When I was growing up on a farm near a small town in rural Iowa, I remember my parents being a part of a number of different social groups.
There was the card club that met once a month where half a dozen couples gathered to play 500 (the card game of choice) on a Saturday night.
My Dad belonged to the Elk’s Club and my Mom had her bridge (more cards) group.
Church on Sunday morning was always followed by an hour of coffee and conversation while we kids went off to Sunday school. It seemed to be as much a social as a religious experience. Our church also provided social gatherings during the week from potluck dinners to my Mom’s women’s “circle.”
These social outings played a big role in shaping the community I grew up in and my parents experience within it.
Today, “being social” has more to do with your smartphone than with being together with other people. Somewhere over the past few decades, we stopped showing up and opted out of social clubs. Fraternal organizations like the Elks or Masons that once thrived are dying off.
Even churches and other places of worship are seeing declining attendance.
My point isn’t to debate if this is a good or a bad thing. It is simply a reality of the world we live in today.
The problem, I think, is that we don’t have any less desire or need for belonging with other humans than we did when all of these social groups were thriving. We still need to feel connected to others and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Where will we find it?
I’m not sure, but I know where we’ll look.
For many people, spending time at work may be the only place they get to commune and spend time with other people. As these other social organizations have declined, the demand on the workplace to fill that void has increased.
The Best Places to Work I studied create a superior work experience by fostering a feeling of connection with their fellow co-workers. It’s common in these organization to find activities designed for employees to spend time together (on the clock) not working. Lunches, happy hours, outings, trips–all in the name of building and fostering relationships.
Employees at the organizations often refer to their coworkers as “family.”
It struck me last week as I spent time at WorkHuman that perhaps part of the reason it’s become so important to make our workplaces more human is this social void that exists for many people. Perhaps employees need the workplace to be their “social club” because they can’t or won’t fill that need elsewhere.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for employers. Designing social space into the work experience is contrary to the work we’ve done over the past few decades to maximize efficiency. We’ve got to put some of that social space back.
It’s important. Designing work experience to help employees feel a sense of connection may have dramatic effects on the employee’s physical and mental health.
The role that work and the workplace play in our individual well-being is increasing and will likely continue to increase, whether you like it or not. This means that the consequences for not creating a more human work experience are greater than ever before.
This is important work that we do. And we must continually do better.