Losing a valuable team member is always a drag, but when one of our project managers recently resigned, their last day with our company was celebratory. From the energy in the office, to the after work send-off … I realized how much I’d missed the experience of being with my work community. I don’t think I’m alone. 

As we come out of a period of working in relative isolation, it strikes me that what we’ve missed most about the office is the experience of being part of a collective. In fact, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of community care. 

In the pandemic, one in four U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and researchers found a 5% increase in worker loneliness worldwide. As burnout became the norm, companies preached the importance of self-care. And yes: self-care is important. Meditation and mindfulness, a better night’s sleep, and time off can work wonders. 

For all its benefits though, self-care alone is not enough, and preaching it can place the burden on employees who are already struggling with it. When in fact, the opposite is true: companies have a responsibility to provide collective care to employees: in essence, a supportive, positive environment where they feel a sense of community and belonging. But it has to be intentional. Here are some ways I’m working to double down on community in the workplace:

Ditch hierarchies and empower managers to be people intelligent  

From “rise and grind” to hustle culture, we’ve put the onus on the individual. But we’re social creatures. Relationships are a critical part of our mental –– and physical –– health. 

Indeed, research has found social isolation can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Being invested in our workplace community is good for workers and the company. People with workplace friends are more productive and efficient. Short story? Invest in creating the conditions for a community to thrive. These two simple steps can go a long way: 

Ditch outdated hierarchies: For years it’s been the workplace norm to take a top-down approach. The boss is treated as a VIP at the expense of everyone else’s ideas and feelings. Instead of the old-school approach, try treating everyone as equals, regardless of their title, to create a baseline level of comfort.

When you make a conscious effort to listen and encourage a forum-like atmosphere where people can voice their insights comfortably, employees are more inclined to invest in each other and feel a sense of belonging.The truth is, a one-size-fits-all approach to the workplace won’t give you the results you’re after. That’s because workers’ motivations are different, from person to person. But if you make space for individual self-expression and authenticity instead of trying to mold your employees, people can naturally blossom into their potential.

Empower managers to be people-intelligent: While it’s easy to put wellness on employees’ shoulders, employers need to reckon with the fact there are ways to make work less grueling. And a more human approach to management can help.

Teaching your managers how to communicate effectively has to be a priority. We bring in an external company a few times a year to train our teams. At first we started with a small group of leaders, but in the past few years, we’ve expanded the sessions to include more of our company and it’s made a big difference in our management practices.

Helping managers become better communicators helps create a community environment. For example, something as simple as recognizing people’s efforts can have a huge impact. One study found 74% of workers who only got thanked a few times a year were planning to quit within the year — it turns out psychological safety is a key ingredient in higher performing teams. 

To create the kind of positive environment where people are allowed to thrive, we’ve focused on beefing up our team’s understanding of human psychology. It has changed the kinds of questions we ask and how we interact with one another –– and it’s made our office a more compassionate place. 

The downstream benefits of community care

That project manager I mentioned who recently left our company? They were scooped up by a competitor, but their resignation highlighted the downstream benefits of our investment in a workplace community. 

First off, they were comfortable enough to talk the opportunity through with folks internally. When they chose to quit, it was because the other offer meant a career opportunity they  couldn’t pass up. 

Certainly, retaining employees is the best case scenario. The longer people work for you, the more in-house knowledge they have. But we do exit interviews with every employee who resigns. So I know for a fact that people leave not because we’ve burned them out or they don’t feel respected –– rather, they leave because there’s an opportunity for major career advancement that we can’t replicate. Regardless of whether they’re with us for a few years or decades, they know they have a community here for life. 

As leaders, we need to ask ourselves what goal we want to serve by asking people to participate in our organizations. Do we go to work to survive? Or do we go to work to thrive? 

Personally, I want to run a company that helps people get ahead in every way possible. So many businesses talk about making the world a better place. But in execution, that means taking care of the people we touch. And what does it mean to take care of somebody? Give them a chance to flourish, and your company will too.