Category Archives: engagement

Walkable communities richer in social capital

Flickr photo by dePrefundis

A UNH study, utilizing the short-form Saguaro Social Capital Benchmark Survey, found that more walkable neighborhoods had higher levels of social capital in measures like trust of neighbors and participation in community events, such as entertaining friends in one’s house, working on a community project, volunteering or attending a club meeting.

Shannon Rogers, lead Principal Investigator for the study with UNH’s Natural Resources and Earth System Science (NRESS) program, based the results on surveys of  10 neighborhoods in Portsmouth, NH and 10 in Manchester, NH.

Rogers notes that other studies find that residents more social capital, have better health, higher levels of happiness and greater  economic success.

The study obviously can’t rule out reverse causality.  It’s quite possible that the people who choose to live in more walkable communities do so because they value greater levels of interaction and engagement and it is this predisposition rather than the layout of the city that drives levels of civic engagement.

The article, “Examining Walkability and Social Capital as Indicators of Quality of Life at the Municipal and Neighborhood Scales,” appears in the recent issue of Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Abstract: Walkability has been linked to quality of life in many ways. Health related benefits of physical exercise, the accessibility and access benefits of being able to walk to obtain some of your daily needs, or the mental health and social benefits of reduced isolation are a few of the many positive impacts on quality of life that can result from a walkable neighborhood. In the age of increasing energy costs and climate considerations, the ability to walk to important locations is a key component of sustainable communities. While the health and environmental implications of walkable communities are being intensively studied, the social benefits have not been investigated as broadly. Social capital is a measure of an individual’s or group’s networks, personal connections, and involvement. Like economic and human capital, social capital is considered to have important values to both individuals and communities. Through a case study approach this article argues that the generation and maintenance of social capital is another important component of quality of life that may be facilitated by living in a walkable community. Residents living in neighborhoods of varying built form and thus varying levels of walkability in three communities in New Hampshire were surveyed about their levels of social capital and travel behaviors. Comparisons between the more walkable and less walkable neighborhoods show that levels of social capital are higher in more walkable neighborhoods.

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Import of best friends and socializing at work

Flickr photo by gwilmore

Bob Putnam and I were recently meeting with Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup.

Jim related an interesting “social capital” finding of Gallup.  That employees having a ‘best’ friend at work is vitally important to the success of a company.   Gallup faced considerable opposition to this question from CEOs who didn’t want Gallup asking this of their employees and who said they wanted their employees focused on doing their job, not developing a best friend at work.  Gallup tried reformulating the question to ask about ‘close friends’ at work, but found that this question was not nearly as predictive of a whole host of beneficial outcomes.

Those who had best friends at work (only 30% of Americans) were 7 times more likely to be engaged with their job, they exhibited higher sales and profitability, better engaged customers,  produced higher quality work, had greater commitment to the firm’s mission,  had better safety records (since friends often made sure they were complying with safety precautions), were happier at work, and had a higher chance of sticking with a firm.  If workers didn’t have a best friend, only 8% of them were engaged in their job.

Gallup also observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were:

  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.
  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.
  • 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.
  • 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress.
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
  • 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.

Gallup also found other social capital measures to be key to successful business organizations: having someone at work who cares about you, and having a mentor.

This finding gibes with workplace social-capital work that we have done and work of John Helliwell and Haifang Huang on the importance of trust of management in ensuring wellbeing of those at the workplace.

Two MIT researchers (Sandy Pentland and Benjamin Waber) also found using sociometers that even apparently idle workplace socializing increases productivity.  [Here’s a link to earlier work of Sandy Pentland.]

Gallup also noted that they do 1000 US surveys a day and one question they ask is for people to give their weight, and they can actually see American obesity inching up day by day.

In two other social capital results, not focused on the workplace:

1) Gallup has also found that people need 6 hours of social time a day (on the phone, at work, at home, talking to friends, on e-mail) in order to “thrive”.  with no social time in a day, one has an equal chance of having a good or bad day, but with 3 hours of social time, the chance of a bad day drops to 10%.

2) Through Gallup we also learned of an experiment by researchers at Ohio State University  on the connection between stress and physical health.   42 married couples were given 8 tiny identical blisters; the skin was removed and a suction devices put on top that monitored the rate of healing. Researchers found that in marital relationships with hostility, wounds took almost twice as long to heal.  The magnitude was shocking; such hostility and lack of relational closeness could rival or exceed traditional physical factors.

For more background on some of this, see Gallup Management Journal piece or  Tom Rath, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Live Without or Wellbeing (with James Harter)

For the Ohio State University study, see Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., Timothy J. Loving, Jeffrey R. Stowell, William B. Malarkey, Stanley Lemeshow, Stephanie L. Dickinson, Ronald Glaser, “Hostile Marital Interactions, Proinflammatory Cytokine Production, and Wound Healing,” Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005;62:1377-1384.