How to Become a Workplace Culture Leader

Posted in Best Practice Research Thoughts & Culture

“The office used to be the place where people went every day.”

That was Laura Sukorokoff, founder of C-Change Learning and Development and co-founder of Take Charge Learning, during our most recent webinar hosted by Bucketlist Rewards:

“This is the way business was done – people went into the workplace, and, in that workplace, they developed connections with co-workers, maybe even friendships. They felt a sense of belonging even if they sometimes wished they could get out of the office more.”

… but then, everything changed.

“All of a sudden, the great many of us were working completely from home,” Laura continued. “We were locked in and we had nothing to occupy ourselves apart from work. We couldn't go to the gym, we couldn't go to a restaurant, we couldn't go to movies, and we couldn't visit friends. We were cut off from everything, and we really missed the people that we worked with.”

The purpose of the workplace, in our employees’ eyes, has changed.

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The office used to just be seen as "the place where the printer was," but now more than half of the respondents in our most recent workplace connection study identified the key strength of the office as its unique ability to facilitate genuine human relationships with peers and co-workers.

In fact, four out of the five most valuable in-office activities cited in our survey included connecting with co-workers, and 60% of respondents identified spontaneous interactions with co-workers as the number one benefit of being in the office.

“When employees feel more connected to their coworkers and their company, their overall perception of the company improves,” noted Laura, “and that makes your workplace somewhere they want to stay.”

If connection is the primary benefit our employees associate with the office, clearly our mindset needs to shift to match.

What is “Human Connection” anyway?

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Before we talk about how to increase our employees’ feelings of connection, let’s define what human connection actually is:

“It’s about having trusted and trusting relationships, and creating a safe environment where you can be yourself” remarked Laura Lee Gentry, Enboarder’s chief people officer.

“It’s feeling a sense of belonging and knowing you’re heard and valued,” added Laura.

“Thirty-six percent of Americans are currently experiencing loneliness, and that was even before the pandemic,” noted Aaron Johnson, culture evangelist at Bucketlist Rewards. “The question we’re trying to answer is how can work help with that?

Employee engagement affects business results.

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Sure, helping our people feel less lonely is a noble cause, but does it actually help us reach our businesses goals?

“Capital Y-E-S. Yes, yes, yes.” said Laura Lee.

She continued, “The way I think about it is that employee experience drives employee engagement, and employee engagement drives retention and discretionary effort (Am I going to just punch in or am I going to go above and beyond?).”

Drilling down another layer, our 2022 workplace connection survey found that, when compared to employees who didn’t feel actively connected to their workplace, connected employees were:

4.5x more likely to answer “strongly agree” that their workplace is more collaborative

3x more likely to say that their workplace keeps them engaged

5.5x more likely to report that their workplace motivates them to go above and beyond their job responsibilities

7x more likely to agree that their company encourages innovation

3.5x more likely to say that their company is a great place to work and would recommend it to others

2x more likely to consider their company inclusive.

“... and employers with engaged employees outperform employers who don’t by 202%” added Laura.

So, if these impressive results await us, what do we need to do to help our employees feel more connected?

“We know employee engagement is crucial, but it has to start from the top,” noted Aaron.

What role do organizational leaders have in helping people feel connected?

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Our survey found that those respondents who said they were “very disconnected” were twice as likely (47%) to say it’s because their manager doesn’t provide much support and/or invest in their professional development when compared to those who were only somewhat disconnected (22%).

“Connection needs to be a strategic imperative, not just an HR task.” Laura noted. “It should be part of the DNA of the organization from the top down because it has such a huge revenue building opportunity, but also a huge cost factor opportunity on the negative side.”

“I'm sort of black or white about this,” added Laura Lee. “I think this is job number one for leaders and particularly for direct leaders of teams. Three out of four of the top reasons why employees feel disconnected is tied to that relationship.”

Referencing the most recent research from Enboarder:

  • 29% of respondents cited unsupportive/passive managers as the primary reason driving their sense of disconnection
  • 26% cited a lack of transparency in business decisions, and
  • 19% mentioned working remotely as the primary cause of their feelings of disconnection

“All three of those are directly in the hands of leadership,” noted Laura Lee. “In fact, another myth about employee experience is that it's driven by a journey through HR processes, when in fact it's driven by six key elements:

    1. The work itself
    2. The resources I need to do my job
    3. Essential Support
    4. Expectations and Feedback
    5. Growth and Development
    6. Connections and Relationships

“And, as learning and development leaders, we have to ensure that our leaders are aware of these key elements, and we have to give them the tools, the best practices, and the development to deliver and hold them accountable to that.”

“So much of this rests squarely in the laps of managers,” added Laura. “This is now on them because they're the ones with the direct connections to the employees that report into them, but they, in turn, need to be supported as well. So organizational leadership needs to be training managers and giving them the skills to relate within these people areas, but also they need to be able to give them the breathing space to do it.”

And breathing room is especially important for managers.

This year half of people managers agreed that they are struggling to provide enough human connection for their direct report(s) and/or team, and, per our research conducted last year:

  • 60% of managers say they’re suffering from information overload
  • 55% of managers say they need to catch up on work over nights and weekends, and
  • 65% of managers say they’re just plain burned out

At the most basic level, most managers say they don’t have time to connect with their people because they simply have too much work.

So, how do we intentionally build a workplace culture where people are really engaged?

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“First of all, recognizing that human connection is important at work is a great place to start,” Laura mentioned.

“Even now, some organizations are still reluctant to view these moments of human connection as something that is important to work. They view it as something that takes people away from tasks, like you are not seen as working unless your bum is in a seat.”

Laura emphasized the importance seeing past this misconception and getting the entire organization on board to make connection a cultural priority.

From a practical perspective, Laura Lee offered the following tips:

  1. Start off on the right foot with an outstanding onboarding experience that creates opportunities for employees to connect and arms them with the knowledge they need to perform.

For remote employees, onboarding just requires a little more thoughtfulness to level the playing field. Have their manager call as soon as your offer letter is signed to welcome them aboard, and map out their next three weeks on day one, so they know what to expect and so they feel welcomed, valued, and looked after.

2. From an L&D perspective, deliver both synchronous and asynchronous training so that there are cohorts that your remote and hybrid employees can attach to, but also training that they can do on their own time.

3. Make sure, when employees can be in the office, that their in-office time is meaningful. This isn't time to come in and just get on your computer and work like you would at home. This is time for your in-person one-on-ones. This is time for collaborative sessions with key functions that you need to have strong relationships and capabilities with.

4. Drive a transparent and psychologically safe environment where people can show up as their true best selves and communicate openly and freely.

5. Make everything a learning opportunity that fosters growth, and always be trying new approaches.

6. Center your performance management on continual feedback that's omnidirectional and especially enables teams providing feedback to their leader, not just one another.

7. Make sure senior leadership keeps employees informed about the strategy and how their role helps to deliver against that strategy.

8. Celebrate your people and their contributions.

9. Give our managers the help, resources, and space they need to care for their people.

Become a workplace culture leader!

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Building a workplace culture that fosters genuine human connection certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but it also doesn’t happen without motivated individuals who are pushing for positive change.

If your organization needs to see the benefits that come with a culture that encourages human connection, you can be the one who makes a difference!

Aaron brilliantly summed up the key webinar takeaways as follows:

  • Finding ways to connect with individuals will take a lot of intentional effort.
  • Focusing on relationships helps our managers foster connection and engagement in the workplace.
  • Organizations can only benefit from a more connected human experience across the entire employee life cycle.
  • Companies that make the daily experience of their employees spectacular are seeing a massive, demonstrable difference over those who don’t.

If you want to learn how to build a process around encouraging connection in your workplace, set up a demo today at Enboarder.com.

To see the full recording of the webinar, click here.