How to improve employee retention – Part 2 – Connection and Community

11th September 2023

This article is part of a series of articles on how to improve employee wellbeing and employee retention. The structure is based on the The US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well‑Being, and each week we are looking at each “essential” in the framework. 

The full list of articles is:

  1. An introduction to the US Surgeon General’s framework
  2. Protection From Harm
  3. Connection & Community
  4. Work-Life Harmony – coming soon
  5. Mattering at Work – coming soon
  6. Opportunity for Growth – coming soon

This week, we are looking at “Connection and Community” and the research that shows that, to feel happy at work, employees need to feel they belong to a team and have the social support they require.

In a study conducted by Gallup between 2019 and 2022, employees were asked if they had a “best friend” at work, someone they felt safe asking questions to and could lean on in times of need. In 2022, those who felt they had a “best friend” were 17% more likely to be satisfied with their place of work and were 12% less likely to be looking for another job, showing that employees who feel they have social support at work are not only happier but are also more likely to stay

What steps can an employee take to improve connection and community at work?

According to the Surgeon General’s report, there are three steps.

1. Create cultures of inclusion and belonging 

“Organisations can begin to build social connections and community at work by encouraging what scientists call “prosocial behaviour 1.” Companies need to  intentionally promote positive social behaviour. Behaviour that welcomes, supports and reassures others.

Many companies leave the social side of the business to chance, believing that people will naturally make friends and find their tribe. However, there are many things businesses can do to facilitate this process. This may include ensuring that their onboarding process includes significant socialising time with existing employees so that new hires feel welcome and integrated, or implementing a buddy system so that new hires always have someone they can turn to with questions.

Remote / hybrid workers

Remote workers are more likely to feel lonely and isolated and not part of a team, so creating a community where they feel connected is even more important for remote workers.

How can you help remote workers feel connected?

In an office environment, social interactions often occur naturally, this may be before or after meetings, during watercooler moments, or over lunch. However, these moments do not occur naturally in remote work settings. Remote workers often feel so pressured to be productive that they don’t feel comfortable making time in the day for non-productive activities. Therefore, companies that employ remote workers need to be intentional about creating opportunities in the workday to build social connections. 

One of the steps we have taken is to encourage non-work chat. Talking about hobbies or interests builds personal relationships, which, in turn, helps people feel more connected and part of a group. Things you can do include:

  • Modelling and encouraging non-work chat, leaders need to show it is OK to not talk about work all the time, by doing it themselves. Project Managers can start meetings with time dedicated to catch up socially, managers can take employees out of their day by having virtual coffees.
  • Setting aside time during the week for employees to “chat”; remote workers won’t naturally contact colleagues to chat about the latest Netflix series, so creating set times for it each week can help. This may include dedicated times before and after meetings or set “coffee break” times. This article from the HBR summarises the need for small talk quite nicely.
  • Providing a space for socialising; this may involve creating Slack channels for TV chat, Whatsapp groups for the latest memes, or other spaces where people feel safe discussing their hobbies and interests.

The key point here is that personal connection must be a key part of the company culture. Employees must feel included and supported without fear of recrimination.

2. Cultivate trusted relationships 

Employees need to feel trusted, both by their colleagues and their leadership team. “This mitigates loneliness and helps workers across all levels value and empathise with each other, while helping each other cope with stress and uncertainty.”  1

One way to promote trust in an organisation is to create a “no-blame” culture. If a team feels they will be blamed, they will be more interested in self-preservation rather than mutual development. Consequently there’ll be less innovation, less collaboration, and less of a sense of team. A person who feels they will be blamed will feel less psychologically safe. 
So how can you create a culture of no blame? The most important action you can take is to lead by example. Never blame. As Ted Lasso says “Be curious not judgemental”.  However a useful tool that we use is the retrospective prime directive.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

It is an excellent way of setting the tone in a meeting and establishing a no-blame culture.

3. Foster collaboration and teamwork

With companies becoming more diverse, with more part time and hybrid and remote workers, there is now an even greater need to be intentional about cultivating stronger teams. One of the ways we’ve done it has been to build a culture that celebrates team successes and not just individual achievements.

However, it’s not as easy as you may think.

Humans have a negativity bias; we find it much easier to focus on negative events rather than positive ones. So, when you ask a team to make a list of things that went well in a sprint and a list of things that went wrong, they find it much easier to list the failures rather than the successes. However, we can rewire our brain and we can teach it to focus more on the positives rather than the negatives.

What we do at Secret Source is simple: In each retrospective meeting, we dedicate time to focus on “what went well”. 

When we started this initiative we’d only get 2 or 3 suggestions from the team. Now, it is the most populated quadrant on the retrospective board. So, have patience, stick with it, and in a couple of months, you’ll see a noticeable difference in the positivity of your team.

“Connection and Community” is the second essential in workplace wellbeing. Once you build a culture where people feel part of a team and supported, not only will they be happier and less likely to leave, but it’ll be a much nicer place to work too.

If you are struggling with employee retention in your IT team and want to share your experiences and get some practical advice, feel free to get in touch. It’s our mission to share our knowledge, and we love to help – just email our CEO at [email protected].

Alternatively, if you are looking to augment your existing team or outsource some of your development, contact us via the form below, or just book an appointment with our account manager, Sarah, at

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