Employees don't just work for pay. If you want them to stay, they need to feel connected and belong in the workplace. This is why workplace engagement is so important.
You can encourage workplace engagement through employee networking. Employee networking gives staff the opportunity to connect and share ideas, knowledge, and career opportunities.
The result — you get employees who become the best versions of themselves. Since you have more employees of this caliber who can influence others, you enhance your organizational culture, too.
That said, here are six employee networking ideas you can implement in the workplace:
1. Lunch and learn sessions
Lunch and learn sessions are not just social gatherings. They’re also a venue for employees to, well, learn different things. You can let your employees talk amongst themselves. Another option is to invite an in-house expert or an outsider.
The sessions don't have to be regular coaching sessions. They can just be lunches where employees talk and have meaningful conversations. You could get everyone together in a casual cafe. Another option is to get a nice venue like Zendesk did below:
With this setup, your employees can learn anything under the sun.
They can learn skills or theories they can use to improve their work performance. So, if you’re having lunch and learning with your marketing department, you can discuss effective inbound marketing strategies with them. Or you can invite an expert to talk about SEO and social media marketing.
Staff can also learn of opportunities that make their career path clearer for them. For instance, they might find out from a colleague that your company provides learning opportunities for employees abroad.
However, setting up a lunch and learn is more than just serving food and inviting people over.
Follow these tips to ensure a successful event:
- Cover quick, light topics in one session. You wouldn’t want to siphon the energy out of the attendees.
- Offer food (of course). Free lunch will get your employees to attend.
- Find a reliable speaker (or a moderator if your employees just interact amongst themselves). The LEARN component is just as important as the lunch component.
- Schedule the session and announce it. Consider the availability of your speaker (if there’s one) when choosing a schedule. Announce the conduct of the session weeks before.
- Gather feedback from the event. Did your employees enjoy it? Did they learn anything?
Lunch and learn sessions are great employee networking events. They’re a powerful tool for building and nurturing professional relationships. Besides, they can help employees in their professional development.
Make the most out of these sessions by encouraging your employees to distribute digital business cards during the events. Your HR department can create these cards and give them to each new employee. Don’t forget to check out the best digital business card reviews to determine which solution is the best for your workplace.
2. Team-building activities
Team-building activities are fun exercises that can be done on-site or outdoors. Because team-building activities require your employees to compete against each other, they bring out the best in your staff.
They also break a workday’s monotony by getting your employees to do something physically or mentally challenging.
Here are some examples of team-building exercises:
- Any type of sport
- Hackathons. Hackathons are events where employees formulate their own solutions to company problems.
Team building isn’t so much about teaching your staff something new, as in lunch and learns or mentorship programs (more on this later).
The primary goal of team-building is to get employees to meet and become acquainted with each other.
3. Host other social events
You can host other social events to create an employee network, too. These employee engagement activities don’t necessarily entail employees working together towards a goal (as in the case of team-building activities).
Some examples of fun social events are:
- Employee birthday parties
- Christmas parties
- Annual awards night: Include fun categories like “the best-dressed employee,” “the office clown,” etc..
You can also get inspiration for your other internal networking events from events commemorated worldwide. For instance, Hubspot’s annual Bring Your Kid to Work Day may be inspired by Father’s Day:
However, as an employer, you need to value work-life balance. Even though these social events are a time to unwind, they should still be considered "work." So, hold them during work hours, not after 6:00 pm when employees should be with their families.
If you’re too busy to organize these activities, you can ask trusted employees or project managers outside the firm to do the work for you.
4. Establish mentorship programs
Mentorship programs don’t just build and nurture strong relationships between mentors and mentees. They also help new employees learn the skills they need to perform their roles better.
When you have a more talented team, you can achieve your business goals more quickly. It’s not surprising 92% of larger organizations–specifically Fortune 500 companies–-have mentorship programs.
It isn’t that hard to set up a mentorship program. Just follow the tips below:
- Identify a training gap. Although your goal is employee networking, you still want to get the most out of your mentorship program. That means you want your mentees to learn something new, too.
- Check where your current employees are lacking. For instance, does your sales team meet their sales goals? If they don’t, then this is a training gap you should address.
- Choose a mentor. The best mentor is someone from your organization who knows the company culture and processes.
- Specify mentorship goals: Make your mentorship goals clear from the get-go. You can create a lesson outline based on these goals or have your chosen mentor make a lesson plan you need to approve.
Ask your mentor to reinforce takeaways after every lesson as a final tip. This can be as simple as sending emails containing lesson summaries to mentees. Your mentors can use an email finder if HR doesn’t have the email address of a mentee.
5. Host knowledge-sharing sessions
You can choose to hold knowledge-sharing sessions instead of mentorship programs. Unlike mentorship programs, knowledge-sharing sessions have no specific lecturer. The knowledge-sharing process is two-way. So, the “mentor” can be the “mentee” at one time, and at another time, the roles can be reversed.
The employee networking process is more effective since the employees participating in these sessions are “co-equals” (again, there’s no mentor-mentee relationship). After all, employees can talk about anything under the sun and won’t be afraid to share what’s on their mind.
It follows the learning process is more effective, too.
Knowledge-sharing sessions can technically take place at any time of the day (people like to talk), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a role to play. Your job as an employer is to encourage them. Start by setting aside time every week for employees to share something with the group. Do this often enough and your employees won’t need any prompting. They’ll share ideas with their colleagues any time of the day.
You can also create safe spaces that encourage knowledge-sharing. For instance, do away with your cubicles in the workspace. These don’t only serve as physical barriers among employees. They can also have an effect on their willingness to talk to fellow employees.
6. Volunteer activities
Volunteering programs don’t just nurture connections between employees. They also allow employees to contribute to a cause they're passionate about. Besides, volunteer programs can help recruitment.
Around 81% of millennials expect companies to play a role in their community. If you don’t have a good corporate social responsibility program, you can say goodbye to recruiting the best talent.
But how do you set up an employee volunteer program?
First, you need to remember that you can’t just pick a cause, and then claim to be devoted to the cause. Your employees, candidates, customers, and potential customers will only see through you. You need to choose a cause you really believe in.
So, assess the problems within your community first. Then check out your business objectives. Discard the potential causes you identified that conflict with your business objectives. For instance, if you sell burgers, increasing the community’s awareness about the benefits of vegan food should be out of the question.
As a business, the best cause to support is one that aligns with your business goals. For instance, if you sell toothpaste or toothbrushes, universal access to dental healthcare is a great cause to support. So, you can hold free dental check-ups in the community monthly.
Once you’ve determined your cause (and your CSR event), you can announce this in the workplace. Explain to employees the benefits of volunteering instead of forcing them to attend. The goal is to gather like-minded people who can interact with each other.
As volunteers who really care, they won’t just help the community cope with pressing problems. As colleagues who share the same passion, they’ll also help each other grow as business professionals and individuals in the process.
Employee engagement is key to a business’ success. It can help you retain your best employees. At the same time, it can help boost organizational culture.
As a company, you can foster employee engagement by encouraging employee networking. You learned six employee networking ideas you can implement.
Hold lunch and learns, team-building activities, and other social events. Don’t forget to run mentorship programs, knowledge-sharing sessions, and volunteering activities.
You don’t have to hold all these at once. Just try one or the other, and see the results. Then choose the ones that yield the best results for you.
Bottom line, boost interpersonal connections in the workplace and you’ll reap the best results.