Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview

Part One
CONNECTEDNESS AND DIVERSITY
IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORKPLACE

Americans appear to be devoting less time to informal socializing, joining fewer clubs and organizations, engaging in less political activity, and expressing less trust in their fellow citizens in recent decades. 1 Connectedness in the workplace stands as an important exception to this pattern. Unlike nearly every other form of associational life, the workplace is holding steady as a place where people “get a real sense of belonging.” Co-workers are ranked right after family and friends, and ahead of neighbors, church or synagogue members, or any other groups, as giving that “sense of belonging.” 2 Notably, co-workers are ranked equally highly by those born before 1946 and by those born after 1964, while every other kind of associational tie, other than family and friends, has dropped off sharply for the younger cohort. Of course, that is largely because most people need to work. They may watch television rather than attend club meetings—television is indeed one of the primary culprits Putnam identifies in the decline of associational life—but they would be hard pressed to choose television over work. People do not exactly choose to go to work, and they do not choose much of what they do there. Yet people often find a “real sense of belonging” there.

The importance of this fact will come into sharper focus when we consider the identity of the co-workers among whom so many people feel that “sense of belonging.” For one's co-workers come not only from different families and different neighborhoods from one's own, but often from different cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. In particular, the workplace is the single most significant site of regular interaction among adult citizens of different racial and ethnic identities, and especially among black and white adults. I will return to the question of the extent and the significance of demographic, and especially racial, diversity at work in chapter 4. But let us first look at what happens among co-workers at the workplace that might explain the “real sense of belonging” that so many people say they find there.

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