The equation for a community is simple. Take a group of people and give them something in common. However, the formula becomes much more interesting and powerful when you factor in a compelling purpose—a meaningful goal to work toward together—and when everyone in the group feels they belong there. By any measure, the workplace is a natural community. And the strength of it determines how well organizations can attract, engage, and retain top talent. The good news is that most employees do not aspire to jump from one workplace to another. On the contrary, they prefer their community be a place where they can stay and grow. The Great Resignation may have met its match.
Organizations with thriving cultures are far more resilient in challenging and uncertain times. But what is it about these cultures that gives them their strength? What holds them together?
In a word, community.
Community makes us feel like we’re part of something, whether it’s a neighborhood, church, school, sport, or just a mutual interest.
In the workplace, a potent sense of community exists when employees feel they belong in the organization and contribute to shared goals in meaningful ways. This is important because being part of a community means employees care about one another, and they work and grow together. The innovation and productivity of a true community is greater than the sum of its parts. And a healthy workplace community works together to make better decisions and is more committed to its success.
Leadership expert Dede Henley captures the benefits of a strong community as “high trust, effective communication, equality, respect for differences, and high levels of cooperation. It’s not without conflict, but members of the community have the perseverance to see conflict through to a healthy outcome. The larger focus of the community is on a vision of the future that can be created together, and the actions needed today to get to that future.”1 While workplace culture is the social operating system that influences the way people work and interact (usually demonstrated through norms, expectations, language, and rules of engagement), community is what unifies the group, bringing and holding employees together to work toward common goals. It’s the sense of understanding, unity, trust, and belonging that everyone in the group feels.
This sense of belonging is central to community. And employees crave belonging at work—more than an increase in pay, better benefits, or even work-life balance. McKinsey & Associates has found the top reasons people quit their jobs are, first, not feeling valued (54%), and second, not feeling a sense of belonging at work (51%).2 Now, after more than two years of isolation, social distancing, and strenuous uncertainty, employees crave a sense of belonging and meaningful connection. We want to be part of something bigger. We want to feel we matter. In fact, employees say the biggest incentive to work in the office is interaction with their work friends (42%).3
Simply put, we want to be part of the community.
“Workplaces are communities, built around the relationships we have with our peers. When these relationships are strong, they can be a source of energy, learning, and support.”
—HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
THE WORKPLACE IS A COMMUNITY WHERE EMPLOYEES SHOULD FEEL THEY BELONG
Over three fourths of employees (76%) consider their workplace a community and nearly as many (72%) say it’s important for them to feel like part of a community at work.
Our research finds organizations with a strong workplace community share the following eight elements:
Healthy communities do more than just help employees feel happy. They can help employees feel they belong. Our research finds the stronger the workplace community, the more likely employees are to feel a sense of belonging.
If organizations want their employees to feel they belong at work, if they want employees to stay, do great work, and not burn out, then having and sustaining a strong workplace community must be a priority.
“People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a workplace in which each person is left to [their] own devices.”
—ALFIE KOHN, AUTHOR
COMMUNITY AND CULTURE ARE COACTIVE
A thriving culture has a positive influence on workplace community. And a strong community helps strengthen workplace culture.
Looking at the six Talent Magnets (elements of strong workplace cultures that attract, engage, and retain talent), each of them has a positive impact on community, particularly appreciation and leadership. Companies with thriving cultures—those that excel in every Talent Magnet—also have stronger communities.
Likewise, organizations with strong communities are much more likely to have thriving cultures and high Talent Magnet scores.
Organizations that have both a strong community and a thriving culture have a 99% probability of employees feeling like they belong at the organization. This combination also has a tremendous impact on burnout, tenure, inclusion, and great work.
WORKPLACE COMMUNITY HELPS HYBRID AND REMOTE WORKERS STAY CONNECTED
As organizations adjust to new models of work and navigate continued workplace changes, having a strong workplace community is more important than ever. With the increase in remote and hybrid work, workplace communities will either become stronger or more fragmented, but they won’t remain static. Organizations have a clear opportunity.
More than half of hybrid and remote employees (59%) said their organization’s culture has improved since going hybrid or remote. However, less than half (48%) say it’s easier to create a sense of community in their new work environment.
One solution for building community is more integrated recognition. In specific terms, this is recognition that happens frequently and is built into the daily employee experience. It’s also personalized, given for a variety of reasons, and meaningful to the employee. Integrated recognition increases the odds of a sense of community for hybrid and remote workers by 341% and 660%, respectively.
What does this look like? It’s more than simply having technology in place to keep employees connected. Barely half (55%) of employees think the virtual apps and communication tools they use for work strengthen workplace community. These technologies should facilitate rather than hinder communication, make it easier to share ideas, provide better access to workplace events, and foster—not impede—connections with colleagues and leaders.
Likewise, consider offering virtual training that matches the quality and breadth of topics employees have access to in person. Or have a weekly team video call—cameras on—to celebrate successes and share challenges, with peers giving guidance and advice. Events could offer remote employees the chance to interact with others in real time through contests, Q&A sessions, sharing opportunities, and chat tools—well beyond just watching a video stream. Any technology that allows people to share ideas, build on each other’s contributions, and celebrate successes will strengthen a workplace community.
And when organizations establish a strong community for their hybrid and remote workers, they create both a better work experience for those employees and positive business outcomes:
To inspire strong workplace communities, organizations should focus on integrated recognition, modern leadership, and acting on employee feedback.
1. Ensure recognition is an integrated part of culture
Nearly three fourths (74%) of employees say recognition is a crucial part of workplace community. To be integrated, recognition must be an everyday part of the culture, given and seen throughout the organization often. It must also come from peers as well as leaders and acknowledge both the large and small efforts of employees in personalized ways.
When recognition happens regularly in teams, the odds of having a strong community increase 508%. When it’s integrated into the organizational culture, the odds increase 387%, and the strength of that community increases 19%.
2. Practice modern leadership
Modern leaders build relationships through understanding, championing, and advocating team members. They naturally improve the culture of their organizations and increase the odds of having a strong workplace community by 269%.
Train and encourage your leaders to use modern leadership skills. Help them communicate purpose, actively guide growth and development, and truly know the individuals on their teams.
3. Seek and respond to employee feedback
Soliciting feedback from employees is critical to giving them a voice and creating a vibrant community. But it’s only half the equation. Leaders still need to actively listen and appropriately address the input. When they do, the odds of having a strong workplace community improve by a phenomenal 6,313%..
Gather employee feedback through annual surveys, pulse surveys, focus groups, email, social media tools, and other communication channels. Let employees know you hear them by responding to their questions, concerns, and ideas. Clearly communicate what changes you’ve made or are going to make. And then get their feedback again. This cycle of regular feedback, listening, and action will strengthen employee trust and community.
WORKPLACE COMMUNITY—KEY TAKEAWAYS
The workplace is a community.
Strong workplace communities create a high sense of belonging and connection.
Community strengthens connections for hybrid and remote workers.
Integrated recognition, modern leadership, and responding to employee feedback improve community.
Workplace Community Sources
- “Three Steps to Create Community in the Workplace,” Dede Henley, Forbes, February 29, 2020.
- “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours,” Aaron De Smet, Bonnie Dowling, Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi, and Bill Schaninger, McKinsey Quarterly, September 8, 2021.
- “Envoy Return to the Workplace Report reveals work flexibility is the new employee benefit,” April Marks, Envoy, January 24, 2022.
- O.C. Tanner Client Story
- O.C. Tanner Client Story
- “How 13 Companies Build Community in a Virtual World,” Ripplematch, March 20, 2021.
- “Employee Listening Strategies: Authentic Follow-up,” Claire Hastwell, Great Place to Work, February 13, 2020.
CASE STUDY—BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH INTEGRATED RECOGNITION
As a community bank in the Pacific Northwest, Heritage Bank understands the importance of having a strong workplace community for its employees. It regularly uses eCards, awards, milestone and anniversary celebrations, and retirement gifts to connect employees and highlight the great work they do.
The bank’s recognition program, “Celebrate Great,” enables real-time recognition in personal ways, and the program’s Wall of Fame ensures everyone can see the great work happening throughout the organization. Executives also frequently promote recognition and share stories of success in town hall meetings. Plus, monthly emails and new-hire training ensure recognition is a part of the culture from day one.
This level of integrated recognition has led to over 91% of employees feeling accepted by immediate co-workers and has built both culture and community at the bank.5
CASE STUDY—IMPROVING COMMUNITY WITH COMMUNICATION
At telecommunications giant Verizon, leadership communication is a crucial part of creating a sense of belonging. When the company shifted to remote work during the pandemic, managers met virtually with their teams often, and executives scheduled video calls with new and junior employees to get to know them personally.
Leaders also held online events, such as fireside chats and virtual volunteer days, and included interns, too. By connecting with employees and making it easier for them to connect with each other, Verizon leaders helped preserve their community even when everyone was apart.6
CASE STUDY—NURTURING COMMUNITY WITH FEEDBACK
Credit Acceptance Corporation, an auto finance company, trains its leaders to listen to employees and respond to them using a consistent process that starts with organizing all feedback and comments into themes. Then, for each theme, leaders reply in one of three ways:
- Take action. Specify the action, the date it will be completed, and follow up on the results.
- State their position. If they can’t or won’t address the feedback, explain why.
- Ask for help. If they don’t understand the feedback, ask for more information from employees. Be honest about needing more time to understand an issue.
This transparent approach to employee feedback is one reason Credit Acceptance Corporation is among the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® 2022. And it helps sustain a workplace community where employees can thrive.7