work and compiling a briefing to be implemented upon their return. The briefing is the ease-into-work time after a vacation or sick leave when colleagues brief you on all your clients and portfolios and go with you through where they will leave off and where you can take up the work again. This demands a lot of information-sharing, a system of shadowing and collaboration, with a goal that no one is irreplaceable because if you are irreplaceable you can never take time off
f) We clearly define “emergency”. Some services specialize in emergencies. Spoiler: we are not one of them. Even though the speed of information circulation is so fast we have to demystify and relearn what an emergency is.
g) We try to practice self-discipline in email and phone communication. The technology and communication speed we know has provided us with the luxury of sharing our thoughts as they come or ticking off our to-do’s when we can, requiring an immediate response or resulting in sending multiple emails. We thus try and self-disciplined in our communication, summarize all the issues we have for one person in one email, or when we have a to-do list think of others and plan to give them time and space to respond.
h) We have introduced “health days”, using two days a year to take time off, when we need to decompress for mental health and to be offline, using this time to invest in our mental or physical health and to prevent illness rather than cure it when its already acute.

4. Support and mentoring at work. In general, but especially in working with youth/juniors, we pay attention to how we support and care for our employees.

a) Entry-level professionals have special articles in their contracts #the right to a mistaken article” that encourage them to make mistakes freely and without stress/guilt by a contractual obligation of senior staff to take responsibility and do damage control for junior staff mistakes in relation to our clients or the public. We all make mistakes and in our increasingly visible online culture, a disproportionate illusion of professional success is portrayed thus putting on even more pressure on us when we fail. Thus we count on mistakes being made and plan knowingly we will be in that situation trying to reduce the stress of if it will happen. It will, its a part of work. We let those with vast experience and developed professional self-esteem deal with them and support younger colleagues through them as well as to teach them how to do damage control and how to take responsibility for mistakes.

b) The four aspects of individual support include:

i. personal professional support – we are not working to include a psychologist in our annual health checks (they are currently not included in any of the offers we have examined). There are two aspects we feel should be included in supporting employees personally, do they have any specific mental health requirements, and just like physical health, how are they doing. Secondly, work-related stressors – what makes them anxious and how we can adjust workload, tasks, and communication is something that is discussed with mentors and superiors. What we do have to emphasize is that it’s a matter of delicate balance. On the one hand, we want to remove some stressors but on the other, we do not want a stress-free environment, as such an environment (to the best of our knowledge) does not exist. We thus want to encourage and strengthen mechanisms of dealing with stress that are a normal part of life and work. This balance should be analyzed and designed with a mental health professional and communicating (while respecting privacy) with employees’ superiors and mentors

ii. professional support that includes learning what skills and knowledge an individual requires to feel more confident and to do their work better

iii. social professional support – especially in countries like Croatia, due to our educational system and culture tasks such as public speaking or constructive criticism or even networking can be very stressful, especially for young professionals. Thus it is the responsibility of the company to support them while encouraging them and providing them with what they need (that can help with prep, or having another person ready to take over upon signal, or practicing) when it comes to the social aspect of the job

iv. social justice and professional support – we know we all have different stories and experiences, but as sociologists, we also know that as members of certain groups, we have different collective experiences, memory, and fears. We know that statistically, women do not take ownership of their success. More inclined to prescribe it to “good team” “luck” or “not being that difficult” than their own merit there is a definite gender gap in the way women and men are inclined to make, maybe barely visible to most of us, professional choices. Keeping in mind gender, ethnicity, disability, and other socially constructed predictors is crucial for providing professional support to our employees.

Implementing these extremely high criteria of impact business culture of course requires a lot of testing and trial and error at first. It requires financial resources (and we would like to thank all our clients for placing their trust in us and thus enabling us to test and implement positive social impact internally) as well as time. Possibly more than anything it requires dedication and planning, evaluation and measurement, which we do, along with our external impact measurement. You can find more on how we measure internal and external impact here.


This blog was written by Tamara Puhovski.