Can an employee’s passion for sustainable agriculture or social justice translate into greater commitment and motivation at work? There is growing evidence that employers that encourage their workers to bring their outside interests with them to the office will be rewarded with higher levels of employee engagement, innovation, and productivity.

Why? As a recent blog in the Harvard Business Review points out, we are all part of groups based around our interests and emotional connections—and the formation of these so-called “tribes” is a fundamental aspect of 21st Century life.

Encouraging employees to bring the interests and passions they have outside of work into the company can allow like-minded co-workers to find one another and form their own tribes within an organization. The result of that coming together is not only happier and more engaged employees, but it can also yield new products and business opportunities. As with anything, though, the benefits of tribe creation will not be brought to light without a bit of effort by managers and executives. Here are some steps to make it happen:

Play “Getting to Know You”

At the outset of any effort to harness the power of tribes--which, it is important to note, form primarily to carry out important initiatives within a community--managers should ask themselves a simple question: Do I really know what matters to my employees?

If the answer is no, then that is probably a good indication that the company culture as a whole has room for improvement when it comes to communication. Now is the time to begin that conversation. While it is important as a manager to better understand what issues and activities excite and engage their employees, it is equally important to act as a facilitator among workers. Helping colleagues better understand one another aids the sort of personal connections that allow tribes based on people’s outside interests to form within a company. This open communication has plenty of other benefits as well, including establishing the sort of transparent workplace where people feel trusted and motivated to contribute.

Creating Space and Opportunities for Tribes to Form

Communication is vital, but so too is establishing venues for employees who have shared outside interests to actually collaborate at work. In other words, internal mobility is a must. Help make it possible by encouraging employees to explore roles outside of their current job or department and inviting them to follow a changing career path within the company if they so choose.

Let employees gather for coffee and networking so they can connect with new colleagues across departments and divisions. If you do this, employees with similar interests will find one another and create purpose-driven tribes within your company, and, perhaps, use these connections to find new avenues for their own careers—without having to leave the company. In this way, encouraging employees to connect with one another over non-work related interests has the potential to boost job satisfaction and retention.

Too many employers look at the interests employees have outside of the office and consider them a distraction. Taking a more progressive view and allowing workers to use and share those passions in a productive way while at work is a much smarter approach.

02 October 2014

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