The Where of Well-being; Organizations (Part 4)

Photo by Ben Duchac on Unsplash

Take a moment to think about this question. Throughout your life, what are some of the organizations where you felt like you mattered? A place where you felt valued and you could add value?*

For me what comes to mind is in my alumni community where a colleague and I had an idea to start a book club that so many people were interested in that we ended up with seven different book groups stemming from this larger group.

Maybe for you it is at your church, or a club you were part of in college where you organized a service trip, or a community center you play pick up ball on the weekends (prior to Covid).

Think about what that space, or potentially multiple spaces, are for you.

You can write them down or just compile a mental list.

How do you feel when you think about this place and being with those people?

How do you know this is a place where you matter?

In the second and third piece of this series the “Where of Well-being” we began exploring organizations looking specifically at work as one site of well-being. Work is a prominent aspect in our lives, particularly for folks in the US work can be an all encompassing part of our identity. However, work is only one type of organization you have been a part of.

Did your list include:

  • A religious organization like a church, synagogue or mosque?
  • Your sorority or fraternity?
  • An alumni group?
  • How about a non-profit you engage with as a participant or volunteer?
  • A community center in your neighborhood?
  • School? Both K-12 but also higher ed?

When we think of where we experience well-being there are a variety of organizations that we might not consider unless we give it some thought. Have you considered the impact that these organizations have on your well-being? Let’s explore some questions that you can use to conduct a “well-being audit” for a variety of organizations you might be a part of.

At work:

  • Do you have autonomy in your work or is your manager breathing down your neck?
  • Do you have predictability and clearly defined roles or are expectations constantly changing and more is being added to your plate as you read this?

Autonomy in our work and in various aspects of our lives is a critical component to our well-being. When I think about the need for employees to have autonomy in the workplace I am reminded of children in grade school and high school. When you were in school did you ever ask to go to the bathroom and the teacher said no or told you to wait? So many aspects of children’s experience in school limits their autonomy. I noticed when I ran a workforce development program for high school students the more regulated they were at school the more they tried to create choice and control that, occasionally, had negative consequences. For example, choosing not to do homework or arriving late to class.

No one likes to be told what to do. In fact, as humans we are intrinsically motivated beings. Autonomy is one the conditions that enables us to be self determined. We want to be involved in decisions that impact us whether at work, school, home or that volunteer position you chair outside of work.

I heard David Cooperrider once say, “Don’t make change about me, without me.”**

At a school either you or your child attend/ed:

  • Think about the city or town you live in, do the employees represent the racial and ethnic makeup of your community?
  • What about the leadership at the school or in the parent teacher organization or student government, is there also racial, ethnic and gender diversity in positions of power?
  • Whose voice is valued the most?

There was a great podcast called, Nice White Parents***, a five part series that explored inequity in NYC public schools. What reporter Chana Joffe-Walt found was that even though the schools predominantly served Black and Brown students it was white parents that had the most power.

These questions don’t just apply to schools. You can ask yourself in the context of work or any other organization where you identify as a participant. As someone who has worked in non-profits for my entire career these are questions we are addressing constantly because the racial and ethnic make up of staff is typically not representative of the communities we serve. Unfortunately, this is a larger problem in the nonprofit sector that needs to be changed.

If you are involved in a religious organization or a social organization, such as a fraternity or sorority:

  • Is there a sense of transparency on why certain decisions are made?
  • If you ask difficult questions to the leadership team will you be shut down or will you be met with openness and curiosity?
  • Do you feel like the culture of your organization promotes and supports your own well-being and the well-being of your peers in both policies and practice?

Again, although these questions are applicable to a work environment we have basic needs of participation, involvement, dignity and respect for our identity at all the organizations we belong to****. Organization’s have a responsibility to “uphold the well-being of all stakeholders affected by an organization’s activities.”*****

Organizations have an influential role in our lives. We have a reciprocal relationship with organizations. Some provide us with knowledge (i.e. school), or an exchange of money (i.e. work), physical help (i.e. a nonprofit or social organization). Without students, employees or members these organizations would cease to exist. They need us. Additionally, these are locations that can provide us with mentors, friends, a sense of value and a feeling of belonging. They can also have the adverse effect of exclusion and feeling like we don’t matter.******

Think about whatever organization you see yourself as a member of, it can be an organization with a lowercase “o”.

  • How well do people work together and collaborate?
  • Is there a sense of competition or are people willing to work together, support and encourage each other to achieve the collective goal?

adrienne maree brown was talking with Jonathan Van Ness on his podcast called Getting Curious******* about the need for us to practice democratic principles in all areas of our life if we are to have democracy as a nation.

adrienne is an author, activist, and social justice facilitator focused on black liberation. I also consider her a mentor in my head. She said this,

“We want a big visionary democracy. Do you practice democracy in your personal life? Do you practice democracy with your family? Do you practice democracy on your block?… If we’re not practicing something on a small scale, we don’t build up the muscle, the skill to change at a big level.”********

How do we know what democracy looks and feels like in society at large if it is not a part of our daily practice in smaller organizations and communities where we belong?

How are you practicing democratic principles around your dinner table with your family? Do you involve your kids in decision making? Decision making is a way to support autonomy, a psychological need, by offering choice and control.

In the organizations where you are a participant or member, who is representing your interests or needs? If you are a part of the majority, how are other voices heard and valued? Who is in charge of making decisions that impact everyone? How are people who are impacted by decisions included in the decision making process?

Think back to where we began, feeling like we mattered in an organization where we are allowed to both add value and felt valued. Cultivating a sense of mattering not only for ourselves, but for other people around us, unlocks our ability to create a society that values collective responsibility for the well-being of others.

Share in the comments:

How can you create the experience of mattering for other people around you on a small scale?

What does practicing democratic principles look like for you in your personal life?

How can you strengthen your own practice of democracy in an organization that you belong to?

*Prilleltensky, I. (2020). Mattering at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and politics. American Journal of Community Psychology, 65(1–2), 16–34. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12368

**David Cooperrider is the Fairmount Minerals Chair and Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University

***Nice White Parents

****Prilleltensky, I., & Prilleltensky, O. (2006). Promoting well-being: Linking personal, organizational, and community change. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

*****Prilleltensky, I., & Prilleltensky, O. (2006). Promoting well-being: Linking personal, organizational, and community change. (p.13) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

******Prilleltensky, I., & Prilleltensky, O. (2006). Promoting well-being: Linking personal, organizational, and community change. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

*******Van Ness, J. (Host). (2020, Nov 11). Are We Imagining A Better Future Into Existence? with adrienne marie brown. In Getting Curious.

********Van Ness, J. (Host). (2020, Nov 11). Are We Imagining A Better Future Into Existence? with adrienne marie brown. In Getting Curious.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store