When It Comes To Work, What Is The Cost-Benefit Between Lethargy And A Sense Of Belonging

Dan Pink pointed to a study (warning, ad heavy page) that suggests while office interruptions may be disruptive to one’s workflow, it ultimately creates a sense of worth and belonging for people. This is something to be considered both in terms of the conversation about shifting to working remotely and digital vs. in-person arts experiences. There seems to be an indication that as social creatures, the negatives of in-person work and play interactions may be outweighed by the positive.

The study which appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology was conducted at the University of Cincinnati:

Study authors surveyed a group of 111 employees twice per day for three full weeks. Each time, employees answered questions about their experiences at the office that day. More specifically, participants recorded if they had endured any interruptions, how mentally tired they felt, their sense of belonging, and their overall job satisfaction.

Those polls led the research team to conclude that while work interruptions in a vacuum can certainly lead to feeling more lethargic and dissatisfied, the social interactions that usually accompany those intrusions produce feelings of belonging and increased job satisfaction.

“Our study revealed that by providing this avenue for social interaction with one’s colleagues, work interruptions led to a greater sense of belonging. This sense of belonging, in turn, led to higher job satisfaction,” Dr. Puranik adds.

I am not necessarily advocating for returning to the office-centric work environment of yore. I felt like this was a relatively honest discussion of the dynamics of in-person office work. It would be interesting to see a similar study conducted with a larger sample size in a year or so when remote work has a chance to exist as a norm that (hopefully) is not necessitated by the existence of a pandemic. (It didn’t escape my notice that the researchers apparently interrupted people at work twice a day to ask them how they felt being interrupted at work.)

What I fear is that people will become acclimated to a lack of social contact and not value it as much as they do now. The lethargy and dissatisfaction people may experience when interrupted shouldn’t be discounted because a sense of belonging and job satisfaction are somehow more important or valuable. People may find the working from home uninterrupted raises their energy level and satisfaction and that is a good trade off for feeling disconnected.

It also bears considering that a work environment can be created where it isn’t a zero-sum between feeling a sense of belonging and lethargy. Those options haven’t really been explored.

But ultimately people feeling that a lack of social contact is an acceptable trade off is a bad situation for museums and live performing arts events. Digital offerings can prove a good substitute and keep people engaged when they are in a situation where they can’t be present in person, but it flattens the experience. It provides too much latitude to avoid and look away from even the least inconvenient, unchallenging situations.

I have discussed how I am definitely an introvert and have no problem being alone. There are times I don’t really want to go forth from my house, but am grateful I did after having an experience.

On Sunday, after locking up the building at 9:30 pm after our visual and performing arts event, I stood outside for 90 minutes talking to a kid that had been energized by the experience. I had already worked 8 days straight and done two 12+ hour days and had to be back at work the next morning, but I realized interacting with this 22 year old was going to be valuable for both of us. Even as I was talking to him, I was thinking that had we had this conversation in a Zoom meeting, it would have been so easy to open up other websites and watch videos/read other things or just sign off from the conversation rather than devote attention to each other for 1.5 hours.

While I would certainly be comfortable in a world absent of demands for me to be personally present, I can recognize that isn’t wholly constructive in the long run.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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