The Connection Between Celebrations and a Strong Culture

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What will draw employees to work and keep them engaged?

If your organization is wrestling with that question, you’re not alone.

Insurance employers – like those in many other industries – are struggling to retain employees and engender their loyalty, especially after the work disruptions of the pandemic and the resulting “Great Reshuffle.”

Employees are now asking themselves: “What is the most advantageous work arrangement for me and my family?”

This push-pull dynamic means creating and maintaining an attractive and engaging culture is a requisite for organizational success. Employees need good reasons to join or stay with a company, and those reasons must go beyond compensation and benefits.

Some insurance employers, including Westfield, are strengthening their cultures with a focus on recognition and celebrating success.

And while celebration in the workplace is enjoyable and appeals to most, its purpose is serious: to create positive, meaningful connections among employees, the workplace and the employer.

As a concept, celebration as a workplace culture is drawing interest in academic research. For example, researchers Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron assert in Harvard Business Review that “a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”

Potential benefits include stress reduction, improved cognitive performance, and reduced burnout among employees. In turn, these can then yield higher discretionary efforts (i.e., going above and beyond what is required) as well as stronger relationships and increased trust among teams.

Westfield began incorporating celebration in the workplace several years ago as part of a leadership effort to further strengthen our culture. Our President, CEO and Board Chairman Ed Largent became personally engaged in leading this work. He saw, and sees, culture as central not only to employee engagement but to productivity and company success.

With so much going on across the organization ― and so many accomplishments ― he says, it’s too easy to simply finish something and move on to the next challenge. But “intentionally recognizing and celebrating helps fuel the fire, demonstrates appreciation and keeps the momentum going,” Largent says. Further, he encourages the team to celebrate the big wins and the small ones, too. Every win counts!

Culture is a differentiator, and it’s a growing area of attention for many organizations. At Westfield, our culture includes recognizing and motivating employees. We intentionally celebrate employees’ achievements, including when they take risks that may or may not work out as intended. Recognitions and celebrations are now a routine part of the Westfield culture.

What does that look like?

It means we intentionally dedicate time to recognize an individual or team. That recognition can be part of a check-in at a team meeting where we pause to acknowledge the success and the behaviors that contributed to the achievement. We also make a point to recognize employees for demonstrating company values, including trust, respect, and integrity. These check-ins and recognitions reinforce our commitment to celebrating success and sharing feedback, which is another culture behavior we promote in the security of a safe environment.

Formal, online employee rewards and recognition programs also contribute to celebrating in the workplace. Many insurers likely already have these programs where one person can recognize a teammate’s valuable contribution. Westfield also has a gratitude wall where employees use a marker and write sentiments of gratitude on a wall for all to see. It’s inspiring to see the messages people write to each other.

Workplace celebrations are also a priority for our employee resource groups. The employee-led groups are part of Westfield’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and are open to all employees, full- or part-time. They’re organized around various topics such as abilities advocacy, employee veterans, multicultural education, LGBTQ+ employees, and professional advancement and development for women.

Celebrating unleashes the power of recognition, which is positive for company culture and employees. Recognition binds people together, encourages people to take risks, improves productivity, increases loyalty, and makes for highly engaged, rewarding work.

In a wonderful irony, through the process of intentionally incorporating celebration into workplace culture, Westfield came to realize that it’s been part of the company’s DNA from its founding 175 years ago. Only now we are more thoughtful and intentional about how we ensure the team is recognized and celebrated.

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