By Eve Olson, Client Relationship Coordinator, Wellness Works Canada
For nearly two years, social isolation has been a real challenge. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people have felt isolated and lonely which has sparked what many are calling an epidemic of loneliness. One way to reduce loneliness is to make meaningful social connections but how can we do this in a hybrid environment? Social connection may seem simple yet there are many aspects that influence it and numerous outcomes associated with good or poor social connection. Believe it or not, social connection can heavily impact our overall well-being and performance at work.
What is Social Connection?
Social connection is the experience of feeling close to others such as friends, family, or colleagues. It is not about the quantity of connections, but rather the quality. When we feel like we don't have the social connections we need or expect, this can lead to loneliness.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling of missing social connections and being alone no matter how many social connections one has. Luckily, there are ways to change your perception of loneliness. Follow along to learn about the benefits of social connection, ways to prevent loneliness, and how leaders can foster social connection in the workplace and beyond.
Benefits of Social Connection
Social connection is one of the most important aspects of well-being and it has been shown to have many benefits including:
A 50% increased chance of longevity
Stronger immune system
Ability to recover from disease faster
Lower levels of anxiety and depression
Higher self esteem, greater empathy
Increase in collective intelligence in the workplace
As you can see, many of these benefits can influence and improve an individual's performance at work. For example, lower levels of anxiety and depression positively affect an individual's ability to do their work. Preventing, mitigating and dealing with burnout is especially important considering that up to 84% of the working population has experienced burnout in 2020. Unfortunately, lack of social connection serves the opposite results. Therefore, it’s important to intentionally foster and develop social connection.
Ways to Prevent Loneliness at Work
As mentioned, loneliness is a feeling, and one’s perception of that feeling can be influenced. This is important as loneliness has a link to burnout, which can greatly influence an employee’s ability to effectively work. There are many ways to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation at work.
Identify employees needs
Conduct weekly check-ins (this can be done through conversation to gauge if someone is feeling lonely)
Determine what you can do as a leader to provide support through conversation with employees or by asking in an anonymous survey
Make mental health a focus
If someone is feeling lonely, there is a possibility they may also be depressed or anxious
Address loneliness as a way to reduce burnout by providing frequent opportunities for colleagues to connect over online coffee breaks, lunches or team get togethers
Host educational sessions and provide employees with resources
Promote a psychologically safe environment by being vulnerable and encouraging your team to speak up
Foster social connection (this will be discussed in the next section)
Fostering Social Connection at Work
Work relationships are very important as employees spend the majority of their days working. Additionally, these relationships can negatively or positively impact employee performance, stress and happiness. A work culture that values connection to the purpose of the organization and between employees will result in employees who are invested in their work relationships. There are great ways to also foster social connection in the workplace.
Create a social spot in the workplace where employees can chat and connect (or a channel on Microsoft Teams, Slack or any other online collaboration tool)
Host short team building events once a month
Connect departments through events and challenges
Encourage employees to take lunch and coffee breaks together (even online)
Shorten meetings to 50 minutes and schedule virtual ‘hallway’ talks between meetings
Build on your recognition program to foster connection by including Thank you Thursday’s where peers recognize peers every Thursday
Support psychological safety as a leader
Be vulnerable and authentic to make it easier for colleagues to do the same
Listen to understand not respond
Encourage employees to speak up and contribute without fear of judgement
Now that you know how important social connection is, it’s your turn to start the movement. Even today, think of one way to connect with someone. It will make you and the other person feel good! There are many ways to start a conversation in your workplace and it will be easier than you think. If you would like more assistance on creating a thriving, connected team or organization, we are here to help. Feel free to email us at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
Eve is currently a fourth year Kinesiology student at the University of Alberta and completing her practicum with Wellness Works Canada. Her education has sparked interest in health promotion and population health and she has become very passionate about workplace health and wellness while completing her practicum. When Eve is not focusing on school, she enjoys trying new coffee shops, practicing yoga and river valley walks with her two dogs.