Employees united around and committed to a shared purpose will feel a sense of community, in which they both receive and give social support, thus enhancing their well-being.
The adverse impact of a toxic culture on organizations has been well documented. A study by a team of researchers from the University of Navarra and Harvard University focuses on the flip side of the coin: the potential beneficial impact of a healthy organizational culture on the well-being of employees.
For their study, the researchers used the implementation of shared purpose as a manifestation of a healthy culture, and a sense of community and OCBI (organizational citizenship behavior toward other individuals) as manifestations of employee well-being.
Shared purpose is successfully implemented if employees sense that 1) they understand and can explain the organization’s purpose (i.e., purpose knowledge); 2) their values are aligned with the organization’s values (i.e., purpose internalization); and 3) their activities are aligned with and support the organization’s purpose (i.e., purpose contribution).
Employees feel a sense of community when they receive social support from their colleagues and managers, which, in turn, inspires them to exhibit OCBI by offering social support to others in the organization.
To confirm that a healthy culture leads to employee well-being, the researchers empirically tested the connection between shared purpose and a sense of community, and between a sense of community and organizational citizenship behavior.
They also looked at the impact of two factors, group size, and diversity, on these relationships.
To collect the data for the study, the research team sent cross-sectional surveys to approximately 1,750 supervisors and 7,580 employees in 261 departments dispersed among 31 companies. Departments were the core units of study: the researchers would study the average results of employees and the average results of supervisors. Employees in each department were asked about purpose implementation and a sense of community. Supervisors in each department were asked about employee OCBI.
The researchers also collected data on the size of the departments studied and the gender diversity within those departments.
Analysis of the data yielded the following results:
According to this study, organizations should build a healthy culture to ensure the well-being of their employees. To achieve a healthy culture, organizations should focus on shared purpose implementation, that is, developing in their employees a sense of purpose knowledge, purpose internalization, and purpose contribution.
To develop purpose knowledge, leaders should clearly communicate the “why” of the business. This requires leaders to have a clear understanding of the purpose, helping them to more effectively and appropriately engage and communicate with their people. Continued conversations around the purpose are important in keeping the purpose updated and employees engaged.
To develop purpose internalization, leaders should ask employees to reflect on their own values and align them with those of the organization. Psychological safety is key: employees must feel free to speak about their values and their expectations of the organization.
To develop purpose contribution, leaders should convince their people that they are contributing to the purpose of the organization. Delegation and trust, including letting employees propose how they can contribute to the purpose, will enhance a sense of purpose contribution. Human Resources policies can have a role here by promoting employee empowerment and autonomy.
Teams are not monolithic. The better leaders understand the diversity of team members, the better positioned they are to take appropriate steps to strengthen the link between shared purpose and employee well-being. Studies have shown that women still bear greater family responsibilities than men; if organizations where women outnumber men work hard to display recognition and support of family responsibilities, women are more likely to feel connected to the company’s purpose, as well as appreciate the social well-being that comes with support.
Finally, leaders should help employees in small groups or departments feel that they are part of something bigger. Explicit descriptions of the impact of the group on the organization’s goals, intangible awards that incentivize within-team cooperation, and awareness of each employee’s workload and how that workload might constrain collaboration can increase the sense of community and shared purpose in small groups.
Marià Paula Florez-Jimenez’s profile at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Alvaro Lleo’s profile at Universidad Publica de Navarra
Eileen McNeely’s profile at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Enhancing the Sense of Community and Collaboration among Employees through Purpose Implementation: An Empirical Analysis using Dyadic Data. M.P. Florez-Jimenez, A. Lleo, E. McNeely, C. Reu. SSRN working paper 4392252 (March 27, 2023). https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4392252
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