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Workplace Community: Thriving workplace cultures depend on a strong community. And a strong community requires connection and purpose.
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PERSPECTIVE

 

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 organisations 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.

 

A chart showing odds improve by 785% that employees will feel they belong when they have a strong workplace community
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INTRODUCTION

 

Organisations 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 organisation 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 organisations with a strong workplace community share the following eight elements:

A chart showing the essential elements of a workplace community
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Figure 3. COMMUNITY INDEX
The essential elements of a workplace community.

A table showing that a strong workplace community increases the odds employees feel a sense of belonging
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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.

A chart showing that the odds of employees feeling a sense of belonging increase with a strong community
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A table showing that a sense of belonging leads to better retention, higher engagement, less burnout, and more great work
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If organisations 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.

A graphic showing that a thriving culture improves the odds that an organization will have strong community by 12x
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A table showing the positive impact a strong community has on The Talent Magnets™
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Likewise, organisations with strong communities are much more likely to have thriving cultures and high Talent Magnet scores.

A graphic showing that a strong community improves the odds that an organization will have a thriving culture by 13x
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A table showing the positive impact a thriving culture has on The Talent Magnets™
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Organisations that have both a strong community and a thriving culture have a 99% probability of employees feeling like they belong at the organisation. This combination also has a tremendous impact on burnout, tenure, inclusion, and great work.

A table showing that a strong community and a thriving culture has a tremendous impact on burnout, tenure, inclusion, and great work
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WORKPLACE COMMUNITY HELPS HYBRID AND REMOTE WORKERS STAY CONNECTED

 

As organisations 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. Organisations have a clear opportunity.

More than half of hybrid and remote employees (59%) said their organisation’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 personalised, 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.

A table showing that technology allowing people to share ideas, build on each other’s contributions, and celebrate successes will strengthen a workplace community
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And when organisations establish a strong community for their hybrid and remote workers, they create both a better work experience for those employees and positive business outcomes:

A table showing that organizations which establish a strong community for their hybrid and remote workers create a better work experience for those employees, as well as positive business outcomes
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CASE STUDY—BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH MORE THAN TECHNOLOGY

 

Tech Mahindra, an IT company with over 140,000 employees around the world, strengthens its workplace community through integrated recognition and by including housekeeping staff, customers, and families in company celebrations. The company communicates to all employees with a daily email newsletter and checks in often on the wellbeing of associates. Additionally, it drives positive change by rallying employees to improve their neighborhoods and cities. All these efforts connect to Tech Mahindra’s purpose and culture, and they strengthen belonging and community for employees.4


RECOMMENDATIONS

 

To inspire strong workplace communities, organisations 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 organisation often. It must also come from peers as well as leaders and acknowledge both the large and small efforts of employees in personalised ways.

When recognition happens regularly in teams, the odds of having a strong community increase 508%. When it’s integrated into the organisational culture, the odds increase 387%, and the strength of that community increases 19%.

 

A table showing the positive effect of integrated recognition on a strong community
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2. Practice modern leadership


Modern leaders build relationships through understanding, championing, and advocating team members. They naturally improve the culture of their organisations 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.

 

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 organisation. 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

A table showing the positive effect of modern leadership practices on employees’ sense of community
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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


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.

 

A table showing the positive effect seeking and responding to feedback has on employees' sense of trust and community
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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 organising 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


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

  1. “Three Steps to Create Community in the Workplace,” Dede Henley, Forbes, February 29, 2020.
  2. “‘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.
  3. “Envoy Return to the Workplace Report reveals work flexibility is the new employee benefit,” April Marks, Envoy, January 24, 2022.
  4. O.C. Tanner Client Story
  5. O.C. Tanner Client Story
  6. “How 13 Companies Build Community in a Virtual World,” Ripplematch, March 20, 2021.
  7. “Employee Listening Strategies: Authentic Follow-up,” Claire Hastwell, Great Place to Work, February 13, 2020.

METHODOLOGY


The O.C. Tanner Institute uses multiple research methods to support the Global Culture Report, including interviews, focus groups, cross-sectional surveys, and a longitudinal survey.

Qualitative findings came from 10 focus groups and 81 interviews among employees and leaders of larger organisations. The groups and interviews were held throughout 2021 and 2022, each representing various types of employers, including both private and public entities.

Quantitative findings came from online survey interviews administered to employees across Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The total sample size was 36,441 workers at companies with 500+ employees. The O.C. Tanner Institute collected and analysed all survey data. This sample is sufficient to generate meaningful conclusions about the cultures of organisations in the included countries. However, because the study does not include population data, results are subject to statistical errors customarily associated with sample-based information.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from the O.C. Tanner Institute.

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