Why community matters when it comes to engagement

Before the pandemic and “quiet quitting” became part of the workplace vocabulary, researcher and author Christine Porath came across data that found 65% of people didn't feel any sense of community at work. 

That was surprising for Porath because she has spent her career largely focusing on how to build more positive cultures for people by looking at how engagement impacts performance. The effects of lower job satisfaction resulted in few promotions and more job switching. The results were dramatically different for people who feel they are part of a community. 

Christine Porath

“They're far more engaged and much more likely to stay with the organization where they're working. And they report much greater thriving at work, a feeling of the vitality of moving forward, of learning and growing,” says Porath, who spoke about building community in the 2023 Tuesday Forum Series on May 16. 

Porath is the author of “Mastering Civility” and co-author of “The Cost of Bad Behavior.” She’s also an associate professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and a consultant who works with leading organizations to help them create a thriving workplace. 

From surviving to thriving

Porath's presentation "Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving" is part of a series created by the Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. The Tuesday Forum series will wrap up on May 23 with facilitator Karen McPhee, who will lead a discussion with attendees about how to take what they’ve learned to work and build a stronger community.

The six-part breakfast speaker series is officially titled “Envisioning Our Community’s Future.” It was created to bring together area businesses, local leaders, and community members to learn about and discuss issues critical to Northwest Ottawa County and plan for a shared future.

Christine Porath was the sixth speaker in the 2023 Tuesday Forum Series.

Porath says the research she highlighted has applications beyond the workplace to communities. 

“Coming together really helps move us from surviving to thriving. Community matters. We should prioritize connection with others. What's the first step in doing that? It’s just gathering together, whether that's a meal like we are doing here today, or spending time at a park or taking a hike. Any kind of human connection is really a great starting point … (because) it’s an opportunity to connect at the human level to get to know each other, and that can make all the difference in people's lives.”

Building a stronger community

Porath's insights resonated with Jeff McMartin, president of Pliant Plastics, a family-owned business in Spring Lake, who took a lot of notes during her presentation.

“I look at things through a business lens, so I’m trying to look at it more through the community lens and how we impact that,” says McMartin. “She's got a lot of really good thoughts about the importance of community. Her presentation really pulls the series together.”

Jeff McMartin

McMartin says that he sees an opportunity to play a part in building a stronger community in his roles as a business leader and church member.

“I think those platforms have a lot of opportunities to influence what happens in the community,” he said.

Grand Haven Township Board Member Howard Behm says his big takeaway from Porath's presentation is that it’s more important than ever as an elected official to listen to his constituents. 

“I need to listen more — and don't stop — because people do want to be heard. They care as much as I do. We all need to build community together. It’s a process, and sometimes a very slow process,” Behm says.

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.