Community in the Office

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In the UK and across the world, we have an issue with employee engagement. On a micro level this doesn’t seem like much cause for concern; work still gets done, businesses keep running. However, Jim Clifton CEO and Chairman of Gallup makes a salient and unsettling point on this topic, using research from 2017’s State of the Global Workplace Report. In this report, worldwide employee engagement was found to be at only 15%. Clifton simply asks “What if we doubled that? What if we tripled it?”


It’s so exciting to imagine what society could be like with maximised employee engagement. How much progress could be made to matters of global GDP, productivity, knowledge, technology, collaboration and human development, amongst countless others. We know that employee disengagement leads to reduced efficiency which in turn leads to reduced company output and wasted resources. Not to mention that, again referring to Gallup’s report, there is a 48% greater likelihood of employees with low engagement and wellbeing leaving their place of work.


With mental health awareness becoming more mainstream, there is more research than ever into the effect of work and the office environment on wellness. Workplace stress and disengagement are tangled up in each other. The Stoddart Review showed that more than half of the 22,347 employees surveyed who claimed to be experiencing high stress levels also reported disengagement. And, the 2014 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes survey found that levels of workplace disengagement increased significantly when workers experienced high levels of stress. This combination of disengagement and stress is not only harmful to business, but to the welfare of employees as well.


Depression and anxiety are, according to Mind UK, the most common mental health issues in the modern world. These types of mental illness are increasing, and it seems that these disorders have found their counterparts in the workplace. Depression – Disengagement. Anxiety – Stress. Perhaps, horrifyingly, these pervasive illnesses manifest differently in a corporate setting and can therefore impact more than the personal. While this connection may be a bit reductive, it can be helpful to understand these work-related issues of disengagement and stress in this way; as symptoms or markers of a disorder. Because this means that they can be treatable.


Industry leader and workplace transformation consultant Despina Katsikakis sees a people-centric office environment as the antidote to a disconnected and fraught workforce. She sees community, communication and support as essential for a more positive working atmosphere. This way of thinking completely echoes treatment of mental illness. According to the NHS, with regards to both anxiety and depression, socialization is key. When people work alone, don’t feel supported by their team or feel neglected by their employer it is much easier to withdraw. This is how disengagement and stress can build, as well as their mental illness counterparts. Katsikakis found that 71% of millennials want their co-workers to be a second family. This data comes from a generation with a huge awareness and language for mental health issues. Millennials have a great understanding of mental wellness, the impacts of stress and therapeutic solutions. It is interesting that “the therapy generation”, so called by Peggy Drexler in The Wall Street Journal, is looking for family in the workplace. Perhaps Millennials know what they need in order to cope with mental illness, they know they need community and support. Katsikakis also finds that workers that have friends as colleagues are four times happier than those who don’t. This is corroborated by research from Gallup, which identifies the presence of a best friend at work as one of the 12 dimensions of a healthy workplace. The study goes on to show that employees who reported having a best friend at work were 21% more likely to report that at work ‘they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day’.


This is what engagement sounds like. An investment in the work, colleagues and workplace as a whole. Motivation to do more and do more with consistency. This mindset would be almost impossible to achieve without solid community support. The Leeman Index finds that “in the best workplaces, employers recognise that their staff want to forge relationships and that company allegiance can be built or strengthened from such things”. By encouraging community in the workplace the relationship between employer and employee can be reinforced whilst workers’ welfare is supported, teams are made stronger and can work together more smoothly. Also, from a corporate standpoint, business can be more productive because employee engagement is increased. “Fast-growth businesses consistently demonstrate that business agility is contingent on a socially cohesive organisation” says the Leeman Index. We are social animals and work is a social institution. The sooner we champion a people-centric workplace, one that allows for collaboration and cohesion, the sooner we can get beyond 15% employee engagement. Because what could happen if we could double this by working together? What if we could triple this percentage by drawing inspiration from each other? What could we achieve?