Feeling Like You’re on a Team at Work Is So Deeply Good for You

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Photo: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

Talking about your co-workers as a “team” has always struck me as the sort of corny turn of phrase brought into the world by the same feel-good MBAs who think that workplaces should be “fun” so that you never feel the need to leave. Satisfyingly saccharine at first, but “fundamentally sinister” in the long run.

But, a new meta-analysis finds, feeling like you’re on a team with the group you work with is a good and real thing. Drawing on 58 studies of almost 20,000 employees across 15 countries, a research team lead by Niklas Steffens at University of Queensland found that the more you connect with the group you work with — regardless of the industry you’re in — the better off you’ll be.

It’s a matter of “social identification,” Steffens explained to Science of Us over an email, or the “sense of oneness” you feel with whatever social groups you might be a part of. It’s low for the groups that aren’t that important to you (like the fellow denizens of your apartment building, if you’re a New Yorker), and high for the groups that are central to your life, like your family or, if you’re lucky, the organization that you work for.

“When we identify highly with a group, rather than thinking in terms of ‘I’ and ‘me’, we think, feel, and act in terms of ‘we’ and ‘us’,” Steffens said. “Our research shows that health in the workplace is determined to a large extent by the social groups that we belong to at work — that is, by the degree to which we identify with them. We are less burnt out and have greater well-being when our team and our organization provides us with a sense of belonging and community — when it gives us a sense of ‘we-ness’.”

But in work, as in love, it’s best if the feelings are reciprocated: the researchers found that social identification did the most good when everybody in a group felt similar levels of “we-ness” for their team.

As Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer would have you remember, the categories of “work” and “life” obscure the fact that people have the same needs whether they’re in the office or on vacation. So, given that isolation is as big a health risk as obesity, it’s a good call to bond with your co-workers. One need not have a work wife, husband, or BFF, but it’s key to feel yourself part of a crew. This is why, Steffens says, if you don’t feel a sense of connection with the people you work with, then you think about what you can do to bring people together. Spoiler alert: Drinking helps.

Feeling Like You’re on a Team at Work Is So Good for You