Learning & Development

Creating Community at Work: The Time to Act Is Now

Employee desires and demands have changed significantly in the last 3 years as desk-based staff moved away from the traditional office environment and toward hybrid and remote work settings. On one hand, employees enjoy the flexibility and improved balance remote work offers. On the other hand, reduced office time has left many employees feeling disconnected from colleagues, which took an additional toll on mental health on top of the effects of a deadly pandemic. A recent study found that a majority (88%) agreed that a sense of belonging leads to higher productivity at work, yet only 45% of employees feel connected to their coworkers, and only 36% agree they work in an inclusive environment.

On top of this, employers are facing many challenges, from evolving staffing woes (hiring and retention issues and, more recently, layoff concerns) to burnout mitigation. Plus, they must contend with the need to manage rising benefit costs, including healthcare costs, which often call for unpopular actions like increasing annual premium contributions for employees and their families. Between these challenges and employee expectations, how can companies create a workplace culture that supports connection among disparate employees, engenders loyalty, and develops healthier employees who have lower cost trends? The answer is building community to engage employees in meaningful activities.

The Vital Connection Between Engagement and Community

The U.S. Surgeon General identified workplace well-being as one of its priority areas, and community is an essential element of overall well-being. It’s a special component that both contributes to individual well-being and extends to others. Our communities help us feel safe, accepted, and part of something. In return, being part of a healthy community supports our own healthier choices.

Building community at work positively contributes to employee engagement, well-being, and health and related costs. When employees are engaged and thriving, they experience significantly less stress, anger, and health problems and feel like they belong by contributing to their organization’s mission. Ensuring employee satisfaction and a sense of community is critical to keeping performance high and turnover low. Research shows that employees who trust their employer are 260% more motivated and 50% less likely to leave for a new job. Additional research revealed that satisfied employees are 69% more likely to perform highly in their roles.

How people experience work influences their lives outside of work, and overall well-being influences life at work, making the relationship between employee engagement and well-being vital. Orchestrating employee experiences that positively impact work/life integration helps employees feel a sense of belonging and connection in a highly connected yet disconnected world.

3 Tips to Remember for Engaging Employees and Creating Community

Many factors impact employee experience and engagement, and employers must address those to create community and reap the benefits. However, it’s important to distinguish between the two: Engagement represents a mental state in which employees are passionate and committed to their work, while experience measures the entire employee journey. Organizations must consider a strategy that taps into both elements. Here are three areas to focus on to foster positive experiences, greater engagement, and a strong community:

  1. Think beyond work. Employers must give their employees opportunities to connect both within and outside the workplace/workday. These initiatives can take many forms: happy hours or lunches, town halls, recognition programs, or organizationwide movement challenges. The key is to offer a variety of experiences that resonate with employee populations, whether at the team or department level or companywide, and provide connection points that are meaningful.
  2. Make it personal. Not everyone has the same habits and hobbies, so employers must tailor outreach and ongoing messaging to understand each employee better, letting them know their unique needs are being seen and, more importantly, addressed. These efforts support a more inclusive environment and cultivate a sense of belonging. And, when it comes to connection moments, companies need to make sure opportunities are personalized for individuals, not a blanket program for everyone. Employees have different needs and expectations, and leaders are expected to meet these, not the other way around.
  3. Make resources easily accessible. Resources for building social connections, taking care of mental and physical health, and more should be easy and quick to access for employees at all levels of the organization. This could mean keeping brochures in the breakroom or other common areas and/or displaying information virtually on the company’s intranet or a third-party mobile app. However it’s done, it needs to fit into employees’ daily routines. Today’s workforce has a lot to think about, so delivering this information in easy-to-access, digestible formats is essential so everyone can take charge of their journey without feeling overwhelmed.

Employers that commit to an engagement-based approach that supports a healthier, more vibrant community inside and outside the workplace will help employees be happier and more connected, as well as healthier, resulting in lower healthcare costs. As workers feel more aligned with the company mission, organizations will experience higher retention and productivity rates and a resilient culture that can better handle the next wave of change. By following this path, companies will see positive changes to many aspects of their organizations and will be better equipped to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Laura Walmsley is Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Pulse.

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