Ah, culture. the organizational beast that exists somewhere in the depths of the halls, is hard to catch a glimpse of and can jump out of the closet at any moment and scare you.

Ok, it isn’t quite like that but organizational culture does need to be nurtured and influenced so that it supports the business in achieving its goals and doesn’t end up hindering an organization’s success.

When a group of people is together for any period of time a culture is created. Companies can only influence the culture that exists and work with the experiences, backgrounds, and personalities of the people within an organization. As organizations experience change, whether it be economics, right-sizing, downsizing, mergers, change in senior leadership, culture cannot be ignored. The thoughts, feelings, and actions of employees who feel hesitant about the future can have a negative impact on the culture, impacting the bottom line of an organization.
Although our provincial economy is not thriving right now, Albertans have been in this position many times before. The difference this time around is employees’ expectations for increased engagement, understanding of their workplace and connecting to their leaders and colleagues. And uncertainty gives companies an even greater opportunity to influence culture by developing it, maintaining it and evolving it to reach the future goals of the organization.

Given that culture is a system made of any parts, there are a number of ideas on how to meet employee expectations and ensure your company’s culture stays intact:

Talk to the executive leadership team: it’s surprising how many organizations have never had a conversation about culture – what it should look like, what behaviours they’d like to see and a vision for their ideal state. This conversation may be a difficult one to have with executives during uncertain times, but positioning it in a way that demonstrates how a strong culture helps maintain company stability, engagement and company reputation will help to get your foot in the door to start the discussion.

Leverage your leaders: leaders are the ones that own culture. By default, the monster known as culture is frequently given to HR, but in reality, leaders are the ones who see their employees every day and have the greatest influence over them. So instead, make it HR’s job to support leaders. When organizations face economic challenges, leaders are usually trying to keep their own heads above water. Throw them a lifeline by providing tools to help create certainty for themselves and employees – such as how to have strong and informative conversations, what to focus on when it comes to work and the business and how to stay informed and involved.

You can also offer leaders some simple ideas of things they can do to maintain employee morale and engagement. It may seem like a silly idea, but something as whimsical as a box of Lego in the photocopy room and the encouragement to build something gives employees a chance to be creative.

Listen to the grapevine: organizations large and small have a rumour mill. Not only are the rumours a barometer for employee sentiment, they are also rich with ideas. Tap into it by listening to people where they gather. Not all ideas you hear will be good or helpful, but there are often a few nuggets that can be gleaned and turned into something powerful.

You can also consider influencing the rumour mill by becoming a trusted advisor and feeding information into it. But be cautious; any sign of formality or feeling like you are there to spy on them will diminish trust and effectiveness.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Decision-makers and leaders generally want to hide during uncertain times because they often have news that isn’t good or no news at all. Ever heard, “We don’t want to tell our employees yet because we don’t have all of the information/ dates/decisions, etc.”?

Here is something to remember about people: if you don’t fill the communications gap for them, they will do it for themselves and often with negative and incorrect information. Be as consistent and transparent as possible with communications and open the door to a two-way dialogue through discussions, forums and informal conversation.

Something to consider when it comes to communications during rocky times: if your organization has always communicated and stops, it sends a message to employees that things aren’t good and this will likely increase uncertainty. If you haven’t communicated with them often and start, this also sends a message to employees: usually one of care and concern and that you want them to be part of the conversation. Employees want to feel valued and by taking the time to share information you will show them that you are indeed “in this together.”

Keep the fun stuff and tell them why: how often have you heard “we can’t do that anymore, think of how the fun will be perceived by employees?” Think about how it will be perceived if you don’t.

Taking away what makes a company unique and what engages employees will have the quickest impact on your company’s culture. This doesn’t mean you should continue with elaborate, expensive parties. Rather, opt for opportunities that allow employees to get together often to share their stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas and have fun. Also, continue to invest in their development and learning by thinking of ways to stretch your training dollars, such as the Alberta Job Grant. this is what maintains organizational culture. And be sure to tell them the reason you are keeping the fun alive is that you want them to continue to be part of your organization.

What people perceive often becomes reality: this doesn’t mean put on the rose-coloured glasses and sugar coat your message, but if your organization is only talking doom and gloom then you will create doom and gloom. Employees can accept that things may be hard if you are honest and upfront with them and give them the time to work through getting their heads wrapped around the challenge. They also want to know what the plan is – so tell them. Not just the “what” side of the plan but the how the company is going to get there (which leads into the last point).

Tell employees how they can help: employees want a sense of purpose in an organization. If they are working together to achieve something, this helps them to feel valued and influences a culture to become one that looks forward rather backward. And after all, if your organization is going to continue to survive and thrive again isn’t forward where you want to go.

This article originally appeared in HUMAN Capital.