Why social capital matters

Jeff Kuhr
Jeff Kuhr

How connected do you feel at work? Do you feel connected to your employees and colleagues? How about other businesses? Why does this matter?

A story in Fortune magazine (http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/perfect-workplace/) on building the perfect workplace noted the simple secret of every great place to work is “personal not perkonal” — in other words, relationship-based rather than transaction-based.

We couldn’t agree more — we being members of the Community Transformation Group (CTG). A large group of dedicated individuals from all sectors of the community is working to enhance what we consider the “secret sauce” that can unite our many great community efforts, increase our impact and make this an even better place to live and work.

The secret sauce, by the way, is social capital.

Social capital is defined by the resources you have in your personal connections and networks. In other words, the more connections you have with friends, family and neighbors, the greater your social capital. As social capital increases, so do community trust, participation, access to resources and quality of life.

A study conducted by Jerome Evans, director of Community Health Initiatives in Glenwood Springs, helps us understand the concept — and why businesses should care, too. Evans found that low social capital with family, friends, neighbors and others leads to low community trust — not only in one another, but also the private and public sectors. The result of this lack of trust often results in lower community participation, including voting and volunteering.

This leads to the final stage in this cycle with more disparities and decreased quality of life, including social, financial and health status.

We wanted to see what social capital looks like in Mesa County. A survey was distributed across the community to 1,540 people over the summer through social media as well as in person at multiple locations. The results showed many people with incomes less than $75,000 felt relatively disconnected from the community and not very trusting of fellow citizens or public and private sectors.

A business owner or manager might say, “I don’t have time to think about this. This won’t help my bottom line.”

But here are some things to consider. Greater social capital among your employees makes for happier, more productive people who also have improved experiences with your customers and other businesses. Trust also increases as social capital grows — trust among employees within your business and, again, with your customers and other businesses. Greater social capital and trust bring greater efficiencies for you and other businesses in the community. This makes our economy better. It just makes sense.

So how do we address this thing called social capital that we can’t see or touch?

It starts with you. Ask your employees what would make them feel more connected and valuable. Consider allowing employees to perform volunteer work in the community during business hours or attend trainings that promote professional and personal growth. Have your business form or join a local networking group to enhance relationships and partnerships. Social capital is also built by simple day-to-day communications. Ask your employees to greet three people they see each day outside of work with a friendly “hello” and a smile.

It’s simple, but effective. Let’s do it. Let’s connect more with each other and strengthen our social capital. It’s a win-win situation.

For more information about social capital and the Community Transformation Group, contact Kay Wilmesher, community organizer with Mesa County Public Health, at kay.wilmesher@mesacounty.us or 589-9013.