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Is it your job to make the birthday cupcakes?

Guest Post by Rita Jones, Director, Center for Gender Equality at Lehigh University

Creating community at work is important. Celebrating milestones and achievements, giving colleagues the chance to share accomplishments with one another, and organizing care or support for those encountering setbacks in their lives give employees the chance to be holistic people not just employees. As you transition to a professional work environment, its important for you to consider how/if you want to contribute to the community in your work space.

Although creating spaces for employees to engage in community building is not necessarily a requirement, many workplaces include spaces where employees can gather informally and learn more about one another. Picture a retirement gathering with cake in the communal area or a comfortable breakroom where employees can gather during lunch. This community-building enhances the workplace: people feel more connected to one another and the organization, and the organization values the people by creating time, space, and resources. When communities can dive deeper into ties among individuals, everyone feels closer to the core of the community and organization. This community-building, though, must be valued by both the organization and the community of individuals. Too often, however, both the managers and the people being brought together take the community-building for granted, and when no one sees the labor and values the output, the individual(s) doing the organizing end up expending energies that are deemed unrelated to job performance or unseen.

Consider: How does your employer or company leadership acknowledge the effort put into community building?

Not surprisingly, women often disproportionately end up staffing community-building activities (birthday celebrations, bereavement support, celebrating new parents and retirements). Some women may fall into those roles and others can feel pressured into it because it’s “just what women do” as this kind of planning “comes naturally” to them and “they like it.” Certainly, some women do enjoying event planning. Regardless of why they do this work, it is work and should be recognized as such by both the employer and other employees. Recent research findings published in the Harvard Business Review confirm that women are more likely than men to volunteer for this kind of service work and are less likely to find this service leading to promotion.

Consider: Do you feel “expected” to take on responsibilities related to community building that are not a part of your job description? How can you address your concerns with a manager?

Recognizing the work formally and informally is very important, but the formal part is crucial. Successfully creating an inclusive community at work should be seen as organizational project work that receives the same kind of selection and evaluation process as any other “duties as assigned” service in the workplace. Without this formal process, many women tend to miss out on other opportunities that directly lead to career advancement and feel like they are unappreciated.

Consider: How can you include the work and effort you do toward community building as part of your annual/quarterly evaluation? How can you recognize the work others do toward community building?

Everyone at the workplace can work to change how community building is recognized. Here are few ways you can assist with community development in your work space.

  • Managers and those who plan to be in management can alter policies and procedures for advancement to equate community-building service with other forms.

  • Those who are not in management can advocate for making policies and procedures for advancement to equate community-building service with other forms.

  • Those who are doing the community-building can note their achievements to supervisors and peers.

  • Colleagues can formally and informally thank the planners and share those appreciations to supervisors.

Ultimately, most everyone wants to be part of an organization, particularly one where they spend at least 40 hours a week, which has a solid, inclusive, supportive community. Now is the time to value the work expended to create that community.

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