I’m typically a positive person, but I’m going to be blunt here: Americans are lonely as hell.

We spend an average of one third of our life at work, yet don’t feel a sense of community within our companies.

Higher-ups in a business might assume that their employees are building the relationships that they need to thrive outside of their office walls—but that simply isn’t the case.

Let’s break it down: the average person in the U.S. has only two close friends. And to make things worse, 75% of people say that they’re unsatisfied with their friendships. Religious gatherings—traditionally a major source of community—are on the decline, and new ways to gather can be difficult to find.

In other words, we’re spending way less time in traditional community, and way more time at our job. And while there’s clearly some larger-scale problems that we need to tackle, I argue that companies have a responsibility to their team to foster a work environment that promotes connection between employees.

 

Create Community with Intention

According to a 2014 study conducted by LinkedIn, workplace friendships make employees more motivated and productive. That checks out—a community-centered atmosphere makes you feel supported, which can boost employee loyalty.

Of course, simply wanting these types of relationships within your company doesn’t make them happen.

How We Gather,” a report created by two Harvard Divinity School students, lists a number of communities that are well-loved because of their ability to define and live by their values.

One that’s mentioned is particularly close to my heart—Camp Grounded. I’ve attended three times as both a camper and volunteer. I’ve personally experienced how well-defined the community’s values are: no technology, no work talk, inclusion, playfulness, and vulnerability.

I’d argue that the Camp Grounded community is so tightly knit because its founder, Levi Felix, knew how to gather people around a strong sense of shared values. As Smiley Poswolsky, a Camp Grounded counselor, said in a memorial piece to Levi on Medium, “Some people spend their time living, some people spend their time creating the world they actually want to live in.”

The Camp Grounded team knew what type of environment they wanted to create, and they took radical, unconventional steps to make it happen. How will your company do the same?

 

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

It might feel unnatural to end a meeting, turn to Steve from the design team, and say, “Hey, Steve. I know you have a lot on your plate, but you still took the time to make those custom graphics. Thank you.” But imagine how appreciated Steve is going to feel!

Acknowledgement—if catered to how each individual wants to be recognized—boosts employee morale. Gallup cites that “the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized.” This recognition can be a thank-you card or a mention in a company-wide meeting. Overall, what matters is that your staff feel like they’re making a difference, and that their work is important.

Gallup recommends giving your employees some recognition every seven days. Bonus points if it comes directly from the CEO themselves. Why? As the study states, “Nearly one-quarter said the most memorable recognition comes from a high-level leader or CEO… even a small amount of time a high-ranking leader takes to show appreciation can yield a positive impression on an employee.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs< even includes “esteem,” which means that we crave appreciation. Co-matter’s “State of Communities 2018” report backs this up: 20% of respondents said that a sense of belonging is the #1 difference that makes a community thrive.

 

Don’t Avoid the Hard Conversations

When was the last time you really hashed out a disagreement at the office? And I’m not talking about a “I’m sorry I took your shrimp scampi from the fridge” moment. I mean sitting down, really listening to someone, and discussing something that’s causing real friction.

Sure, getting that vulnerable with each other might sound scary—but community and trust can only stem from vulnerability and honesty.

Sound like hard work? It is, but doing it is better than having a bunch of employees who are harboring secret resentments and will blow their lid the moment someone doesn’t refill the coffee pot.

To have more connected conversations with your employees, try active listening. This approach involves acknowledging that you’re hearing the speaker, reflecting what has been said, and deferring judgement. This can be especially hard if you’re having a heated conversation—but the discomfort is worth it.

Here’s an analogy: Lifting something heavy is uncomfortable. It creates tears that you feel for days. Yet after you’ve let your body rest, it’s stronger than before. The struggle makes it better. Facing those difficult conversations with your employees will do the same—and make them feel grateful for the strong sense of community that you’ve worked to create at your office.