When I mostly worked remotely, I didn’t have office mates and didn’t know what I was missing out on. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to have to travel to an office every day and you are definitely more productive when you work from home but like most things in life, working in an office has some benefits you can’t find elsewhere. Specifically, for me, the biggest benefit is listening to the office chatter and conversations about things I’m very unfamiliar with. One of the topics that comes up every now and again is the social sororities some of the women in my office belong too. There is a respect for, and loyalty to, these organizations that was surprising to me, which is saying a great deal as I was in a college fraternity.
To me it’s understandable that there’s a visceral loyalty to the organization in the college fraternity and sorority communities as the organizations are providing an identity, right when young people are trying to figure out their adult identities. I didn’t expect it as much when you already were an adult, were considerably along in your life’s journey, and probably had a very good sense of your own self.
This whole thing got me thinking about these types of organizations. It’s not just limited to adult fraternities and sororities. There’s a ton of different types of formalized social organizations for adults. There’s organizations like the Kiwanis, Lions, and other community based organizations. There are adult sport leagues and even groups that are mission oriented in theory but are really social clubs like volunteer firefighters.
A point of note that I have to make, especially when you consider that I live in rural North Carolina is a comment about churches. Churches are spread out like dandelions in the spring in rural North Carolina. You can’t spin in a circle without seeing a couple of steeples. Churches are a beast unto themselves as social organizations. They definitely are social in nature. It’s a major function of the service they provide to their members. Unfortunately the dogma and strict norms attached to the organization, not to mention the taboo element, makes them unique to what I’m talking about today. Most Americans are not brought up socialized and educated from the earliest days to be a member of the Lions. Maybe one day I’ll have an article about religious organizations and the benefits for professionals, but that day is not today, and that subject is not really pertinent to this discussion about voluntary social organizations.
Most people’s first introduction to social organizations is through some kind of outreach or when a friend invites you to take part. An example of outreach can be seen with my local Kiwanis. They host a free community dinner about every month. It’s completely free for anyone who wants to come by and the food is good, nearly artisan. Of course there is a recruiting pitch every week. This I think is rare. I think the more regular introduction is through a friend or self directed.
So how do these groups compare to a group of friends, IE, an organic affinity group? The organic group is exactly that, the glue that holds it together is ephemeral in nature. Think about a group of friends who are parents. If one of the parents has a child who moves out while the other parents still have to care for their children, all of a sudden the group is missing that glue. The empty nest couple starts looking for other social groups because now they have nothing in common with the parent group they were organically a part of.
There’s also a neighborhood style affinity group. If the person who was the social nexus of the group moves away, then the group often evaporates. If somebody leaves the sorority, the sorority still exists and replaces that member.
I have to admit initially as I listened to my colleagues, I thought to myself that it would be insane to want to be a member of a sorority when you’re in your 30s or 40s. This is especially true when you consider the hoops they described they had to jump through to obtain membership. As I was reflecting on this whole idea, I realize that there’s some significant positives to being a member of a structured social group. The first big positive is networking but not networking immediately. It’s networking over time. When you get to know people and they get to know you, There is a trust factor. The affinity group becomes an extension of your own professional circle.
There is also the benefit of the group mission and norms. By default, the mission gives everybody something in common. It’s something everybody can discuss and everybody can work jointly on.
Structure is another benefit. If there is a conflict with an organic social circle, that conflict could potentially destroy the group. Normally, in formalized social groups, there’s a construct of some sort that allows for conflict to find a resolution keeping the members intact.
That’s not to say that organized social groups are a panacea. There’s some real negatives to being a member of one. I think the biggest negative, at least for me, is the time commitment. Organized social groups don’t come with a paycheck. It’s one of the reasons why I see a lot of silver and white hair at my local area affinity groups. If you have to work for a living, much of your time throughout the week is taken up by default. Unfortunately, just showing up to the meetings and an occasional social event is not going to benefit you much in these groups. You have to partake in the activities and really focus on being engaged. This is the only way that you will be able to develop those strong bonds with the core group. With these groups the old adage is true, the more you put in, the more you get out.
Then we start to look at other elements. There are dues that are required for some groups. If you’re a volunteer firefighter, then I’m sure that there is a commitment in equipment. If you’re really engaged with the group, this is not a big deal, but if you’re just there because you would like a little more social interaction in your life, this could be a deal breaker. Going back to the idea of a core group, many of these affinity groups can be cliquish. That’s never fun to deal with. It’s also one of the things that keeps some of these groups from growing.
When I look at everything about these groups, I realize there is a reason why every person I know is not a member of one. If seen through the lense of an investment, it’s a long-term and sizable outlay to get anything close to a decent return on your time, efforts, and money. We simply don’t live in a world where most people have the resources to invest, and those that do, at least the younger ones, aren’t thinking long term. The world has moved to an instantaneous society. We look for likes a second after we post something on facebook and we are mad if Amazon takes more than a couple of hours or a day to deliver our product. These affinity groups are more like the cereal box top toys I used to mail order when I was a kid. It takes months to eat enough cereal to get the required number of box tops and then it took 6-8 weeks to receive your bobble. It seemed like forever until you got to reap the benefits of your efforts.
I guess that’s the whole point of this. The bobble, ie the benefits of being a member of one of these groups, doesn’t come immediately but it can be really good when it does eventually show up. No matter if it’s a sorority, Kiwanis, or a sports league, it’s a bit like cereal. As much as we are sold on the benefits of the toy, as an adult I would never eat five boxes of cereal just to get it. In the same way I wouldn’t join a social group just for the networking benefits. First and foremost you need to enjoy what the group does day in and day out above all else. You should want to do it if there was no related status or nobody else around, but having people and a structure should make it that much better. Think of it like enjoying the cereal so much you’d buy it without the mail order toy. Going back to the girls in my office who talk about their sororities, I never hear them talking about the day to day or how much they enjoy the work of the group. They just talk about the status and the feel of the group. I am not so sure they will be heavily involved longer term.
I think it’ll be interesting to hear how these conversations continue over the years. To see if my colleagues become more engaged, or less engaged over time and if there are any real long term benefits. The best part about listening in is that these conversations usually happen first thing in the morning when we are all getting to the office before we settle into the grind of the day.
Now that I think about it, I get in earlier than everyone else so I usually sit at my desk and enjoy my breakfast which often is a bowl of cereal. Who knows, as I listen more and more, it may remind me to start saving my box tops again. Even if I don’t play with them anymore, It’s been a good long time since I had the unique thrill of finally getting an action figure in the mail!