Hello WU Learner!
Work relationships are incredibly important to employee well-being. It’s about more than just “getting along” with a co-worker. As humans, we crave contact and connection with other people. Unfortunately, for many employees, work can be a very lonely place. And while you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “I’m here to work, not to make friends,” it’s important for employers to understand just how important social connections in the workplace really are.
Full-time employees spend a majority of their time at the office. Which is why work relationships are so important to employee well-being. These relationships can either positively or negatively affect an employee’s stress levels, productivity and general feelings of happiness. These factors not only affect an employee’s work performance, but it affects employee health too.
Social psychologists have been studying the human need of belonging for many years. It’s been found that feeling a sense of belonging is an important intrinsic motivator. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, includes a sense of belonging as a major need that motivates human behavior – just like food, shelter and safety.
Strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance. Employers who support social connections in the workplace and help employees form strong relationships with one another help build a successful workforce. Some perks of employees with strong social connections include:
Increased happiness. Happiness tends to be a commonly overlooked aspect of health and well-being. Happiness expert Annie McKie author of How To Be Happy At Work, says, “one of the ways we can make ourselves happy and feel more fulfilled in our workplaces is to build friendships with the people that work with us, work for us and even with our boss.”
Relationships are crucial to happiness. Quality relationships provide support and help build self-worth – which both lead to feelings of happiness. The Hard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 724 men for 79 years. Researchers hoped to discover the secret to success, happiness and a good life. The study found that relationships tremendously impact our health, happiness and quality of life. It was also found that the quality of relationships mattered more than quantity.
Less stress. Research from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, found that social connection is one of the greatest predictors of happiness and reduced stress. Achor points out that friendships boost happiness, which in turn, also reduces feelings of stress. He claims that “The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do.”
Low stress levels are extremely beneficial in the workplace. No employee performs his or her best when dealing with chronic stress or burnout. High levels of workplace stress can lead to absenteeism, illness, low energy, and irritability. By helping employees foster social connections at work, employers can help reduce some workplace stress.
Increased engagement and loyalty. Employees with friends or social connections at work tend to be more engaged and loyal workers. This is because quality work relationships help build a strong company culture that emphasizes respect, loyalty and trust. Social connection provides a sense of cohesion in the office, which is essential for cultivating creativity, teamwork and collaboration. Employees with positive relationships become more dedicated and motivated to perform their best. A work environment that promotes social connection might also experience better recruitment outcomes as well.
Healthier life. Employees with strong social connections are generally healthier. According to Mayo Clinic. “Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI).” It is also noted that research found that older adults with a rich social life and quality relationships are likely to live a longer life than those with fewer social connections. This is important for employers because healthy employees tend to have higher levels of work performance, take less sick days and bring more energy to the workplace.
Unfortunately, forming relationships in the workplace can seem a bit intimidating for many employees. No one wants to overstep any boundaries, and sometimes it can be difficult to find ways to bond with colleagues on a personal level. This is why it’s important that employers promote a workplace culture that encourages social interaction and helps employees connect. Employers can do this by emphasizing the importance of social and emotional well-being in their workplace wellness program. Below are a few ideas for promoting social connections at your company:
Create a social spot. Sometimes it can be difficult for employees to socialize because they don’t have an area in the office where they feel comfortable doing so. Creating a “social spot” for your employees will give them an area where they can decompress or socialize without distracting other colleagues. Consider repurposing an empty area at your company to create a Zen room or game room for employees to hang out over their breaks. If you don’t have a spare room to use, try setting up some chairs or couches by popular spots for socializing in the office – like the break room or the area by the water cooler.
Celebrate. Find new things to celebrate with your employees. While birthdays and holidays are always a cause for celebration, start thinking outside the box to find different reasons to celebrate. Hold annual ceremonies to recognize employees for their hard work, host employee appreciation days once a month or take your team out for a nice lunch after achieving a company goal.
Connect departments. Sometimes it’s difficult for employees to socialize at work due to the office layout or different departments not having any contact with one another. By simply taking the time to introduce teammates from different departments, employers can provide an opportunity for social connection. Employees will also benefit from having team outings – such as volunteer events or lunches – with other employees from different departments that they typically don’t get to interact with.
Encourage team building. Fun team building exercises can be a great way to bring colleagues together. However, employers should understand that these team building exercises shouldn’t seem forced or uncomfortable for employees. When implemented properly, effective team building activities are excellent for cultivating a sense of unity and comradery among employees. Team building exercises should be used to help colleagues unwind, have some fun and build connections. Some ideas include office trivia, book clubs, sports team, or escape rooms.
Inspire positivity. Creating a positive work environment will help employees feel more comfortable around one another. A positive work environment will also help encourage social interaction and positive communication among colleagues. Employers can help inspire positivity by practicing gratitude, promoting laughter and using positive messaging.
Utilize wellness challenges. Rather than focusing solely on wellness challenges at the individual level, start creating team wellness challenges. For example, a team walking challenge will challenge colleagues to come together and compete as a team to take more steps in one month than other departments. Daily walking clubs are another excellent idea that can also be used to encourage social connections.
Share a meal. It’s easy for everyone to bond over a plate of food. Employers can provide opportunities for social engagement by hosting healthy potlucks or monthly team lunches. A weekly team breakfast is another great way to bring colleagues together. Try adding in a morning game to make a team breakfast a bit more fun.
Part of cultivating a culture of wellness includes fostering social connections and supporting social well-being among employees. Building social connections in the workplace doesn’t have to mean that all employees should be best friends or that everyone gets along all the time. It’s about fostering an environment that supports mutual respect, trust and belonging among peers.
Author: Alan Kohll