Their Take: Maintaining Company Culture Through Tough Times

by Greg Wells

The past few years have arguably been a tumultuous time for companies; it is hard to keep up with all the changes and challenges.

The pandemic fundamentally altered the way we work and do business. Add the Great Resignation and mounting fears of a looming recession to the mix; it is enough for any employer to question how to attract and retain talent while preserving company culture.

Human Resources must weigh external and internal factors, like the economic climate and its impacts on employees. Maintaining a business while ensuring employees and their families are taken care of is a delicate balancing act that requires thoughtful decisions.

There are some obstacles companies and their HR departments can prepare for by keeping a pulse on current events like rising inflation. Others are unpredictable, like COVID-19. The key to continued success regardless of outside forces is fostering a caring culture, prioritizing communication, rewarding hard work, and leading with transparency.


The pandemic did not come with an instruction guide and the influx of information changed daily. As one of the largest employers in the state, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona employs many people who depend on answers. However, we quickly learned that it is impossible to have all the answers or immediate solutions all the time. Let your employees know what is in the works and keep them updated. Addressing the good, the bad, and the ugly will build trust. Failing to respond to questions and concerns because there isn’t a perfect answer is the biggest mistake leaders can make. Set an expectation that answers can change when situations are fluid and acknowledge you are listening.


Let employees be a part of solutions with a continuous feedback/response loop. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona has monthly check-in surveys to understand how employees feel about the organization, what is working, and what we could do better. Executive leadership, including our CEO, reads every single comment and works to problem-solve based on clear patterns. We also implemented monthly ‘Cooler Connections,’ which is an opportunity for all employees to comment, ask questions, and get live answers from the executive leadership team to underscore that everybody’s input is valuable and heard.

Recognition and rewards

The labor market is highly competitive right now because job seekers have options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly two job openings for every unemployed person. While navigating economic influences like inflation, take a proactive and creative approach to attract and retain talent. As fuel prices skyrocketed, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona offered gas stipends to some employees who are required to commute to the office as a show of thanks, among other initiatives. Companies should recognize the financial strain that increased expenses put on employees and their loved ones and take thoughtful action where feasible. With that said, compensation is only one piece of the puzzle. Celebrating successes and rewarding performance should be prioritized and have many different facets. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona recognizes and promotes those who live our values and align with our mission in various ways. We love to celebrate and share the success of our team, and in turn, the success of our business. When people feel they are being treated fairly for their work or performance, they will not be motivated to seek employment elsewhere.

Caring culture

According to the Labor Department, a record 47.4 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 in search of better pay, work-life balance, and company culture. A people-oriented culture is a driver behind ongoing success and customer satisfaction. If employees are happy, it will reflect in their work ethic and customer service. Make it a goal to build an innovative, committed, and engaging work experience for employees to strengthen retention. Regardless of economic circumstances, businesses should aim to be an employer of choice throughout employees’ career cycles.

While company culture is intangible, it is something that is felt and seen in programs, practices, and actions. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona provides eight hours of company time to each employee to serve our community every year. This fosters an environment of collaboration where employees feel connected to each other and can see the difference they make in the lives of our members and our community. Research shows that employees want to work for purpose-driven companies, and when this aligns with their values, it is even more powerful. When company culture is an everyday focus, challenging periods will not cause panic.

What is the next curveball? Though forecasts constantly change, some U.S. economists believe a recession will likely hit in 2023. In times of economic uncertainty, decide what areas you can cut back on that will not impact people. Empower employee voices and promote a caring culture with reward systems in place. Who you are as an employer in good or bad times positions you for success.

Greg Wells is Chief People Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. With a mission to improve the quality of life for all Arizonans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona aims to inspire health through inventive programs, services, and health insurance products.

Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events