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In my last post, I noted the overlap in the needs and values of women and post-Boomer generations.  The overlap is good news for leaders because steps to increase the retention of one of these groups can pay off in increased retention of the other.  There is a bigger “bang for the buck” for steps to improve workplace engagement.  I first explored the shared need for flexibility. The second area of overlap is in the need for connection and community.

In Gallup’s “Q-12” instrument to measure engagement, one of the questions is about whether one has a “best friend at work.”  This question probes whether people feel a sense of belonging and connection at work.  Because connection drives engagement, good leaders create work environments where people experience “community.” Doing so will, in particular, enhance engagement of women, members of Generation X and Millennials.  Here’s why:

  • Women: One generalization about the female gender is that “women are more relational.”  The female brain is wired to build connections by talking and sharing intimacies.  The hormone oxytocin drives bonding among little girls and adult women.  Even under stress, women may secrete this bonding hormone, seeking strength in numbers rather than exhibiting the testosterone-based “fight or flight.” As a result of these and other factors, relationships are deeply important to most women.  In Pat Heim’s terminology, in the workplace, the model of relationship is “friendliness” rather than deep “friendship.”  (This makes sense in light of hierarchical structure, the press of business and the fact the workplace tends to reflect more masculine than feminine approaches.) The absence of deep connections in the workplace can be unsatisfying to women. Creating a sense of community at work (and encouraging women to be involved in non-work networks) can help.
  • Generation X (ages 31 to 50): This is the “latchkey generation.”  The children of dual-career Baby Boomers who worked long hours, or parents who divorced, this generation became self-sufficient and lacked the pervasive oversight and involvement given by parents of the next generation.  Gen Xr’s crave a “life” and connections.  They are more willing to put in longer hours if the workplace includes people they like being with.
  • Millennials (30 and younger):  This group tended to grow up in child-centric families with lots of attention, praise and activity.  They have done things in groups since infancy—from play dates to group dating. Highly confident and disregarding of hierarchy, they feel their superiors are their equals–their “friends.” Millennials are more likely to want to work hard and stay where there is a sense of community.

For these different reasons, building a sense of community in the workplace can increase the engagement and retention of each of these groups—a huge portion of today’s workplace.  Please share your ideas for creating connection and community at work.