Companies must find new ways of creating meaningful connections with employees, writes Emma Tolhurst. People need connections that make them feel like they are valued and belong – no matter where they choose to work from.


Going beyond just meeting expectations

We all know the pandemic has offered everyone a pause to reflect and re-evaluate their lives, and that absolutely includes how and where they work. As a result, employees have raised their expectations and thus employers are having to rethink how they engage and reward their teams.

The main course of action is to listen to what people are looking for in their roles at work. Understanding what they want to see more or less of, and how their place of work will help them achieve their life goals. Listening and acknowledging is a ‘must’ to bring the right solutions to people in the right way and for them to be meaningful. Through this co-creation approach, teams will deepen relations with their leadership, while also feeling valued, in turn leading to greater employee satisfaction. Honest feedback can be crucial to the natural evolution of a company. Not to mention, it has an enormous impact on motivation.

Research from MetLife reveals that 71% of employees felt companies need to have a greater role in their overall welfare, wellbeing and happiness. But traditional ‘soft’ benefits like free breakfasts and gym memberships just aren’t cutting it anymore – they are simply hygiene factors expected within the policy portfolio. Alongside continuing to embrace hybrid working and flexible hours, employees want companies to support their overall wellbeing; both mind and body.

For example, mindfulness app Headspace offers employees’ meditation sessions twice a day as well as other wellbeing events. Not only does this support its service offering but promotes health and happiness, which lies at the brands core. Start-up activewear brand Tala allows staff to take free mental health ‘duvet days’ for when they might be feeling a little under the weather.


A sense of kinship and belonging

While offering benefits is no doubt important, we need to remember that hybrid working has removed many of our traditional daily routine rituals. In-person meetings, team lunches and even passing conversations with colleagues are all essential to a company’s creativity and culture, yet are incredibly difficult to replicate in a remote environment.

Company rituals must be offered for employee participation both physically and virtually. Having socials, team meets or company townhalls available in both realms will encourage and facilitate an inclusive hybrid culture, and build kinship among the workforce.

Research from Wildgoose found that 57% of people stated having best friends at work makes it more enjoyable. Whilst over a fifth (22%) of individuals feel more productive working alongside them, and 21% saying it makes them more creative. Overall, taking time to build kinship and having professional friendships develops a greater sense of accountability.

Technology is central to facilitate the success of belonging of course, but also tweaking mindsets and equipping teams with what they need – for example, reminding department leaders to always include Teams links within invites and appoint an employee to set up the space so remote colleagues can join in. Confidence training for team leads hosting to a physical room of people when they themselves are logged in remotely, and so on.

Companies should always ensure their rituals and cultural moments reaffirm a common purpose and vision which is unique and integral to the brand. Employees need to know what a business stands for, why it does what it does, and how it applies to their day to day. More importantly, they need to know that they also have a purpose within the business and that their role is meaningful and key to the success of the company.

Unicorns such as Klarna and SpaceX often do this by echoing the collective brand purpose at every opportunity, as a way to energise their staff. They also empower employees by giving their teams a feeling of ownership and responsibility within the business. This trust is rewarded with loyalty and higher performance overall, but equally builds accountability and decision-making skills.


Effective and meaningful communication

Above all, communication is king. It may seem simple, but it’s often overlooked. During monumental events like the pandemic, communication can fortify or destroy people’s views of their employer.

At Landor & Fitch we interviewed 10 unicorns (former start-ups that have cracked the $1bn valuation mark), to understand how fast-moving organisations use culture as a driver of performance. Unicorns, by virtue of their fast-paced growth, constantly operate in “crisis mode”. We found that Unicorn leaders are very present communicators, which in turn ensures that everyone stays vested in the success of the business.

Companies that don’t communicate effectively or connect with their employees are more likely to see workers jump ship to find a company that does. In December 2021, Google CEO Sundar Pichai vowed to act after he revealed the most common concern among Google employees was the company’s ‘bureaucratic’ internal communications. With Google previously being renowned for its open office atmosphere and free discussions, this example highlights how every company must be alert to turning off its employees.

By listening to what employees want and need, offering them a sense of belonging and actively communicating employers will give themselves the best opportunity to ride out this Great Resignation. It’s vital to build a lasting brand that workers actively want to be part of.

Emma Tolhurst is the Executive Director of Culture & People Experience at Landor & Fitch