Employee community at workplace: a hidden piece of the puzzle

September 19, 2022

The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime” 

Babe Ruth

What do people really want from a job?  There could be multiple answers one can think of and often people end up referring to a certain pyramid – Maslow’s, to answer the question. However, as a recent HBR article points out, the pyramid is from a different era and possibly needs renovation. For example, most companies from today’s tech and service industries strive to provide for all of the identified needs besides physiological, such as safety, conveniences, rewards, recognition etc., the list is endless. Should we assume then that all that is left is self-actualization? 

Part of this answer comes from a study commissioned by HBR, asking employees at a major tech firm their 3 major motivators. What emerged are – career, community, and cause. Two of these would probably have been a common guess – all employees are motivated by a great career opportunity and similarly a lot would identify with a common cause. 

However, what might be a surprise is that “Community” is as important a motivator for employees as having a career. Its importance is also consistent across geographies and age groups. Brief side note – the data also shows younger people cared more about career than older people, so yes, this is a good reference point for millennials & Genz for your parents or grandparents during their “your generation” comments.

On second thoughts, it is not that surprising. Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by their peers and not only by the bosses. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness which is especially more important in an increasingly diverse workplace. While people generally gravitate towards forming a community of people they immediately work with, it could be with any set of people in the organization with homogeneity of interest, ideas, perspectives, backgrounds etc. if provided with the right environment and tools to explore these aspects.  

This is also the reason Gallup has been asking the best friend question (“Do you have a best friend at work”) as part of its employee engagement surveys for 30 years. It points to the concrete link between performance and having a strong connection at work. For example, studies have shown that women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are much more engaged (63%) as compared with the women who say otherwise (29%). Besides, there are other attributes as well that people in the first group display - 

  • less likely to be actively looking or watching for job opportunities
  • more connected with their coworkers, knowing what is expected of them and trusting their integrity & ethics
  • more likely to take risks that could lead to innovation
  • more likely to have a positive experience during the day, such as enjoying what they do, making more progress & less likely to report having a negative experience during the day such as worry, stress and feeling tired

While there could be a school of thought that challenges these notions, such as that workplace friendships lead to unnecessary time-wasting with longer lunch-breaks and more chit-chats, once again the data shows a different picture. It has been consistently shown that across men and women, having a strong connection with colleagues has led to better performance. For example, it was observed that companies that have 6 people out of 10 in the workforce, who have a best friend, have 12% higher profit, and 7% more engaged customers than companies with the ratio at 2 out of 10. 

If you are on-board so far, you would probably be wondering so what? Having a strong community at work or having a best-friend are inherently organic outcomes. These can’t or rather shouldn’t be handed down to employees lest they feel it to be an added “task” handed down by management. Rather what could be done is promote a culture and provide necessary platforms where these connections can thrive on their own. This may include - 

1. Promoting open communication and collaboration. 

Believing that they can speak up and share without being shut down is the first assurance an employee needs. It provides a psychological safety net and cultivates feelings of trust & belongingness. Leaders have to play an important role in this by encouraging the free flow of ideas and by recognizing and rewarding those who do so. 

2. Encourage people to get to know one another.

More and more workplaces today are cross-functional and operate in matrix structures. Especially with WFH and hybrid work modes, it is critical for managers to set the stage correctly in order to build more personal connections. This is essential to break team silos and increase collaborations. Leaders must also consider how they can help employees from across the organization to know one another and feel part of the same team. 

This is where new age community platforms such as Workbud could play a significant role in providing just the right tools for employees to get to know each other and give them an opportunity to connect on their own on things that they love and care about, while at the same time being a safe-moderated space. 

3. Promote and participate in social activities.

Nearly every organization has a regular planned social activity such as an annual party or quarterly conference or the like. What’s important is also that the leaders champion these events and set the tone for the year by how these are conducted, as they often are the few instances where many employees can closely interact with the leaders. 

Furthermore, in a world so virtually connected, why should these social interactions be limited to once a quarter or once a year. Live streams, community goals and challenges, decentralized social or charity engagements and even celebrating birthdays or other important events together, could all help achieve the task of bringing the organizational community together and fostering friendships. 

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Deb Mishra
Consulting Director - Content & Research

Deb is a Director at one of the top consulting firms in the world. He is passionate about the future of work & evolving new trends. At Workbud, Deb heads our research team actively engaging with various CEOs and CHROs implementing new engagement policies for their diverse workforce.