Written by Erin Madro

When the going gets tough, we often have no choice but to put our heads down and get through it. But what do we do when it's been two-and-a-half years since the oil crisis first started and despite murmurs of optimism, there are still lingering fears about the future of the oil and gas industry in Canada? In the wake of “cost-cutting initiatives”, calls for cleaner alternatives, and new political regimes, many in industry are finding it difficult to move forward.

Those who have lived through the peaks and valleys of the commodity business for decades may be hardened and better equipped to handle the emotional turmoil that comes with such dramatic change, but those of us experiencing this for the first time are still coming to terms with the jarring “reality check” to our careers and are realizing that unpredictable events can happen and the consequences are real.

While you may want to stop reading now, tired of more of the same negativity, there is a way to move forward. Remember that humans are social beings. By connecting to those around us and appealing to our inherent need for community, we can leap forward together into the future.

Why Community?

Communities form the foundation from which we connect to one another, build resilience and work towards a common purpose. It is through community that we become empowered to cope with doubts, fears, stress and challenges. Communities are the platform from which we grow, and cultivating a sense of community is fundamental to our happiness.

When we think of our communities, we immediately think of our families, neighborhoods and extra-curricular pursuits outside of the office. Often, we neglect to consider one of the most powerful communities we can associate ourselves with: our workplace communities.

Experts in the field of community study, McMillan and Chavis, believe that a sense of community emerges from:

Membership with personal investment and a sense of belonging;
Influence including elements of conformity, cohesiveness and power;
Fulfillment of needs with shared values and motivation; and
Shared emotional connection through interaction and shared events

Within our workplace, membership is already established (your team). As a collective, you have influence over a particular aspect of the business (your function) and you work together to accomplish shared goals (business deliverables). Perhaps the missing piece in creating a sense of community in the workplace is simply the quality of interactions between colleagues. With a touch of effort and sincerity, a sense of community in your workplace is achievable… and worthwhile.

A healthy workplace community is imperative to the success of a company. An environment where talented people are loyal to one another and work collaboratively together is a welcome contrast to one of distrust and self-preservation that often develops during downturns. To allow staff to feel that they’re a part of something extraordinary, healthy communities are critical.

This is exactly the work environment that Pixar Animations has fostered. Pixar’s president, Ed Catmull, believes that the healthy workplace community at Pixar is the key to the studio’s success. At Pixar, a core value shared amongst all employees is support for each other at all levels. Every employee is fully invested in the greater goal of a successful Pixar production. Collaborative problem-solving, trust, respect and a commitment to top-quality work foster the imaginative process that has led to blockbuster successes such as Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and Cars

The Energy Community

The energy industry is a broad community in its own regard. Industry organizations like YWE are part of this community; they bring people together, inspire members to act, facilitate mentorship, and provide professional growth and learning opportunities. While these broad-based community initiatives create tremendous value for the energy industry at large, it is often the smaller communities in our workplaces that influence us the most.

Build Your Own Vibrant Community

Peter Block, an authority on workplace learning and performance and author of Community: The Structure of Belonging, wrote:

“Most sustainable improvements in community occur when citizens discover their own power to act…when citizens stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something…”

In other words, don’t wait for someone else to take the initiative. Anyone can be a leader in pursuit of a healthy workplace community. You don’t need formal training or certifications to make a difference. Start by finding the places in your organization where there is still passion and excitement shared amongst individuals, then:

Define your social purpose by finding what inspires you and weave that common thread with other like-minded individuals.
Create events or gatherings to bring people together. Create space to share experiences, support one another, seed ideas and bring them to fruition.
Explore opportunities to learn and grow as a community.
Recognize achievements and accomplishments.

Before you know it, you will have the foundation of a vibrant and thriving workplace community!

Things You Shouldn't Worry About

You don’t need permission from a “higher up” to establish a workplace community. You only need permission from yourself to invest the time that is needed to build those foundations.

It’s okay not to include everyone (at first). Focus on creating space for people to connect, and make sure that the experience of connecting fills you with passion, inspires you and lights you up. Once established, you will find that positive momentum and energy is contagious and will attract others who want to be involved. Building on your foundation, grow your community organically and let others feel welcomed.

Get Started Now!

Bringing passionate people together to share ideas and experiences for an hour at a coffee shop can accomplish and inspire more than an entire day spent sitting in front of a computer.

Set up a weekly coffee date or take a walk over lunch together. Host a career-focused book club with monthly drinks after work. If you are looking for support in pursuit of career development goals, gather some peers who share similar aspirations and meet on a regular basis to discuss plans towards achieving them. Hold each other accountable and support one another through the journey!

Thinking Bigger? Start a Grassroots Organization within your Company

Don’t limit yourself! It is possible to develop a larger community within your organization. Consider starting a workplace community for women, working parents, volunteer initiatives, innovation think tanks – the list is endless! The most important aspect is gathering people with a common passion to share experiences and support one another. The rippling effect of the positive energy generated from a vibrant community can transcend across the organization, helping people feel empowered, supported and wanting to achieve more - and it doesn’t have to cost a dime.

At the end of the day, make your workplace community yours; make your career about more than just the deliverables that you are accountable for. Be open to new experiences in support of your career aspirations, and challenge yourself to lead others in the pursuit of a healthy and vibrant workplace.

If you build a healthy workplace community, you can lean on it for support and guidance on the toughest days, and perhaps, with a healthy workplace community intact, the uncertainty facing us as energy professionals won’t seem so insurmountable.

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Erin Madro is a development engineer at Cenovus Energy. She works on the world’s largest geological greenhouse gas storage project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan where she is responsible for strategizing the utilization of CO2 for optimal oil recovery. Erin has a passion for tackling environmental challenges and for championing diversity within the workplace. As a director of Women at Cenovus (W@CVE), a grassroots initiative, Erin has devoted over three years to supporting women at Cenovus both personally and professionally. Erin completed her B.ASc in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia in 2013 and will be starting her MBA in Global Energy Management and Sustainable Development at the University of Calgary in September. As an avid outdoor adventurist, Erin spends as much time as she can in the backcountry of Kananaskis or exploring the world to surf, scuba dive and dabble in the culinary arts.