Ask the Experts: How to Create Belonging in a Fragmented Workplace

Posted in Employee Experience

Why belonging matters

There’s a reason “The Office” continues to find new audiences and charm long-time fans. Yes, it’s comedy gold. But “The Office” also so elegantly underscores that through the ups and downs of your career, it’s the people and the friendships that you cherish the most. But finding that secret sauce for belonging has been extra challenging these last three years.

Enboarder CMO Andrea Dumont recently sat down with four highly respected HR executives at the Talent Intelligence Executive Summit to discuss HR’s role in fostering a sense of belonging and connection in the hybrid workplace. Andrea was joined on stage by:

  • Mark Zorbas, Chief People Officer, ALS Global
  • Jessica Somple, VP Talent Management & Development, MGM Resorts International
  • Megan Bickle, Global Head of Culture, Employee Engagement and Employee Listening, Western Digital
  • Raleen Gagnon, VP & GM Total Talent Intelligence, Magnit

In this blog, we’ll walk you through some of the key takeaways.

Friendship is important, but it requires intention.

Do you have a work bestie? Work friendship is about more than having someone to vent to when you’ve had a bad day or share funny memes with (although that is very important). Gallup research indicates having a best friend at work increases a person’s likelihood to recommend their organization as a great place to work and intent to stay at their company.

Megan referenced data that takes this idea a step further. A recent BetterUp study found that people need to have relationships with five friendly colleagues at work to feel connected, and seven friendly colleagues to really feel they belong.

Megan asked: “Just thinking about all the people your organization hired over the pandemic. How are they making seven friends? How are they crossing that threshold and feeling that sense of belonging to their team, to the culture, to the organization?”

Start with the data you already have.

Culture work often starts with understanding where you are now so you know which steps you need to take moving forward. That could start with an engagement survey. But Raleen argued HR is already sitting on a treasure trove of data to understand current levels of connection.

Whether you use Zoom or Teams, “you can see what percentage of people are actually on video or muted,” she said.

And when it comes to your broader HR strategy, again, you can start with data that currently exists in your HRIS or ATS. “If you’re trying to make a decision about your hybrid work strategy and how often people need to come in, you need to look at the home addresses of your workers and map their commute,” said Raleen. “Are we asking 40% of our workforce to give up two and a half hours of their day or is it 10%?”

Engagement surveys require constant communication and follow up.

Communication was a theme that came up multiple times over the course of this conversation. Whether you send annual, bi-annual, or more frequent pulse surveys, the key is to clearly follow up with your employees about the actions you’re taking based on their feedback. “The more frequently you send pulse surveys, the more your employees are going to expect you to drive change,” said Raleen.

And don’t forget to empower your executive team and department heads to reinforce the message (it should never just come from HR). “There are so many things that take the interest of the executive team and the fallout happens when employees are saying, ‘I don’t know what the executive team is working on based on the feedback we gave,'” said Megan.

Privacy is also a big concern for employees. If they don’t believe their responses will be anonymous, they’re less likely to share their feedback. Mark advised addressing confidentiality as part of your communications plan to ease some of those concerns.

Change takes time, so make sure you highlight the small wins along the way. Megan shared that her team recently made some updates to employee benefits and in a company-wide town hall with the primary message being: “We heard you.” She said they highlighted comments from the engagement survey specific to benefits and clearly showed the changes made based on the feedback.

Use your values as your North Star.

A significant driver of an employee’s sense of connection to your organization is about shared purpose. But in order to create shared purpose, you need to be crystal clear on your organization’s values. Jessica shared that after the disruption of the pandemic, MGM did a cultural assessment to better understand what makes MGM a great place to work. “We wanted to come out of the pandemic with a clear employee value proposition and a really clear identity statement. So we did a ton of listening,” said Jessica.

The result was a set of revised company values that are now used to find areas of opportunity to up-level different parts of the employee experience. “It really anchors us in what we want to do,” said Jessica.

Take remote workers, for example. At MGM, most employees are deskless, with a small minority working completely remote. When remote workers’ ENPs scores started to drop, Jessica and her team became “much more intentional around making a wow experience for them when they’re onsite and infusing hospitality and warmth into our digital calls, allowing for more breakout rooms and discussions … Now our eNPS scores for fully remote team members is almost identical to the eNPS score for in-person and hybrid roles,” said Jessica.


What’s next on your belonging journey?

Communication, data, company values – these are all important ingredients to craft your connection strategy moving forward. If you want to dive deeper into the research around this, take a look at our recent report with RedThread Research and then contact Enboarder to learn how our Human Connection Platform can inspire, engage, and retain your people.

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