In the opening pages of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a group of Italian immigrants who settle the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania (See the excerpt in the New York Times here.) They originally emerged as remarkable in one highly distinct way — their formidable resilience to heart disease. (The incidence of heart disease before age 65 in their small, seemingly sleepy community was virtually non-existent as compared to the average incidence across the United States. The number of Rosetans suffering from the condition after age 65, was also markedly lower.) However, what was even more stunning about this group was not that they were indeed an “outlier” — it what was the identified reason they fell into that category.
Discovering what made this group resistant to heart disease, included an exhaustive review of variables including diet, lifestyle choices and attitudes about work and family. However, the most likely contributors fell away. The variable that best explained their long, healthy lives, was one not expected — it was “connectedness” or in other words, a strong sense of community. They spoke more. Cooked for each other. Supported more through extended family clans. They had more social groups in their small community, as compared to other larger communities.
The fabric of their lives, so to speak, was instrumental. They experienced the luxury of a stable, connected environment.
So, “heart” in turn — protected their hearts.
Something often missing from our both our personal and work lives.
It is plausible that feelings of “connection” can influence both our general well-being and perceptions of work life happiness. (See Stanford’s Business School’s, The Business Case For Happiness.) We’ve already touched upon this, approximating workplace”happiness” with measures of engagement or job satisfaction. However, these constructs may not fully represent the depth and breadth of that state.
We really haven’t fully explored the notion of feeling “connected”.
When was the last time you felt a real connection with your organization or work group? How did this affect your productivity? Creative contribution? Well being?
Most importantly, how can we build a sense of connection to our workplaces? Here are a few ideas:
- Brown Bag Lunches. Use a meal as an opportunity to connect, discuss challenges and lend support.
- Share the Work. Get together and show off. (I loved this process in my very first role.) Provide an opportunity for team members to present best work, client success stories and share strategies.
- Share Challenges. Feeling “connected” at work also demands feeling a part of a team (and something greater than yourself). Keep you team connected to organizational mission and key elements of strategy.
- Idea “Building” Sessions. Many ideas are wasted because they are not shared in their earliest stages with the team. Encourage the team to share ideas sooner — before they are fully formed (a strategy utilized at Pixar), so that the team can flesh them out together.
- Build Alumni Networks. Just because you leave an organization, doesn’t have to mean the relationship is over. Positive employee experiences can foster a longer-term relationship. (Valued employees do return!) See more about this here in: The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.).
Building organizational cultures which have the ability to build connection — is possibly the most critical imperative that we face going forward.
What do you think?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent. Her posts on workplace topics have appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum.