5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Through Community

Monica Nolan
June 1, 2009 — 3,507 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

How does it feel to go to work?

This is the question your employees answer every day as they move through their duties. Their answer has a surprising impact on their performance. In general, when employees are happy about their work environment, they are more productive. Employees choose how much extra time and effort they will spend on work after fulfilling their minimum performance expectations. When companies foster engaging environments where workers feel connected to their work and co-workers, employees will put in more effort to produce outstanding work. As such, creating a feeling of community among workers is key to increasing employee engagement and productivity.

Fortunately, you won't have to reinvent the wheel in order to create a sense of community. Humans' social nature virtually guarantees that they will create community on their own, with or without encouragement from management. Think of your workplace as a garden; community will sprout up no matter what, but when management is involved, a workplace community can be pruned to be as productive as possible.

Consider these techniques for increasing community in the workplace.

1. Gather Input. As you consider how to build community among your employees, be sure to ask for their thoughts. You may choose to hold a meeting or distribute a questionnaire, but be sure to ask employees to consider what community means to them, and what kind of community they would like to see at work. Do they prefer to work in teams? Would they attend off-site events? How about a book group? Implementing your employees' community-building ideas will increase buy-in and enthusiasm.

2. Work & Play Together. After-hours social events have long been used to create community in the workplace. Company-arranged events such as happy hours, holiday parties, and retreats create community by providing an off-site environment for employees to get to know each other. You don't have to spend a lot of money on these events for them to be successful. Why not arrange for a company softball or soccer team? Or how about passing around a sign up sheet for local cultural events? Ensure high attendance by keeping your social events fresh and meaningful.

3. Communicate Company Values. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives two definitions for community: "an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location" and "a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society." Your employees may already feel connected to their particular department or division, but their bonds will be even stronger if they believe they're working toward the common values and goals of the entire organization. In their book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write that people perceive themselves as part of a community when they believe that their goals are cooperative and that they share a common purpose. Communicating company values motivates and allows employees to assign more meaning to their work.

Certain values should be included to encourage community-building. When workers see values such as empathy, respect, and teamwork demonstrated throughout an organization, they will feel more connected to the organization and the people.

4. Encourage unsupervised off-site employee interaction. In addition to workplace get-togethers, encourage employees to see each other outside of the office. NetApp, ranked #1 in Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, does this by granting employees five paid days to volunteer outside of the office. Many NetApp employees choose to volunteer together, strengthening workplace ties. For instance, more than sixty NetApp employees volunteer with Second Harvest, a local food bank.

5. Arrange Mentorships. New hires often feel lonely and isolated from employees who have worked together for years. One way to officially welcome new employees into the fold is to provide each individual a mentor. Mentors can help ensure that new employees are not overwhelmed, that they have enough time to master new procedures, and that they are beginning to feel as though they are a part of the community. Mentorships are a great way to help new employees build friendships in the workplace.

Once your new community-building program is in place, continue to use on-going feedback to monitor and adjust your system. Solutions are available that will track and display feedback from employees to allow management to continue to increase employee engagement, a key to long-term growth. As Mr. Hitz says, "When you get energized people who enjoy what they're doing, the're proud of what they're doing, they will do ten times more."

~Monica Nolan, 2009

About the Author

Monica Nolan is an Account Manager for PeopleMetrics.
Improving employee engagement is proven to increase your company ROI. Contact PeopleMetrics to find out exactly how a happy employee community can result in loyal engaged customers.

Monica Nolan