How To Cultivate a Sense of Community Among Your Entry-Level Hires
Use your company culture to recruit and retain Gen Z hires.
When some people think of a company’s sense of “community,” they picture employees socializing at company happy hours, engaging in friendly tabletop games, or talking in swanky communal areas. Data from our recent State of the Gen Z Job Search report shows that company culture and community is important to Gen Z – and it’s especially important to Gen Z women. But community is about more than ping pong tables and kombucha on tap. It’s about facilitating genuine connections among employees. When bringing on new hires at the entry-level, try some of these ideas to foster a stronger sense of community and use community-building as a selling point in your recruitment outreach.
Start with a company orientation and introduction
Whether you have a large intake of new hires or just a few, it’s important to make them feel welcome and part of the team right away. During the orientation and onboarding process, send around a department-wide (or company-wide, depending on the size of your organization) email to introduce new hires and give some background information about them, such as the school they attended and some of their interests. Schedule meet-and-greets with current employees from different departments so everyone can match a face to a name. There’s a lot for entry-level hires to learn in the first few days, and first impressions matter a lot.
Most importantly, don’t assign projects on the first day; give entry-level hires the opportunity to learn more about each other and the larger team before they officially start working. If your company offers a long orientation and onboarding process (such as one that lasts for a few weeks), mention this in your recruitment materials as a benefit to new hires.
Use team-building exercises to encourage teamwork
As part of the orientation program for entry-level hires, you can set up a company retreat to perform team-building exercises. Team-building exercises can range from a scavenger hunt or storytelling games that can be performed in the office, to outings like an escape room or a tour of the surrounding neighborhood. The goal is to foster trust and connection among employees in a non-work setting so that they will become comfortable with each other in the office, too.
Offer mentorship programs for entry-level employees
Research from SAP has found that mentorship within a company improves employee engagement, retention, and inclusion – all of which play a major role in cultivating a feeling of community. For example, companies like General Electric offer rotational programs for their entry-level hires, with a strong emphasis on mentorship and active coaching. Creating a formal mentorship program can put you ahead of your competition and attract the most talented candidates who are looking for those opportunities in their first job.
Mentorship is especially important for traditionally underrepresented groups. Companies such as PayPal and Goldman Sachs offer mentorship opportunities for women, LGBTQ+ employees, and ethnic minorities. Some of these programs are offered not only for new hires, but also prospective employees. Mentorship groups are a great selling point during the recruitment process, and recruiters should let interested students know about mentorship opportunities that are available for job candidates and entry-level employees.
Encourage employees to take breaks – and have a dedicated space to do so
When it’s time for lunch, do most of your employees go outside, head to a cafeteria in your building, or eat with their heads still hunched over their desks? A survey by HR consulting firm Right Management found that more than 65% of working professionals eat lunch at their desks. This habit increases feelings of social isolation and harms community-building. By contrast, taking breaks (such as during lunch) also increases productivity and creativity. To improve morale and community, have a dedicated space for employees to eat and socialize. Your careers website and recruitment brochure can also showcase images of entry-level employees socializing in your office’s common areas and lunchroom.
Encourage friendly competition
Even though it might seem counterintuitive, fostering a competitive spirit in your entry-level employees can be a way to help them feel more connected to the company and to each other. For example, organize a food drive and have different departments compete to see who can donate the most items to a local food pantry. During the holidays, host a pie-baking contest, or a cookie-baking contest, or another contest where employees can get together, enjoy food, and have the chance to win small prizes (and bragging rights).
Celebrate important milestones
Did someone just receive a promotion, or did a group of new hires successfully finish a huge project? Recognize their contribution through a congratulatory email, an “employee of the month” initiative, or a small reward like a team lunch. When employees are recognized for their hard work and can celebrate together, they will feel a stronger sense of accomplishment and teamwork.
In addition, not all celebrations need to be work-related. Celebrate major holidays, birthdays, engagements, and other personal milestones that entry-level employees are comfortable with sharing with co-workers. Holidays are a particularly strong opportunity to bring the company together for a celebration that isn’t related to work. Around the winter holidays, host a potluck during the workday, organize a gift swap, and play party games.
Have company volunteering opportunities
Bond outside of the office while doing something good for the community. Organize a volunteering event at a community garden, a local food bank, or a Habitat for Humanity build. Ideally, you should find a volunteering project that aligns with your company’s mission and values. For example, Salesforce has a robust pro bono initiative in which company volunteers help nonprofit organizations improve their processes with cloud technology. Salesforce also offers employees seven days of paid time off per year to dedicate to volunteering.
An added benefit is that if your company regularly engages in volunteering, such as hosting an annual or quarterly day of service, you can take pictures to post on your social media channels and include in recruitment materials for entry-level hires. Working toward a common goal outside of work requirements can strengthen community bonds, and volunteering opportunities show prospective job candidates that your company is serious about promoting good in the world.
With so much time spent at work, entry-level hires will appreciate opportunities to feel connected to their colleagues and the company they work for. Implementing a few of these programs can improve employer-employee relations, and also serve as a great differentiator when Gen Z candidates are applying for jobs.
Want to know how Gen Z candidates are faring during COVID-19? Download our report here to understand how employment was affected during the onset of COVID-19, and download our report The Gen Z Job Seeker to understand how this generation's approach to the job search has fundamentally changed.