In many ways and for many reasons, people are more separated now than they have been in the past. Philosophically, politically, financially, physically, there is no shortage of divisions and space. However, at least at work, our research finds employees would prefer the opposite. Regardless of their place on the org chart, people have begun to seek more opportunities to connect with each other, and they are looking to their employers for help. Among the most common sentiments is a longing for community—the feeling of belonging to a group with a purpose that invites and inspires the person to contribute meaningful work. And when they feel this, it satisfies another deep need: fulfillment.
Community and fulfillment are two of the biggest themes we examined this year—a year in which organizations are at a crossroads, caught between recovering from recent crises and preparing for an economic forecast that could be damaging to their cultures. Part of the challenge is determining where to invest effort and resources because while most workplace culture scores have improved, the Great Resignation persists.
Based on our studies, we believe that for organizations to create community and provide an environment where fulfillment is possible, they’ll have to make progress on multiple paths. So we’ll explore the most promising ways forward in this report. Some may feel familiar, such as a focus on integrated recognition, while others, like employee fulfillment, are new to the scene but quickly catching the attention of the most committed organizations. Regardless, everything we share this year is the natural culmination of everything we’ve learned since our first report five years ago. Each report builds on the last. And as surely as workplace cultures are evolving, we’re confident our understanding of them keeps pace.
On that point, this year the O.C. Tanner Institute collected and analyzed the perspectives of over 36,000 employees, leaders, HR practitioners, and business executives from 20 countries around the world. You can see our methodology at the bottom of this page. The results demonstrate that employees crave community, leaders require urgent attention, personal fulfillment is a new benchmark, generalists provide exactly what organizations need now (if allowed), and symbols can increase the power of recognition dramatically.
We’re excited to unpack it all and hope our findings help you build the culture and community that will ensure your people thrive at work.
INTRODUCTION: THE NEED FOR COMMUNITY
No matter how independent or introverted, humans are inherently social animals. We all find emotional and psychological strength in each other. And whether an employee is a leader or individual contributor, specialist or generalist, 10-year veteran or week-1 recruit, the near constant change and uncertainty of the last year have eroded feelings of connection in the workplace. Fortunately, the cure is also becoming more apparent. Organizations can create the stability, identity, and belonging we all crave by providing a stronger sense of community. This, like any noble endeavor, is easier said than done. Bridging gaps, repairing holes, and laying new groundwork will require deliberate planning and action.
“Alone, we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.”
—HELEN KELLER, DISABILITY RIGHTS ADVOCATE AND AUTHOR
Let’s take a quick look at how culture has changed over the past year and how organizations can work through the changes to build a stronger community.
CHANGES IN TALENT MAGNET™ AREAS
Each year we measure changes in the six core elements of workplace culture that together determine employee decisions to join, engage with, and remain at any place of work. We call them Talent Magnets because of their power to attract and connect people to their teams and organizations:
An organization’s reason for being besides profits. It’s the difference it makes in the world, why the company exists. Employees need to feel connected to the purpose and understand how their job contributes to it. Once they do, their work takes on meaning. Organizations should clearly articulate the connection between work and purpose.
The chance to develop new skills, contribute to meaningful work, feel challenged, have a voice, and grow. Opportunity is more than the lure of promotions and pay increases. It’s about preparing and empowering employees to make decisions, inviting them to the table, and offering them projects that will expand their skills and relationships.
The thrill of accomplishment, innovation, breaking barriers, playing on a winning team, and experiencing victories. Employees must find success at the individual, team, and organizational levels, and it should be nurtured and publicly celebrated.
Feeling valued for one’s contributions and being recognized for one’s worth. Appreciation is essential to employees—people need to know their leaders and peers notice and are grateful for their efforts and contributions. Appreciation is most effective when it’s delivered in timely, personal, and meaningful ways.
Caring about the employee as a whole—their physical, emotional, social, and financial health. Wellbeing ensures employees can be their strongest, most capable, most authentic selves at work. A comprehensive approach to wellbeing requires leaders to create an environment of inclusivity, work-life integration, and connection.
The mentoring, coaching, inspiring, and facilitating that allow individuals, teams, and, ultimately, organizations to succeed. Great leaders co-create a shared purpose for their teams and empower their employees to do great work. As the most influential of the six Talent Magnets, leadership cultivates the other five.
Scores have increased across the board from last year, with the exception of wellbeing (which makes sense given the amount of burnout left over from the pandemic and as life and business ramp back up again). The improvements are largely the result of efforts organizations made to step up their cultures in the wake of the Great Resignation, plus employees feeling more positive as the effects and difficulties of the pandemic wane.
CHALLENGES ORGANIZATIONS WILL FACE
As the pandemic becomes endemic and the workplace continues to evolve, our research identifies six new challenges. Carefully considering each test and task will help create the environment and experiences necessary to attract, retain, and inspire employees.
1. The uncertain domain of the post-pandemic workplace
The rules and ways of working in the past no longer apply, and the model of the workplace itself is still evolving. In this time of transition, organizations need employees with the right range of skills, talents, and experience to manage the uncertainty and ambiguity.
2. Strengthening the workplace community
A sense of community holds workplaces together. How can organizations maintain and strengthen their communities, especially as employees remain physically apart and organizations struggle to keep employees connected?
3. People want more out of work
The usual perks and salary increases are no longer enough to attract new talent or retain existing employees. As people have re-evaluated their priorities during the pandemic, money and titles have lost some luster. What can organizations do to help their employees find balance, purpose, and, ultimately, fulfillment in their lives?
4. Leader burnout and identity conflicts
Leaders carry heavy workloads, and the pandemic only added burdens and stress to their role. In addition to the traditional tasks of managing teams and assignments, leaders now manage employee emotional health and wellbeing, pandemic-related changes, employee retention during the Great Resignation, and inspiring great work and building workplace culture. At the same time, leaders aren’t receiving the support and appreciation required to handle these additional responsibilities.
5. Countering past employee experiences
Employees’ experiences in prior jobs—good or bad—influence their perceptions of the Talent Magnets and culture in their current jobs. And how organizations handled the challenges of the past two years has changed employee expectations moving forward. Fortunately, organizations can counteract, meet, or exceed these expectations with strong workplace cultures that practice modern leadership.
6. Organizational connection is still fractured
Symbolism, like that found in symbolic awards and recognition, strengthens an employee’s connection to their organization’s culture, history, and community. The trick is integrating it across the range of employee experiences. How thoroughly and frequently organizations do this determines the impact.
As you dive into our 2023 Global Culture Report, please remember these are not good challenges to solve alone. You’ll need to work closely with leaders and other employees—new and tenured, onsite and remote—to build the connections, community, and culture required to succeed. The upside is you’ll also be better prepared for whatever challenges come next.