Ken Akers

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that runs in the Columbia Daily Tribune that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

I am a self-identified introvert. On any personality questionnaire, I score high on introversion, which can be defined as, “a person who draws energy from internal introspection rather than from external stimuli such as affiliating with others.”

As the pandemic dictated an increased move to work-from-home modes of employment, I secretly reveled in the opportunity to spend more work time in isolation without those pesky work relationships. However, as the months passed, I came to the jolting realization that I was experiencing the absence of a central need in my work life – the need for connection. The copious amount of time spent in solitary engagement with work had left me with the desire for reengagement with others. If my interactions with my colleagues and friends is any indication, I believe many workers are experiencing a similar need to reconnect with self, community, and work during an unprecedented time of disconnection.

Management theorists have long recognized employee desire for making social connections in and out of the workplace. David McClelland, an American psychologist whose “Theory of Needs” appears in virtually every college management text, noted affiliation – the urge to having social interactions – as one of three acquired needs that are required in varying degrees by employees. Similarly, psychologist Abraham Maslow posited that humans strive to fulfill several needs, including the important need for love and belonging, in order to enjoy positive psychological health. Fulfilling this central need allows one to further strive for higher needs related to self-esteem and self-actualization.

Fulfilling the need for connection during the current pandemic can be particularly challenging. After all, it is easy to become trapped in the insular blue glow of a computer screen or app-ladened smart phone. Turning away from, or modifying, daily technology tools turned out to have significant benefits in helping me to maintain connections with self, community and work.

Maintaining connection to self is central to connecting with others. My colleague, Dr. Tina Olson, frequently checks with me to ensure I am attending to my mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Her concerns resonated with me early in the pandemic and I decided that I would prioritize personal care with scheduled walking breaks during my workday. The benefits were immediate and gratifying. Beyond the obvious health benefits, scientists have increasingly discovered links between the physical act of walking and cognitive processes. Walking can activate sensory processes that improve creativity, problem solving, and focus.

My daily routine has resulted in some “aha” moments that solved some sticky work or student issues that I might have struggled with at the computer. By no means is walking the solution for everyone to connect with self. Exercises in mindfulness, meditation, or yoga come to mind as effective methods for self-engagement.

My walks unexpectedly also provided a connection to community. As I made my customary route, I was often greeted by inspirational quotes in chalk from the neighborhood children. “You can do it!”, “looking good”, and various quotes from Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, and other activists or authors provided me inspiration and kindred connection. My morning stroll would not be complete without the wave and nod I received from another gentleman who would sit in his wheelchair by his garage in the early hours. These and countless other encounters remind me that organizations are part of an interdependent social fabric. The very children that write those quotes could soon be in my classroom. The gentleman who silently greets me daily might be returning to college to complete his education. This is the community I serve and provides additional meaning to my craft.

Perhaps others will not find such inspiration from their neighborhood. But other community connections are there to made. Volunteer organizations and charities are in great need during this challenging time. Often, they desire time and effort as much as monetary donations. And the personal payoff is not only a sense of contributing but could be a renewed connection with community.

Dr. Ken Akers is a Professor of Business Administration at Columbia College. He holds a Master of Corporate and Business Communication degree from Radford University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the University of Missouri. His research interests are in the areas of Gender in Organizations, Business Analytics, Organizational Behavior and Socialization.