Getting everyone involved – building a community and networks

The need to be part of a community is a basic human need. We also wish to feel we are valued and accepted as ourselves. As a matter fact, a sense of community is one of the most significant factors of well-being at work and commitment to the workplace. Feeling left out in the workplace is stressful, causes ill feelings and reduces commitment to the workplace.

A sense of belonging requires a long-term community or a network of people with whom you interact sufficiently often. Looser networks can also be relevant in a variety of ways. Access to internal and external networks is important for a number of reasons and essential for career development.

How does the employee benefit from networks?

  • The networks provide information, support and help.
  • You can find partners and opportunities for co-operation in networks.
  • Networks provide new ideas and enable learning.
  • Networks allow you to highlight your own skills and interests.
  • You can make a difference through networks.

Active investment in a sense of community

The need to pay attention to promoting a sense of community and positive interaction and create networks, is emphasized in a diverse work community. There is a growing need to support the sense of community as remote and hybrid work becomes increasingly common.

It is known that the diversification of the work community is linked to a weakened sense of community and mutual trust. Moreover, studies show that members of minorities experience more feelings of being left out and excluded, harassed and treated inappropriately compared with others.  Apart from prejudices and unconscious assumptions, reasons for this include the tendency of people to be more positive towards those who they believe resemble themselves and to classify people into in-groups and out-groups.

The sense of community and mutual trust increase and can become a resource for a diverse work community if sufficient support is provided for the inclusion of the work community and establishing interaction. 

An inclusive work community has a strong sense of belonging, networks work well, and individuals strive to treat each other with respect and dignity.

Contacts and getting to know members of another group are among the best ways to reduce prejudice. That is why it is important to create meeting places where colleagues can get acquainted across different group boundaries.

Ways to promote the sense of community and networking

1. Investing in participation in induction training

You should ensure that the induction training given to employees enables them to integrate into the work community. Ways to promote integration include

  • Various peer mentoring or buddy systems, in which for their first six months or year, for example, a new employee is assigned a support person who has been in the organization for a longer period.  They provide support for the new employee with their integration into the work community and getting to know the organization.
  • Promoting networks between new employees.

It is also good to clearly highlight the organization's policies and operational models in areas such as discrimination, harassment, inappropriate treatment and racism during induction training. The induction training should also highlight what types of behaviour are expected of employees in the workplace, such as being respectful towards others.

2. Investing in psychological safety

Psychological safety refers to an atmosphere in which it is safe to take social risks. Psychological safety has a fundamental impact on the employee's experience of being accepted and valued as they are. In a work community where each employee is valued as an individual, the employee does not need to waste energy hiding anything about their background. This will have a positive impact on employees’ well-being and on their resources available for work. 

Psychological safety also has a more comprehensive impact on the functioning of the work community and the success of work groups. A safe environment in which there is no need to fear being belittled or ridiculed encourages employees to express their ideas and opinions. You do not have to hide your mistakes in a safe atmosphere. When people have the courage to discuss their mistakes, you can learn from them.

Management and supervisors play a central role in creating a psychologically safe atmosphere, but each employee can also either promote or weaken the feeling of safety through their own behaviour.

How can management and supervisors promote psychological safety?

  • Show that you value the employees and people generally as individuals who are different from each other
  • Be appreciative of dialogue and a variety of opinions and perspectives
  • Make space for discussion
  • Ensure that everyone’s voice is heard
  • Reserve time for active listening
  • Encourage transparency and asking for help
  • Make space for learning from mistakes and make your own mistakes visible

How can every employee strengthen the psychological safety of their workplace?

  • Recognize your own prejudices and beliefs in the face of diversity
  • Try not to make assumptions about others on the basis of their background or characteristics
  • Appreciate the individuality of others
  • Give others space
  • Respect different opinions and perspectives
  • Do not blame others for their mistakes
  • Ask for help and offer it
  • Constructively highlight even difficult issues

There are a wide range of networks that emerge within organization – both those that are directly related to work as well as informal ones.  It is more common for minority groups to remain excluded from these networks.  That is why the networking opportunities available to minorities should be supported in a variety of ways.

  • Inviting members of minority group to networks and working groups

    When networks and working groups are being set up, make sure you actively involve members of different minorities and under-represented groups. One benefit of diverse networks and working groups is that they enable the views of different groups to be represented and taken into account.
  • Creation of peer support networks

    It is good practice to create networking opportunities for minorities and under-represented groups, such as a network of international employees in the workplace or a network of women in an organization comprised of mostly men. Such networks make space for discussing issues related to the group and provide peer support. Often, these networks will generate ideas on how to develop inclusivity in the organization. It is important that these ideas, which may relate to a wide range of issues, from occupational safety and health to management, are actively requested and listened to. Networks can be either digital or partly based on meeting in person. The initiative to create these networks can come from HR or the employees, for example.
  • Mentoring to support networking

    One of the important objectives of mentoring programmes related to career development is to provide support in networking. Mentors can give tips on various networks, ways to network and also provide practical help in networking.
  • Organizing events inclusively

    The various events that organizations hold are opportunities to meet and get to know others. Events must be planned so that they do not exclude some members of the work community due to schedules, catering or other reasons. For example, make sure that events do not coincide with religious holidays. As far as catering is concerned, it should be ensured that there are alternatives suitable for everyone. If alcohol is served at an event, choosing a non-alcoholic beverage should also be as easy as possible.

The principles of inclusion also apply when holding events outside the organization. The principles and practices of a safer space are increasingly used in both face-to-face and virtual events. They aim to create a climate of equality and respect for all.

Principles of a safe/safer space

  • Respect others’ physical and psychological space
  • Everyone is free to be themselves
  • Everyone must be able to express their opinions without fear of being embarrassed or ridiculed
  • There is no need to fear being discriminated against, harassed or physically or psychologically molested in the event

Source: The UN Association of Finland

4. Policies on unacceptable behaviour

Policies on which behaviours, treatment and policies – such as discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment), inappropriate treatment, racism and workplace bullying – are not tolerated are also an integral part building a sense of community and promoting positive and respectful interactions. 

Establishing policies and associated operational models is important. It is essential that the organization has a shared view and understanding of the types of behaviours they concern. This requires not only information but also training or joint discussion regarding the policies. It is good practice to ensure that guidelines and operational models are drawn up in collaboration with the personnel. This has a number of advantages, such as starting to establish the policies at an early stage.

Ways to establish the policies in the organization:

  • The management's commitment to the guidelines and a public statement regarding them demonstrates the importance of the policies to the personnel.
  • Publication of the policies on the organization's internal and external websites, for example.
  • Definition and description of unacceptable behaviour. This is important in order for personnel to have a shared understanding of which behaviours the concerns. 
  • Communicating the policies and reviewing them during induction training in order to ensure that all personnel are familiar with them and understand that they apply to all employees.
  • Members of the work community should be encouraged to speak up if they have experienced or observed discrimination, sexual or other harassment, inappropriate treatment or racism.

5.  Operational models related to unacceptable behaviour

In addition to policies, it is essential that the organization has operational models on how to deal with various situations where unacceptable behaviour, such as inappropriate treatment, has occurred. The operational models must clearly describe the responsibilities and possible measures of people in various roles. 

An operational model is a kind of process instruction. It tells you what to do if you have experienced the kind of treatment that the operational model concerns. In addition, the model describes the roles and responsibilities of different actors in addressing the matter.

An operational model that concerns inappropriate behaviour will, for example:

  • Describe what is and is not harassment or inappropriate treatment.
  • Provide instructions so that if you experience harassment or inappropriate treatment, you should first discuss the matter with the person who has behaved inappropriately and ask them to stop the behaviour.
  • Provide instructions to inform the supervisor if the treatment continues or it has not been possible to discuss the matter with the person for one reason or another. If the person behaving inappropriately is the supervisor, their supervisor is informed.
  • Describe what the supervisor's responsibilities are and how they should intervene.
  • Describe how the case proceeds if the harassment or inappropriate behaviour continues despite the intervention.

The operational model should also describe who can be invited to participate as a support person in situations where the matter is brought up. In addition to colleagues, suitable support persons include occupational safety representatives and shop stewards.

The mere existence of policies and operational models does not guarantee non-discrimination. It is essential that the organization is aware of the possibility of discrimination and inappropriate behaviour within the work community.

This is often difficult despite the existence of policies. This aspect should also be recognized. It is important to ensure that the organization's management, supervisors, occupational safety representatives and shop stewards have the capacity to work constructively in their roles according to the operational model. Training and peer support promote these capacities. The organization should also monitor what kinds of experiences employees have of situations in which they have brought up their experience of inappropriate behaviour. Efforts should be made to identify and solve any possible issues regarding such situations and interventions.

It is important that personnel feel safe in following the operational model. Usually, the threshold for bringing up experiences of inappropriate behaviour is very high. The employee must be able to trust that bringing up the issue can improve the situation and that it will not cause them any problems in encouraging people to talk about workplace bullying or racism at work.

Many organizations, especially larger ones, have drawn up a special policy or code of conduct on the expected and desired procedures and on behaviour in various situations within the organization. Guidance should also include principles related to interaction and the treatment of others, such as valuing employees’ diversity and respecting others.

6. Policies regarding the use of language

There are several reasons why multilingual work communities should pay attention to policies regarding the use of language. One important aspect is the sense of community. Using one's own mother tongue (native language or another language one speaks well) in situations where one or more people do not speak that language excludes those who do not speak the language.

People often feel more natural and at home using their mother tongue or a similar language with those who speak it without any intention of excluding anyone. On the other hand, linguistic exclusion has also been found to be deliberately used to exclude some from interaction or to establish borders between different groups. However, studies have shown that exclusion – whether intentional or unintentional – raises negative feelings and distrust among those affected.

There should be policies in place at the workplace regarding the use of language both during work as well as in informal communications. An example of such a policy is allowing people to freely choose the language they wish to use in informal interaction situations, such as coffee breaks, as long as everyone in the situation is fluent in the language in question. When a person who is not proficient in a language enters the space, the language is then changed to the organization’s work language, even if the person who entered the space is not expected to be interested in participating in the discussion.

People have a strong tendency to use their own mother tongue with those who speak it. It is therefore essential that employees understand why it is important to adhere to language policies. It may take some time for the policies to become established. However, non-exclusive language habits become a smooth and natural part of the workplace's everyday life as soon as everyone has learned to follow them and understands why it is important to act according to them.

Some organizations use more than one language as their working language. That is why it should be carefully assessed which policies are appropriate for your organization. The best way to ensure the language policies suit the organization is to create them in co-operation with the personnel.