The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Work As a Form of Community: Workplace-Based Social Networks, Engagement, and the Psychological Well-Being of Older Adults

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Christina J. Matz-Costa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background: Given that growing numbers of older Americans are delaying retirement, workplaces represent communities in which older adults are increasingly embedded and that can serve to either enhance or diminish later life health and well-being. Workplaces naturally form a common setting where individuals come together (locus), an environment where there is a shared culture structured around certain values and norms (sharing), and a set of activities and expectations focused around a shared mission or goal (joint action), all of which McQueen et al. (2001) have identified as key elements of community. It is argued that social ties form the foundation upon which community is built and can play a key role in the extent to which a true sense of community is formed within the workplace. It is also possible, however, that employment structures, biased attitudes or a toxic workplace culture can serve as barriers to a sense of community within the workplace—either undermining it, or preventing its existence (i.e., "noncommunity").  This presentation will share findings exploring the extent to which work-based social networks contribute to or detract from the formation of a sense of community engagement within the workplace and in turn, have a positive effect on psychological well-being among older adults.

Methods: Using cross-sectional data from the 2010 Life & Times in an Aging Society Study, we test the extent to which work-community engagement (defined as a psychological connection with work, characterized by a high degree of interest, focus, and energy) mediates the impact of workplace-based social networks on subjective well-being among a sample of 330 adults age 50 to 83.

Findings: Findings reveal that the size and quality of one’s work-based social network has a direct effect on the psychological well-being of the older adults in this sample and that one’s sense of engagement within that community fully mediated that effect. These findings suggest that the positive effect of one’s workplace-based social network (seen here as an indicator of community) on psychological well-being operates through the network’s effect on one’s overall experience of engagement.

Conclusions and Implications: These analyses have several implications for practice settings with older adults. Analyses suggest that building community at work matters with regard to the extent to which older adults become personally engaged, and in turn, their overall psychological well-being. Those working with older adult populations should make an effort to ensure that their work environments are providing the types of resources that are needed to fully engage. For example, social workers may be in positions to design work or volunteer opportunities in which older adults might participate. In doing so, attention should be paid to creating environments that are challenging, yet provide ample resources, including autonomy, task significance, social support, and continued learning and growth, as these role design features have been found to relate positively to work-community engagement.

MacQueen, K.M. et al. (2001). What is community? An evidence-based definition for participatory public health. American Journal of Public Health, 91(12), 1929–1938.