Connection is a universal need we all have as human beings. When connection is lacking in our workplace, it has a detrimental effect on employee productivity, innovation, engagement, retention, well-being and more.
BetterUp’s latest in-depth research warns leaders and organisations that a connection crisis is brewing, where 69% of employees aren’t satisfied with the opportunities for connection in their workplace, 52% crave more connection at work and 38% don’t trust their colleagues.
Finding and maintaining a connection in the post-pandemic workplace is an increasingly complex challenge for managers and organisations. What is the importance of connection in the workplace? What practical steps can managers take to create opportunities for relationship building and connection?
In this article, we will explore what connection at work means, why it is so important and how leaders can build and improve connections amongst employees.
What is connection in the workplace?
At Inkling, our definition of workplace connection extends beyond the systems, tools and technologies that allow workers to effectively and efficiently communicate and work together.
A connected workplace is about the quality of relationships employees experience, feeling a sense of belonging, psychological safety, unity and friendship. To foster connection at work, opportunities need to be created for employees to get to know each other on a personal level and better relate to other team members’ unique experiences, ideas, values and goals.
BetterUp splits its definition of connection in the workplace into two facets that will contribute to how connected an individual feels:
- The size of their network – how many people they know or are connected to in their workplace.
- The feelings (i.e. belonging, collaboration, friendship) they experience within their network.
While the size of one’s network is important to an extent, BetterUp says “the quality of our relationships is the secret sauce that makes us feel connected to others”.
Top predictors of workplace connection include:
- Letting your guard down, being vulnerable
- Authenticity, allowing people to know the real you
- Casual ‘off the cuff’ conversations
- Opportunity for play
- Sharing hobbies
Weak predictors of workplace connection include:
- Venting about work
- Talking about work topics
- Task dependencies at work
- Having the same background
Why is connection at work so important?
Building connections need to be a high priority for organisations based on the established performance and employee benefits it brings.
Connection in the workplace has been linked to many employee well-being factors including mental health, life satisfaction and resilience.
Research shows that workers low in a sense of social connection and belonging are more likely to experience anxiety and depression (+158%), loneliness (+153%), burnout (+109%) and stress (+77%). While highly connected employees who put effort into building relationships are more resilient (24%), experience better well-being (36%), greater life satisfaction (36%) and more personal growth (83%).
Similarly, Shawn Achor’s research showed that social connection is one of the greatest predictors of happiness and reduced stress. He says friendships boost happiness, which in turn, reduces feelings of stress: “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”.
Organisations can boost well-being and general happiness, and safeguard employees from stress and burnout by making opportunities for team members to build better connections at work.
Decent social connections are strongly tied to greater engagement in the workplace and talent retention which has several organisational and employee benefits.
Gallup found that 30% of employees have a best friend at work and those who do are 7 times more engaged than those without. Other advantages of having a workplace best friend are employees produce better work, have higher well-being and are even less likely to get injured at work. Without a best friend at work, there’s only a 1 in 12 chance an employee will be engaged.
This study shows that individuals who experience lower connection have 73% less engagement at work than their highly-connected peers. The same study found workers who have more friends engage more (+32%), collaborate more (+20%) and are more innovative (+32%). While employees with few friends have a 71% stronger intention to quit.
Fostering connection in the workplace also has great value in the fight against workplace loneliness. Cigna research shows lonely employees miss more days at work, deliver a lower quality of work, are less productive and more likely to quit their jobs. Experts estimate that loneliness costs businesses more than $154 billion annually in lost productivity due to stress-related absenteeism.
Fostering connection among team members offers significant gains for organisations in terms of employee engagement levels and combating loneliness which directly impacts productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover.
On top of having better well-being and workplace engagement, there are a whole host of performance gains associated with employees who put in the effort to connect with others at work.
Research suggests that employees with high levels of connection in the workplace have 34% higher strategic planning skills, 34% greater goal attainment, 27% more job satisfaction and a 23% boost in a growth mindset. Also, employees that dedicate time to cultivating friendships at work experience 48% more professional growth.
This report found building close relationships with colleagues was the most important factor in determining job satisfaction for 77% of respondents, followed by training and development (68%), trust to take on more responsibility (66%) and flexible work (63%).
Going to extra lengths to build relationships helps employees think differently, approach problems in novel ways, learn from their peers, access more resources and expand their horizons.
Seeing as greater social interaction at work corresponds with employees feeling more satisfied, improves cognitive agility, has greater professional development outcomes and enhances their ability to do their job, organisations need to invest in fostering connection to tap into their teams’ full potential.
What can employers do to enhance connection?
The latest data shows a majority of employees (60%) think their employers aren’t doing a good job of supporting social connections and a third feel as though they don’t know their teammates.
With the increasing shift and preference for hybrid work and remote work, companies now more than ever need new ways to build and maintain connection that doesn’t rely on in-person interactions. Recently, BetterUp found that hybrid workers value social connection the most compared to remote and in-person workers, have fewer friendship opportunities or opportunities for spontaneous connection vs in-person workers and are more willing to sacrifice salary for their ideal connection vs in-person workers.
Here are some different strategies for leaders to create more opportunities for team members to connect, bond and build relationships.
Set up connection rituals on an ongoing basis to make team members feel heard and appreciated, get to know their colleagues better or simply share a laugh. This could be in the form of Gratitude Mondays where before you kick off your Monday morning work-in-progress meeting each team member shares something they are grateful for. Or quarterly team meetings where everyone shares something they are struggling with (professionally or personally) and the group offers ideas, contacts and resources to support them in overcoming that obstacle.
Connection rituals don’t always need to be on a serious topic or work-related. In fact, this research found that 86% of employees felt they didn’t have enough play opportunities and fun events to spark connection. Try setting up a 5 min game like Pictionary, Voggle or Heads Up to start a meeting. To help foster a culture of small talk, have a weekly icebreaker question for a specific meeting such as “What’s your best idea for an invention?”, “What’s the best book you’ve read this year?” or “Are you a cat or dog person?”. Schedule monthly trivia/game nights hosted by different departments at virtual or in-person happy hours. Playtime and opportunities for fun with colleagues can lead to deeper relationships, friendships and better collaboration.
While spontaneous interactions don’t happen as easily in hybrid work environments, managers can set up opportunities to increase their likelihood. Plan for employees to have overlapping in-office days via a shared team calendar. Employers could also try randomly pairing individuals for virtual coffee chats or lunches.
Planning shared virtual or in-person experiences in advance that lead to cross-company interaction will also foster social connection and spontaneous interactions. Research shows that 73% of employees feel they don’t have enough in-person/ common interest events. This could look like a lunch and learn session, a strengths or working style workshop, team volunteer days, a weekly Friday team lunch venue meet-up, an annual team retreat or team wellbeing or fitness challenges.
When leaders learn the necessary skills to promote more connection amongst their teams, their employees will flourish. Organisations need to subscribe to a coaching leadership style where leaders act as more of a coach than a manager, modelling behaviours and mindsets they want to encourage within their teams. Managers can undergo leadership training to learn about the best ways to embrace a coaching-oriented management style.
One way managers can promote a workplace culture of belonging and connection, is by asking for feedback in team surveys or during 1:1s on what makes that employee feel welcome and included, barriers to connection, and brainstorming ways to foster greater belonging and connection. The simple act of asking for feedback and having a conversation about connection makes employees feel heard and increases connection.
Another way managers can cultivate connection and team cohesion is to collectively set shared goals and involve employees in the organisation’s strategic planning and vision. When managers set shared goals and involve their team in the purpose and direction of the company they provide a clear plan of action for their team, an understanding of how their contribution fits into the company vision and allows each team member to feel valued and personally invested in the results.
Want to learn more? Ready to take steps towards a more connected workplace?
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