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Why Community Matters in the Workplace

We tend to think of “community” as the place where we live. But workplaces are a type of community, too. The degree to which employees feel valued, connected, and fulfilled in that community has important implications for both the organizational culture and the business’s health. In this week’s blog, we explore why community matters in the workplace and discuss the benefits of nurturing a sense of community.

Human beings are, by nature, social creatures. And we rely on interactions with others to fulfill our need for connection and belonging. Considering we spend almost a third of our lives on the job, it makes good sense for organizations to focus on community as one way to improve workplace culture and enhance the well-being of the workforce.

Community is especially important these days as employees re-evaluate what’s important in life and exercise choice in the kinds of organizations they want to work for. As we’re seeing with the Great Resignation—or Great Reshuffle—employees will leave their jobs if they don’t feel the culture supports their values or fulfills their basic need for meaning and connection.

And lest you think that building community in the workplace is just a “nice to have,” a new report by Microsoft argues that rebuilding social capital and culture as we adjust to a hybrid world is a business imperative. Dr. Nancy Baym, a researcher at Microsoft, maintains that “cultivating a culture of kindness, fun, and cooperative collaboration is just as important to the bottom line as your daily to-do list.”

I thought this quote from Dr. Baym was particularly spot-on: “Organizations need to understand that being nice to each other, chatting with each other, and goofing around is part of the work that we do. They are not a distraction or unproductive. They feed productivity and nurture the soil from which people will produce ideas.”

So with that as a backdrop, let’s take a deeper look at why community is important in the workplace.

Community provides a sense of belonging.

According to the Society for Human Resources, belonging is the “feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place.”1 It’s a basic human requirement, and appears right in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Today, belonging is fundamental as we seek to diversify our workplaces and ensure that they are inclusive for everyone.

It turns out that belonging at work is also good for the bottom line. According to a 2021 study by Deloitte Consulting, feeling like you belong can lead to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% decrease in sick days. It’s hard to argue with that!

Community gives us a feeling of purpose.

Employees are increasingly questioning their “why.” They want to connect work to something that feels meaningful, whether it’s their personal values, the company’s mission, or charitable work in the broader community. This is especially important to younger generations, who desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Research by Gallup finds that while their compensation is important and must be fair, millennials are motivated more by mission and purpose than by a paycheck.

The sheer nature of helping our colleagues in a mutually supportive community can also give us that sense of purpose. The Academy of Management Journal noted that workplace connections are not only crucial for career advancement and emotional support, but also fulfill a very human desire to serve and give back to others.

Community can help increase psychological safety—and vice versa.

Psychological safety is the shared belief held by team members that others will not embarrass, reject, or punish anyone for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It’s a big buzzword these days, but psychological safety isn’t something you achieve overnight. Instead, a psychologically safe environment is often a by-product of a workplace that already has a strong sense of community where workers have each other’s backs. So, in other words, it works both ways—you must have a good community to feel psychologically safe, and you must practice psychological safety in order to have a healthy community!

Community combats loneliness.

Loneliness in America has been on the rise since the 1980s, and the workplace is partly to blame. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy noted in a 2017 Washington Post article, “Our social connections are in fact largely influenced by the institutions and settings where we spend the majority of our time. That includes the workplace.”2

It’s no surprise that people are even lonelier now as we enter year three of the pandemic. Research from the Making Caring Common project at Harvard University found that 36% of respondents felt lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time,” compared with 25% two months before the pandemic. The research also showed that younger people are especially struggling—61% of those aged 18 to 25 reported high levels of loneliness.

A sense of community in the workplace can help ward off loneliness.2020 study by Cigna found that people who don’t have good connections at work are ten times lonelier than people who report having good relationships with their coworkers. And when organizations actively seek to build community, thereby decreasing loneliness, there are other benefits to the business, like greater retention and lower healthcare costs.

We need to be intentional about creating community at work if we want people to be happy, engaged, healthy, and productive. It’s essential to business success. And like many aspects of changing work culture, doing this takes time, effort, and good ideas. If you need help learning how to build a sense of community in your workplace, visit our website or reach out to connect@webmd.net.

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