Work can be about people, as well as performance

Early in the pandemic, Anthony Sartori got a part-time job at his local grocery store, Mom’s Organic Market in Maryland. As an associate, he tackled all sorts of tasks, from cleaning floors to stocking shelves. He shared a shift with dozens of coworkers, yet, he felt alone. He wasn’t the only one. 

As in many workplaces, the roles at his store were siloed. Employees were assigned to a specific section, like produce or baked goods, and had to meet performance goals. There was little incentive or time to interact with each other. Many of Sartori’s shifts were spent in silence except for the odd customer asking for help. 

“A lot of my coworkers were quitting.” He says he was thinking of it, too. “We were cycling through people every week. You could see the toll that our work environment was taking on people’s mental health and well-being.” 

All that time alone, though, sparked an idea. “What if we could connect people – team members – in the grocery store by carving out time to build community?” Would people want to stay?

He approached the store’s leadership with a plan and got approval to try it. They trained managers over a period of several months in mindfulness techniques, like breathing exercises, and community-building skills to strengthen trust and empathy. 

The store was constantly busy because of the pandemic, so Anthony and his colleagues could only find 10 minutes at a time for coworkers to meet. Their sessions took many forms. At the start and end of a shift, the staff might toss around a lemon, each taking a turn to share what they were grateful for. Or they might talk about music that was meaningful to them. When customers were not around, the store would play a recording of a guided breathing exercise.

After two months, the number of employee absences went down by 57%. People were happier and building friendships with coworkers. “We learned that it doesn’t take much to change things in a workplace,” says Sartori. “It’s the small moments that create change. Once you get to see what you share with others, you can build trust and community over time.”

Sartori began Evolving Minds to spread what he learned. His nonprofit has trained over 1500 people in all types of organizations to create a sense of belonging where they work. And he shares his story and techniques as a Weave Speaker. Communities can request him to speak through the Weave Speakers Bureau

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