What HR pros can learn from the Community Industry about employee retention and engagement

Discover three keys to creating a more engaged culture that helps retain current and attracts new employees.

From The Great Resignation to The Great Reshuffle, most American labor markets face a “Great HR Headache.”

At the close of 2021, employment remained nearly 3 million jobs short of pre-pandemic April 2020 levels. Contributing to the shortage, approximately 47 million workers quit their jobs last year, which baffles Human Resource professionals as they struggle to fill their open positions. Eighty percent of one leading HR executive group indicates hiring and retention is the No. 1 challenge in their industry.

While employers scramble to find fresh talent, more creative organizations ask, “Why did they leave?” and “Could we have prevented their departure?”

Some businesses are already gaining insights and beginning to address these questions. What do they have that others don’t? Community managers trained in the art of moderation, engagement and belonging may have the answers.

And unsurprisingly, the community industry has bucked all pandemic labor market trends.

According to GWI’s The Era of WE 2021 report, 75 percent of large companies and 40 percent of small companies operate at least one community. The CMX 2022 Community Industry Report shows that 22 percent of businesses have a dedicated community department, up from 15 percent in 2021. It also reports that 66 percent of companies plan to increase community efforts, leading to skyrocketing demand for all levels of community management.

So, what is community, and why should businesses and HR departments take note?

Trust in community

A community is a group of people who create a sense of belonging due to shared values, interests, and resources. Communities guide our daily lives, help people gather information, find employment, form opinions and try new things.

The community industry fosters that fellowship, building meaningful relationships between businesses, brands, and engaged groups. Communities take many forms: online, virtual, networking or support groups, open-source projects, etc.

Given this, and by extension, organizations are specialized communities of employees, and businesses have a lot to gain from viewing them that way.

The art of belonging

The community industry operates by the universal truth that people seek people. Through communities, people find their tribes, share knowledge, and engage, create and innovate with brands, businesses and ideas.

Businesses benefit from engineering a culture where employees feel connected and have a shared sense of purpose. When HR creates an environment where employees relate to, collaborate with, rely on and challenge each other, it generates belonging. As belonging increases, so does loyalty.

The big idea? Studies have shown that when employees can engage in multiple open-source projects, they are more likely to advance their careers. As employees increase their connectedness, they become more committed to their employers. They want to see their projects and their peers succeed. These desires benefit businesses through surfacing innovative ideas and developing employees into leaders and advocates.

Although community engagement efforts frequently begin in support or acquisition strategies, another benefit is to the HR function. Cross-functional engagement drives connectedness and job satisfaction. In turn, a happy, engaged workforce produces a stronger value proposition that supports more successful hiring.

As the chief relationship-builder, communicator and problem-solver, community managers strive for this level of connection and engagement. But how exactly do they support a culture of belonging?

Calls to connection

Successful community managers run thriving communities with three key ingredients: An appropriate space for collaboration, intentional engagement around a mission, and careful data collection and analysis.

The community manager’s goal is to build an open network where employees can share ideas, challenges and wins freely and cross-functionally. Many businesses operate spaces on helpful platforms such as Discord, Facebook and Slack. Too often, however, the channels aren’t productive or have strayed from their origins, given a lack of channel management and oversight. A community manager may migrate or close existing channels or open new ones. They also curate members appropriate to the business’s goal for that community, placing client relationship management and product development employees in a network designed to gain customer feedback.

Notably, a good community manager understands that an open network means they must also organize places for members to express frustrations. While planning to ensure they don’t turn toxic, allowing for these conversations helps build trust within the network, generating more belonging.

And planning is essential. A good community manager designs intentional interactions. They may create polls, open new channels, host live sessions, ask insightful questions or provide encouragement. Every single exchange they drive contains only one call to connection per engagement, such as sharing a LinkedIn profile link, adding a comment, or upvoting a favorite response.

Managers also establish rituals. For example, a company may create weekly “conversation starters” to remind its community of the group’s values; another might post weekly challenges to help solve a customer’s problem. Once the repeatable experience catches on, the community benefits from more purposeful interactions and more efficiently generated solutions.

Other engagement boosters include incentivizing members. Providing free branded or unbranded items, creating badges for public recognition or community moderating access also reinforce positive contributions and motivation for continued engagement.

Finally, community managers prove relevance and value generation. By proactively collecting data, like the number of new members or engagements, and connecting the community’s data to a CRM tool, community managers can tie their forum’s success to business outcomes, ensuring continued leadership buy-in.

A new engagement strategy

The last several years generated subtle shifts in employees’ values, ways of working, and living that have disrupted business. As employees seek improved work-life balance, increased flexibility, greater compensation and better work cultures, community managers prove their effectiveness.

According to the CMX report, 88 percent of surveyed businesses indicate that communities are critical to their mission, and 85 percent believe they positively impact business objectives.

With such boundless benefits, the HR function can borrow from the community industry’s successes to improve culture, increase retention and simplify hiring.

After all, those 66 percent of businesses reporting to CMX that they plan to increase community efforts over the next year, HR managers are wise to ask how they can view and manage their organizations like communities.