Opinion, People

Fellowship of the … Cubicle?

“Do you have a best friend at work?” was one question on the first “employee engagement” surveys I took. The question was considered somewhat of a joke at the time. After all, work is for work. You could have friends on your own time.

Fast forward a decade or so, and suddenly both having social connections and the safety of friendship seems like obvious indicators of strong work environments. The Gallup organization says it best:

Human beings are social animals, and work is social institution.

The Gallup organization notes that the “best friend” question is the most controversial of the 12 dimensions that drive employee retention, customer metrics, productivity and profitability, However, the organization’s in-depth research also uncovered that employees who report having a best friend at work are also more likely to report that:

  • They received recognition or praise in the last 7 days (43%)
  • Someone at work encourages their development (37%)
  • Their opinions count at work (27%)

Having friends at work sounds like the “social institution” of work is being part of a community: a system of relationships based on common interests that create a feeling of belonging.

***

Relationships fostering a sense of connection and support are critical to overall happiness. A quality social network – a real, in person social network – is critical to your happiness. What is a quality social network?

Berkley’s The Greater Good Magazine identifies three areas of relationships to teach children to help create happier, resilient adults: social and emotional intelligence, successfully resolving conflicts and altruism. 

From The World Counts: Strong relationships are when you feel like you belong, are valued for who you are and have comfort and security. Between 1985 and 2006, the number of close friends reported by Americans dropped by a whole person. A full quarter of survey respondents reported that they couldn’t name on person they could rely on fully.

We’re social animals, and we need a community to thrive.

***

Here’s where I want you to take a bit of a jump with me. 

I’ve noticed a trend of talking about “resiliency” at work: a new fancy word for stress management. Work is the number one source of stress for a quarter of Americans, and the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an official syndrome earlier this year. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article on 5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work put the heavy lifting of changing this culture on the individual, recommending mindfulness, taking breaks and avoiding context switching.

All great ideas – yet the burden is placed on the individual to “fix” the problem.

Sounds suspiciously like “self-care”, doesn’t it? I’m talking about the trendy self-care of scheduling bubble baths and walking meetings, sheet masks and stretch breaks rather than the real self-care of setting boundaries and, as Ravishly so perfectly puts it, respecting yourself instead of spoiling yourself.

Here’s where it all comes together: self-care will only get us so far in the fight against social disconnect, distress and burnout. It’s community care that will create the seismic shifts necessary to create true change. Nakita Valerio is a Toronto-based researcher and community organizer who’s tweet about community care and self-care recently went viral.

From Heather Dockray’s May 2019 Mashable article, Self-care isn’t enough. We need community care to thrive:

“Community care can look like a lot of different things,” Valerio says. “It can be as simple as reaching out to somebody over text when you just need someone to talk. It can be someone grabbing groceries for you or  … somebody coming and doing your dishes and watching your kids while you’re grieving.” 

Let’s take the friends-at-work thing one step further and test community care in the office. Ask a coworker if you can bring them a coffee on a tough day. Send a quick note letting your cube neighbor know they handled a tricky situation well. Drop off a meal for a new parent just returning to work. Give someone a high-five for running their first marathon over the week. Celebrate and support each other – you know, be the friend at work.

apparently stock photo work friends go shopping together.

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