When I prepare for any type of presentation, I tend to ask myself a LOT of questions and then look to find the answers. That was certainly true as I prepared to lead an activity on social connection in the workplace at the Spring 2019 College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) Conference in March.
I asked myself things like “Why is social connection so important, beyond that it ‘feels good’? How does social connection translate to the workplace? How can we get more socially connected at work?” As I dug in, I discovered some fascinating things I thought I’d share with you!
Socializing’s a Need
Social connection can improve psychological well-being, physical health, cognitive functioning and can even help us live longer—it’s a basic, human need. One study tracked hundreds of men, and now their children, for nearly 80 years, all in an effort to determine what leads to health and well-being. They found those who are more socially isolated than they desire have less happiness, an earlier decline in physical health and brain function and live shorter lives. Check out this Ted talk to hear the study director, Robert Waldinger, explain these results.
The Continuum of Connection
Working with others, however, doesn’t necessarily mean we are socially connected. It’s important to remember that the quality of the connection and our perception of the amount of support we receive matter as much as structures that support connection. For example, we can have hundreds of friends on social media (or at work!) and still experience loneliness if we never truly connect with these ‘friends’ in meaningful ways.
Tying it into the Workplace
Social connection at work is good for both individual and organizational well-being as it not only influences performance, but also employees’ quality of work and engagement. It’s important to recognize that the amount of time individuals spend away from home and work itself can both be reasons why we experience social stressors (like interpersonal conflict). These stressors can be associated with physiological and emotional responses like anxiety and low self-esteem. Those who experience loneliness in their lives are much more sensitive to these social stressors and more prone to magnified responses as a result. Based on prospective research, when a workplace has a high level of peer support—helpful and friendly colleagues—the mortality risk from all causes is lower, even after controlling for physiological and behavioural risk factors. Does this magnitude of workplace social connection surprise anyone? I knew it was important but had no idea it had the potential to reduce the risk of death!
What Can you Do?
From my experience supporting school jurisdictions across the province with employee and workplace wellness, there is no single path to success. The same is true with fostering social connection. Here are a few tips and resources to explore and support you in playing your part:
- Allow time and space for socialization. This might be in a collaboration area or a staff room where you can foster connections between employees from different departments.
- Focus on building a culture of trust, collaboration and positivity. The National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace can help support culture change.
- Practice gratitude and play.
- Recognize the achievements of colleagues and teams to show them they are valuable and encourage team building.
- Promote a healthy work-life harmony to support social connection outside the workplace.
- Celebrate with your teammates—both professional and personal milestones!
- Bond over food! As a Registered Dietitian, I love food and know it has the power to connect us. Why not create social connections by hosting a potluck lunch/meeting? You could even run a healthy eating challenge!
- Talk in person. Instead of sending an email, go and talk to the recipient and make a personal connection.
It’s a Win-Win
Consider not only what a connection can offer you, but also what you can offer the person you’re connecting with. Someone in your workplace may be dealing with loneliness on a personal level and they might need to be socially connected to you and their workplace for their own well-being. The moral of the story? It’s important to understand and value social connection and the effects it has on workplace wellness—and beyond!
Holt-Lunstad, J. (2018). Fostering Social Connection in the Workplace. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(5), 1307–1312. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0890117118776735a.